Philadelphia’s music history _ a DIY tour
PHILADELPHIA (AP) — Philadelphia doesn’t make it easy for music fans to explore the city’s vast and rich musical legacy, but you can cobble together a do-it-yourself tour of the sights, sounds and neighborhoods that nurtured talent. Other places for inspiration: local news site Billy Penn puts out a Black Music Map every year in honor of Black History Month, and fans and experts offer tours through Jane’s Walks, like this recent one exploring Ridge Avenue’s jazz corridor.
Here are some spots to swing by. (Not all are open to the public.)
–MARIAN ANDERSON HISTORICAL RESIDENCE MUSEUM , 762 South Martin St. The contralto was the first African-American to sing at New York’s Metropolitan Opera. The museum is in the house she bought in 1924. It contains photos, books, memorabilia and films, and also supports an artists-in-residence program developed by the Marian Anderson Historical Society to encourage and mentor outstanding classical artists. Open daily 10 a.m.-4 p.m., Monday-Saturday.
– MARIO LANZA INSTITUTE AND MUSEUM , 712 Montrose St. The museum houses a variety of memorabilia from the beloved tenor. It’s adjacent to the church where Lanza was an altar boy. Open by appointment only; deposit required at least two weeks before the tour, 215-238-9691.
-SIGMA SOUND STUDIOS, 212 N. 12th St. The studio founded in 1968 by engineer Joe Tarsia helped create “The Sound of Philadelphia” – rich layers of vocals and orchestral arrangements, often echoing with a political message. It churned out hits like The Trammps’ “Disco Inferno” and The Three Degrees’ “When Will I See You Again.” Many Gamble and Huff hits were recorded here, including The O’Jays’ “Love Train.” David Bowie recorded portions of his 1975 album “Young Americans” there. The studio has been sold and is expected to become residential space. The exterior remains, and a peek through the glass front doors shows a demolished interior.
-THE UPTOWN THEATER , 2240 N. Broad St. The Uptown rivaled New York City’s Apollo theater, and was a major stop on the “Chitlin Circuit” – a network of clubs and theaters with mostly black owners and audiences during segregation. Anyone who was anyone in R&B and soul played there during the theater’s heyday in the 1950s and ’60s. Guided tours are offered by appointment only, 215-236-1878.
-SITE OF AMERICAN BANDSTAND, 4548 Market St. Dick Clark hosted the wildly popular “American Bandstand” show at WFIL-TV in west Philadelphia in the 1950s and ’60s. It became a cultural touchstone for legions of teenagers eager to hear the newest pop music and see the latest dance craze. The building now houses a small business development center, but the studio is still intact with the original lighting and memorabilia is highlighted around the building. Tours can be arranged in advance.
–THE JOHN COLTRANE HOUSE , 1511 N. 33rd St. The renowned sax player lived here from 1952 to 1958, playing with the Miles Davis Quintet for part of the time. The house became a national historic landmark in 1999 but has fallen into disrepair.
-THE SHOWBOAT/BIJOU, 1409 Lombard St. The Showboat was a tiny club in the basement of the Douglass Hotel, where performers often stayed when in Philadelphia. The club hosted greats like Miles Davis, Dizzy Gillespie and Thelonious Monk. In 1963 John Coltrane recorded “Live at the Showboat” there. It was later renamed “The Bijou Cafe,” which became a hotspot for up-and-coming artists, including U2 and Prince. But there’s no longer public access to the basement.
-THE ROYAL THEATER, 1524 South St. This was the city’s first black-run theater dating from 1919 and a center of African-American nightlife for decades, hosting the likes of Fats Waller, Cab Calloway and Billie Holiday. It closed in the 1970s and sat vacant and decaying until Kenny Gamble’s Universal Companies bought it in 2000. Over the years there was talk of transforming it into a music museum, possibly housing the Rhythm and Blues Foundation or restoring it as a live music venue. The cost of rehabbing the Royal was eventually deemed too high and the theater was sold to a developer of luxury residences last fall. Demolition began at the end of February, and only the facade will remain.
-PHILADELPHIA INTERNATIONAL RECORDS, 309 Broad St. It’s now an empty lot, but visitors with keen imaginations can envision the building where Kenny Gamble and Leon Huff collaborated on hits like the O’Jays’ “Love Train,” Billy Paul’s “Me and Mrs. Jones” and McFadden & Whitehead’s “Ain’t No Stoppin’ Us Now.”
-THE CHECKER CAFE (LATER, THE CHECKER CLUB), 2125 Ridge Ave. This dilapidated building is the shell of the last jazz club along what was once the bustling Ridge Avenue jazz corridor. Other clubs there like The Pearl and the Blue Note were better known, but the Checker Cafe was where musicians would hang out before and after nearby shows. Pearl Bailey worked there as a waitress.