STORY WRITTEN BY BRIAN BINGAMAN
@brianbingaman on Twitter
The Avenue of the Arts section of Broad Street in Philadelphia has more than 100 plaques, each celebrating music luminaries from the region.
That’s the Philadelphia Music Alliance’s Walk of Fame, which welcomed a Class of 2015 homegrown talent from the worlds of hard rock, jazz, radio, musical theater, hip-hop and R&B.
Before the star-studded induction ceremonies Oct. 26 at the Fillmore Philadelphia, western swing singer Ray Benson, of the band Asleep at the Wheel, was humble-yet-uninhibited in his excitement about being one of the inductees. “You kidding me? What an honor! Billie Holiday, The Roots, Cinderella, Harvey Holiday … and I don’t mean to leave out Andrea,” Benson said, referring to Broadway’s original “Annie,” Andrea McArdle. He even quickly broke into the opening line of “Tomorrow” at the mention of McArdle’s name.
However, he did forget fellow inductees The Trammps, who made the pop charts in the ‘70s with “Hold Back the Night,” “That’s Where the Happy People Go,” and their 1977 single, which became a smash when it was re-released on the “Saturday Night Fever” soundtrack — “Disco Inferno.”
During a reception, before taking the stage during a Walk of Fame gala, The Trammps’ Earl Young, 75, had a noticeable swagger in his step. “I’m making history tonight,” said Young, noting that this is the fifth Philly music walk of fame plaque that he’s had something to do with. Young was also a member of standout recording studio bands MFSB (who scored a hit in their own right with “The Sound of Philadelphia”); Baker, Harris & Young (the rhythm section on hits by The Intruders, The O’Jays, Barbara Mason, Harold Melvin and the Blue Notes, The Three Degrees and The Village People); Salsoul Orchestra (the house band at Sigma Sound Studios); and John Davis & The Monster Orchestra.
Showing support for the house band of his “Tonight Show,” Jimmy Fallon made it down from New York to induct The Roots. “The Roots are Philly. The Roots are my jawn,” Fallon said, drawing loud laughter.
Fallon also joked around with the on-stage band, The Urban Guerilla Orchestra, and poked fun at a certain Canadian rock band. “I first met (The Roots) back in 2008. We were just starting ‘Late Night’ and I needed a band, and I wanted someone cool and exciting; a band that people would want to tune in to see night-in-night-out. So when Nickelback said no …,” he said.
Before Fallon surprised the group on stage with a large plaque celebrating platinum sales for each of their first three albums, band leader Ahmir Khalib “Questlove” Thompson reflected that he didn’t fully appreciate the moment when his father, Lee Andrews, was inducted into the walk of fame. “That day, Tariq (Trotter) and I recorded our very first demo … never thought that that would lead to this moment 25 years later,” he said, thanking the teachers the band had growing up and Lower Gwynedd music producer David Ivory, among others.
“I’m proud to be part of a legacy — y’know — Boyz II Men, Jerry Blavat, Stan Getz, Daryl Hall & John Oates, Teddy Pendergrass, Nina Simone … too many to mention. We’re Philadelphians at heart, no matter where we go in the world.”
Singer Dionne Warwick was in town to induct Billie Holiday, who was born in Philadelphia in 1915. She arrived at the Fillmore escorted by Blavat, a radio and “American Bandstand” personality that was part of the walk’s Class of 1993. “Jerry has known me my entire career. My first record, Jerry played it,” Warwick said before the ceremonies.
Blavat himself teamed up with 76ers executive advisor and Philadelphia Sports Hall of Famer Sonny Hill to induct DJ Harvey Holiday of 98.1 WOGL. A veteran of Philadelphia radio, Holiday also was on the air 15 years at WDAS. Besides Blavat and Holiday, other broadcast personalities with their own plaques on the walk include Dick Clark, Michael Douglas, Ed McMahon, Kal Rudman, Joe Grady and Ed Hurst, Hy Lit, Joe Niagara, Georgie Woods, Joe “Butterball” Tamburro, Doug “Jocko” Henderson, and Sid Mark.
Meanwhile, 93.3 WMMR’s Jackie Bam Bam scolded anyone that would call Cinderella a hair band, and recalled being wowed by their theatricality during an early show at the former Empire Rock Club in Northeast Philadelphia.
Unable to attend because of commitments outside the country, Cinderella singer Tom Keifer delivered a speech via prerecorded video. “Our city has such a rich musical heritage. To be considered part of it is quite an honor, and quite humbling,” he said.
Pennsylvania Lieutenant Governor Mike Stack confessed during his remarks that he had a crush on McArdle back in the ‘70s, when she was an 11-year-old superstar, and the youngest performer to be nominated for a Tony Award. Although future Broadway roles would include Ashley in “Starlight Express” and Margy in “State Fair,” it all came back to “Annie” this week, as McArdle put her own grown-up spin on “Tomorrow.” “You can take the girl out of Philly, but do not take Philly out of the girl,” McArdle said to applause and cheers.
Emceeing the evening’s festivities was “Saturday Night Live” alum and actor Joe Piscopo, who sang a Philly-centric, Frank Sinatra-inspired walk of fame tribute song. Despite an awkward sequence that began with making a pass at former “American Idol” finalist Haley Reinhart, as she was walking off stage after singing Billie Holiday’s “God Bless the Child,” Piscopo succeeded as master of ceremonies.
To learn more about the Philadelphia Music Alliance and the Walk of Fame, go to www.pmawalk.org.