This second round sounds good.
Last year, Billy Penn dug deep through reporting and research, and selected 28 locations tracking how instrumental Philadelphia people and places are in modern music. When folks reacted with (sometimes charged) feedback about the selections and pointed out omissions, it became very clear that a single post wouldn’t suffice. Hence the need for another take in what just might become an annual trend.
Fans and experts shared lots of excellent recommendations for our Black History Month Music Map. The updated map is now live for your browsing pleasure. The locations from the original list are in red; the new additions in this 2.0 update are in orange.
The pool of tips this time around was jazz heavy, and yet even in this map’s second year, the locations still only scrape the surface of the genre’s legacy. That bodes well for next year, but it also raises the question: Why is Philly blessed with so much jazz?
The peak, according to experts, was from World War II to around the 1960s. Before those war years, jazz had already proliferated outside of its New Orleanian birthplace, and Chicago’s heyday had reached its denouement. New York was becoming the jazz center for the North, just as the Great Migration was changing the musical landscape in all of these cities. In 1920, Philadelphia’s black population stood at 134,000. That total skyrocketed to 375,000 by 1950. Venues blossomed in North Philly and near South Philly.
“Philadelphia was the proving ground for jazz artists, and its working class people fostered the talent by packing rooms every week from Tuesday to Saturday nights,” Rob Armstrong, who directed a documentary on Coltrane for the Preservation Alliance, explained to Hidden City. “The sheer number of clubs, musicians’ culture of sharing, strong instruction available at both the Ornstein School of Music, located at 19th and Spruce streets, and the Granoff Studios, located at 2118 Spruce Street, and the discipline and practice regimen of key musicians in the scene, gave young men like Coltrane a true Philly jazz education.”
Ninety miles south of New York, an abundance of places to jam, Philly was an optimal stop for artists who wanted to try their hand at fame in New York after they refined their musicianship.
Beyond jazz, out of the latest crop of locations, blues, soul, rock and roll, gospel, hip hop and R&B are represented. Here’s a guide, detailing each spot.
Recommendations were generously submitted by Tempest Carter, Alain Joinville, Jerry Zolten, Michael McGettigan, Joe “JoeLogic” Gallagher, Tony Abraham, Faye Anderson and Kimberly C. Roberts.
52nd Street YMCA
There is a bootleg floating around the internet of DJ Jazzy Jeff, DJ Cash Money, Grandmaster Nell (Meek’s uncle!) among other OGs spinning at the West Philly Y in 1985. It’s an artifact of top-flight turntablism and significant to Philly’s DJ culture.
Ballen Records/Gotham Records
Don’t let anyone tell you that the Delaware Valley didn’t play a considerable role in rock and roll history. Acts like Jimmy Preston and Dan Pickett laid the groundwork, and they recorded out of this historic label. Gotham recorded its share of gospel and doo-wop, including Lee Andrews (Questlove’s dad) and the Hearts.
Benny Golson’s teenage home
Jazz great Benny Golson moved around some growing up, but this was the house where he got his saxophone. He’s received numerous honors over the years, but perhaps the highest was when Howard University named their Jazz Master award after him.
Earl Young’s childhood home
It’s regularly cited that Earl Young was an integral part of MFSB, the house band on Philadelphia Soul’s classic records. People also often point out that he was part of the trio Baker, Harris and Young, the legendary rhythm section and production team, as well as local ensemble the Trammps. But what doesn’t get said enough is that his drumming might’ve ignited disco a genre. Yeah, he was that influential.
Ebenezer Baptist Church
The mother church of Clara and Willa Ward, the sisters of the iconic gospel group The Ward Singers. During gospel’s Golden Age, they not only achieved national success, but introduced songs that would become standards. They did this while wearing more glitzy, secular dress, a move that was daring at the time.
This South Street nightclub, which closed in 2013, was home to Tasty Treats. Produced by Stacey ‘FlyGirrl’ Wilson, Tasty Treats is a storied hip hop dance party, not to mention Philly’s longest-running.
Granoff School of Music
Where singer Billy Paul, bassist Percy Heath, trumpeter Dizzy Gillespie, pianist McCoy Tyner and saxophonists Odean Pope and Coltrane famously studied.
Pep’s Musical Bar
John Coltrane and Yusef Lateef both recorded here. Along with the Showboat, which was a stone’s throw away, this was one of those Philly venues that boasted sparkling line-ups in the post-war era. It was “an exceptional hole in the wall room,” Jerry Zolten, a music historian and Penn State professor, recalled in an email.
Power 99 has been playing urban music since 1982. What a time to make a switch like that. Serious question: Where would R&B and hip hop culture in the city be if the station never existed?
You know this building— it houses the Merriam Theater. It was home to songwriters’ offices, comparable to the Brill Building in New York. Gamble and Huff, when they were young musicians in mid 1960s, met in the elevator here.
The Showboat was a cherished jazz venue. As the concert space was actually a hotel basement, the historical marker outside will tell you that Billie Holiday regularly dwelled there. When it later became the Bijou Cafe, big names still came through, like Prince.
Sid Booker’s High-Line Lounge
Currently a popular shrimp restaurant, this location was a hip club where new talent in the city honed their skills. The spot, which has also been called Stinger and Club La Pointe, opened in the ’60s. Kimberly C. Roberts, author of Joy Ride! The Stars and Stories of Philly’s Famous Uptown Theater and an entertainment reporter at the Philadelphia Tribune, called it the “premier showcase for Philly’s young, up-and-coming artists,” adding, “Stevie Wonder and Earl Young had a legendary drum showdown there.”
This venue, opened by local entrepreneur Nat Segall in the late ’30s, was the first racially integrated nightclub in Philadelphia. According to Hidden City, The Downbeat was victim to police raids due to its mixed crowds. Segall eventually buckled under the pressure and sold the place. In the decade that he operated it, though, it was major bebop destination. “Benny Golson and John Coltrane were too young to get into the Downbeat, so they stood outside on 11th Street listening to the bebop sounds coming out of the second floor window,” Hidden City contributor Jack McCarthy wrote.
The Philadelphia Clef Club of Jazz and Performing Arts
We know it as an iconic venue and school now, but lest we forget, this club started from a union: Local 274, the American Federation of Musicians. Let’s look at just some of the notable members of this union, shall we? Nina Simone, Clara Ward, Coltrane, Dizzy Gillespie and Philly Joe Jones.
A Philly institution. The Gathering is a weekly meet-up for all of hip hop’s elements. It first began in 1996 and holds the esteem of being the oldest hip hop event in the city.
MFSB alum Larry Gold (and “hip hop’s go-to string arranger”) founded the Studio in 1996. Under his leadership, it became a homing beacon for the city’s neo-soul scene. Today, it’s currently Milkboy the Studio, where top acts continue to record.
Treegoob’s Department Store
Experts argue that Philadelphia soul started with a group called the Castelles in 1949. They didn’t sound like the Delfonics eventually would; you’d likely associate their sound more with doo-wop. But in a moment when city was looking to distinguish itself through cornerside harmonies, the Castelles lifted a model from the Dixie Hummingbirds, the hometown gospel kings. They were unabashedly tenor-heavy and solidified that Philly would be known for sweet, falsetto-led ballads for decades to come. Treegoob’s, a department store and the home of Grand records, was where they first recorded their music.
Virtue Recording Studio
A recording studio and a label, Virtue made its mark capturing early rock and roll and early Philadelphia soul on wax, breaking a path that Gamble and Huff could follow. It was operational “from the 1960s through the early 1980s,” noted Roberts.
Webb Department Store
This record store has been called a neighborhood landmark. In its heyday, after opening in 1972, it was a place where famous musicians were known to stop by to browse and shop. In the Death of Rhythm and Blues, author Nelson George praised store owner Bruce Webb as an example of an independent retailer who was savvy with record labels, directing the flow of good music to the community.
WHAT honed in on black audiences from the ’40s to the late aughts. They broke a lot of ground during that time span. We’ll share just two notable facts. It was a home for Jocko Henderson, the disc jockey whose fluid, rhythmic announcing style has caused listeners to look back and view him as a forebear to rap. Generocity reporter Tony Abraham pointed out that it’s where Lady B, one of the first female MCs and a longtime DJ, began her career in radio in 1979.
Zanzibar was only open for 10 years and change. But the Bynum brothers didn’t need much more than a decade to establish a sterling legacy in the jazz world. The ambience, the brunches, the appearances from national and local legends— people still talk about it.
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Here’s the whole list of locations on the map, with new additions in bold.
- 52nd Street YMCA
- Ballen Records/Gotham Records
- Benny Golson’s home as a teen
- Blue Note Club (yep, Philly had one)
- Creative and Performing Arts High School
- Dell Music Center
- Dunbar Theater
- Earl Young’s childhood home
- Ebenezer Baptist Church
- Five Spot
- Granoff School of Music
- John Coltrane House
- Lee Andrews and Questlove’s former house
- Lisa “Lefteye” Lopes’ childhood home
- Marian Anderson Residence Museum
- Metropolitan Opera House
- Paramount Records
- Patti LaBelle’s childhood home
- Paul Robeson House
- Pep’s Musical Bar
- Philadelphia International
- Phily Joe Jones’ childhood home
- Pop Art Records
- Power 99
- Royal Theater
- Schooly D’s childhood home
- Schubert Building
- Settlement Music School
- Showboat/Bijou Cafe
- Sid Booker’s High-Line Lounge
- Sigma Sound
- Sister Rosetta Tharpe House
- Solomon Burke’s birthplace
- Standard Theater
- Sun Ra Arkestra House
- The Downbeat
- The Philadelphia Clef Club of Jazz and Performing Arts
- The Rotunda
- The Studio
- Tindley Temple United Methodist Church
- Treegoob’s Department Store
- Uptown Theater
- Virtue Recording Studio
- WDAS (West Philly location)
- Webb Department Store
- Word-Up Records
- Zanzibar Blue