I waited a long time for my prince charming. They say be careful what you wish for. My Prince Charming is kind, supportive and understanding with me. He is also all of those things with everyone who crosses his path. There was no reason for me to be surprised when he came home one night with an elderly homeless woman.
Sophie was eighty-years-old, homeless and mentally ill. I wanted to know how she got to that point in her life where she didn’t have one friend or relative to take her in from the cold and had no choice but to trust us, virtual strangers. Yesterday was her birthday. We miss her.
Sophie grew up on the edge of Philadelphia during a time when the city was the most ‘it’ place to be if you were a fan of rock n roll. This was the same time our nation was either fighting
for or against civil rights. The government was also taking steps toward closing state run mental health facilities. It was still a few years before the British invasion. John and I were fascinated by her stories.
Local musicians like Charlie Gracie, Chubby Checker, Bobby Rydell and the Dovells along with record labels, recording studios and distribution companies were enjoying great national success. Sophie was a huge fan of the Philadelphia sound but she was in love with the King of Rock n Roll, Elvis Presley.
I knew that Philadelphia had a rich musical history and I knew that Dick Clark was from Delaware County and hosted Bandstand in Philadelphia. I had no idea Dick Clark was not the original host of Bandstand.
Bob Horn’s Bandstand premiered on Channel 6 in September of 1952. Sophie was already a fan of Horn’s because since the late 40’s Horn had been a popular radio disc jockey on the radio station, WFIL. Growing up I loved that radio station. I begged my father to put it on every time we got in the car. I had no idea it was around in the 40’s.
When the television show started it was mostly short musical films, (the original music videos) and studio guests. Horn wanted to change the show to include live dancers and Channel 6 agreed.
The show was immediately successful drawing 60% of the daytime television audience. It made Horn a wealthy man. In 1956 he was fired after being convicted of drunken driving for the second time and he was accused of statutory rape. He was later acquitted of the rape charge and he moved to Houston, Texas.
Dick Clark another popular WFIL radio disc jockey took over as the host for Bandstand. Clark was more of an ambitious business man than he was a fan of Rock n Roll music. He knew he could never put the original singer of The Twist on television because of his hip movements so he had an associate in the business rewrite the song and they recruited eighteen-year-old Earnest Evans to sing the song. They changed his name to Chubby Checker and put him on Bandstand in 1960.
Clark stayed out of trouble when it came to alcohol, drugs and women but he liked money. The city of Philadelphia brought charges against him saying because he had a financial interest in several of the city’s record companies and he also had a financial interest in the show he was guilty of a conflict of interest. He appeared before an oversight committee and convinced them he played the music he played on the show because it was what the teenagers wanted to hear not because he had a financial interest in the music.
Shortly after Clark took the show to California and renamed it American Bandstand.
After all of these years Sophie still held a grudge against Dick Clark for taking the show away from Philadelphia. She made me laugh. She held a grudge against the Beatles too. She told me the Beatles stole the spotlight from Elvis Presley and the Philadelphia singers she loved so much.
Sophie was a Philly girl. She was so proud of the city’s contributions to the start of our nation, a passionate Philly sports fan and fiercely loyal to the regions musicians through the decades up to Teddy Pendergrass, Bruce Springsteen, Taylor Swift and the rap musicians from the area. She felt with Philadelphia’s musical history we should have more big name hip hop performers in the area.
All of Sophie’s talk of music and her love of the city made me miss my dad and inspired me to spend time with him. I wanted to ask him about his own experiences growing up in Roxborough and what kind of music he listened to as a teenager. I wanted to hear his Philadelphia music stories.
Dad and his West Catholic High School friends either danced on Bandstand or hung around outside the station. He confirmed Sophie’s stories and he also said when Dick Clark pulled up stakes and left the city it wasn’t long until the recording companies and distributors went out of business. One company, Swan Records was able to lease two Beatles songs for American distribution but even that wasn’t enough to keep the company going.
It may be decades since the British Invasion put a hurting on the Philadelphia music business but it didn’t stop the music. Today live music from every generation can still be heard throughout the Delaware Valley in our large and small concert venues, clubs and even in our schools and county parks.
We love making musical memories with the grandchildren by attending concerts and teaching them about Philadelphia’s famous rich and diverse musical history and teaching them to do the Twist and the Bristol Stomp. I tell them all the time I hope they will teach their children.
I lost my dad and we lost Sophie the year before. When I miss them I throw some pillows on the floor and put on some 50’s music and close my eyes. I think about summer coming and dancing in Rose Tree Park while listening to tribute bands and original performers from each and every decade and I smile.
Keep Moving Forward,