The Billy Penn Awards Gala presented by Pat’s King of Steaks brought together impressive people from all parts of Philadelphia for a night of celebration at World Cafe Live on June 26.

It was the event’s first year, so there were plenty of kinks — but with so many awesome Philadelphians in the room, there’s no question the Billies were ultimately a success. Huge thanks to everyone who participated, from the presenters to nominees to sponsors to everyone behind the scenes.

As performers, hosts, presenters and nominees took their turns on the stage throughout the evening, two themes emerged:

  1. There are two types of people who love living in Philly: natives who’ve chosen to stay, and transplants who’ve adopted it as their hometown. Takeaway? It’s the collaboration of both forces that will drive this city forward.
  2. Philadelphia is a place where innovation and collaboration meet. There’s a continuing tradition of discovery and invention — from electricity to gene therapy — but it takes place in an environment that’s much more into sharing than, say, Silicon Valley or NYC.

All that combined for an evening that one attendee described as “a love letter to Philadelphia.” it was a fun and inspiring night — and it also raised $35,000 (!) for our newsroom, which counts on events like these and direct reader support for all of its funding. (That’s why we don’t have a paywall or pop-up ads. If you’re not yet a member, you can join right here.)

For those who couldn’t make it out to the inaugural show, here’s a recap of how everything went down, a listing of the winners, and some thoughts about next year.

The Billies trophies were custom-made in Kensington by FKB Studios Credit: Danya Henninger / Billy Penn

Entertainment was popping

Popcorn and art

The night started off with a social hour presented by the Philadelphia International Airport and MarketPlace PHL, the folks who operate the 170+ shops and restaurants throughout the concourses.

Their tables set up by the bar had lots of giveaways, and not just the usual merch. There was freshly-popped popcorn (the whole place smelled great) and also make-your-own buttons featuring artists whose work you can find throughout PHL. The colorful designs were actually very cool.

Photos with Gritty’s head

During the social hour, photographer Kriston Bethel set up shop in the lobby to capture posed pics of all the guests in their creative black tie finery — a dress code instruction everyone interpreted a little bit differently.

Some folks wore actual tuxedos (shout out to presenter Spike Eskin!) while others wore their best Gritty t-shirts. That was especially appropriate since one of the props we had for the photo shoot was Gritty-on-a-stick. Also on a stick was the head of nominee Joel Embiid. (We tried to deliver his invite by searching pickup games at neighborhood parks, but we never ended up nailing him down.)

Check out a gallery of the pre-show pics here — or tag yourself on Facebook here.

Blanco Suavé

Throughout the social hour and into the evening, the band Blanco Suavé kept our ears entertained with covers of Philly tunes. Drummer Timothy Karsten, bassist Aldo Noboa

And guitarist Chris Sheperd played their takes on classics by The Roots, Hall & Oates and others — they even did the Sixers theme song.

Co-host Casey Parker joined the band as a singer for three acts, including the stellar opener, a version of Summertime rethought with custom logos into “Billy Time.”

The Bul Bey

If you don’t know, now you know: The Bul Bey is one to watch. Born Amir Richardson, the Philly native is a rising rap star, and he showed his stuff during the Billies.

After taking the mic for the introspective rap ballad “Where I’m From,” the Bul Bey busted out his first widespread track — appropriately titled “Cheesesteak Special.” He jumped around the stage, animating each line with his whole body, and by the end of the song he had the audience singing the hook with him: “Cheesesteak and fries, scrapple on the side…”

Check it out on Spotify here.

The Bul Bey performs ‘Cheesesteak Special’ at the Billies Credit: Mark Henninger / Imagic Digital

And the winners are….

That cliche saying — “Just being nominated is an honor!” — holds entirely true for the Billies. Members of our nominating committee considered dozens of options for each category, and the four finalists selected represented the apex of their field.

All that to say it was really, really, really tough to select our winners. On the flip side, since every nominee was worthy of the win, we knew the champs deserved the win.

Never Delete Your Account

For kicking butt at social media; presented by Dietz & Watson

Award presenters:

Kory Aversa
President, Aversa PR

HughE Dillon
Social chronicler, Philly Chit Chat


Winner: Conrad Benner

The 1682 Award

For creative innovation; presented by CIC Philadelphia

Award presenters:


Winner: Will Toms & David Silver

The Headturner on Market

For an inimitable fashion sense

Award presenters:

  • Diana Lu, Communications manager at Comcast’s Internet Essentials, and neighborhood editor at Root Quarterly
  • Feminista Jones, Author & activist


Winner: Saeed Ferguson

Better Than Wooder Award

For creating great drinks and great places to enjoy them

Award presenters:


Winner: Erin Wallace

The Broad Street Bellwether

For impact in the performing arts

Award presenters:

  • Opeola Bukola, Founder of Lillo Consulting and former Strategic Initiatives Associate at Backstage Capital
  • Spike Eskin, Program Director, SportsRadio 94WIP


Winner: Dito van Reigersberg

The Problem Solver

For helping move the needle on the thorns in Philly’s side

Award presenters:


Winner: Elvis Rosado

Most Valuable Philadelphian

For being someone who embodies the Philly spirit

Award presenters:


Winner: Jane Golden

Pat’s Steaks owner Frank Olivieri and Philadelphia City Representative Sheila Hess presented the MVP award Credit: Mark Henninger / Imagic Digital

What’s next for the Billies?

We put together the inaugural Billy Penn Awards Gala in just over a month, as we couldn’t really do real work until we settled into our new home at WHYY. We’re thrilled that thanks to everyone’s support, we actually pulled it off — but we know next year’s gonna be a even better.

A very cool part about this year’s event was that nearly all the nominees showed up. We were missing a few big names, though, and one of our goals for the future is to make it so cool that Philly’s biggest celebrities are hoping for the nod.

One of the ways we’ll spread the word far and wide is by including more of you in the process along the way.

In 2019, we’ll solicit nominations from readers, and then also let people vote on “People’s Choice” winners for each category. We’ll also look to showcase many more innovative artists before the show, and more performers on stage. And we’re looking into ways to collaborate with other publishers and newsrooms to advance the cause we all agree on:

Philadelphia and its people are pretty damn great.

Danya Henninger is director and editor of Billy Penn at WHYY, where she oversees the team, all editorial decisions, and all revenue generation, including the membership program. She is a former food and...