PHILADELPHIA â Detroit has the Motown Museum. Mississippi has a blues trail. Memphis has Graceland, Sun Studio and the Stax Museum of American Soul.
But in Philadelphia â birthplace of the lush acoustic style known as The Sound of Philadelphia and the hometown of âAmerican Bandstandâ and Chubby Checkerâs âTwistâ â thereâs no major place of pilgrimage for music fans.
âTourists come here expecting and hoping to experience our music legacy, and we leave them wanting,â said Patty Wilson Aden, president of The African American Museum.
A DIVERSE MUSICAL LEGACY
Philadelphia doesnât ignore music history entirely. A Walk of Fame, murals and historical markers honor musicians and the music industry. Opera stars Mario Lanza and Marian Anderson have mini-museums.
But thereâs been no effort to paint a larger picture of a vibrant musical landscape that has included Patti LaBelle, Bobby Rydell, Fabian, Hall & Oates, Boyz II Men, the Dead Milkmen, Jill Scott and The Roots and John Coltrane.
âIt does hurt a little bit that we donât have (a museum) when we are one of the strongest cities musically,â said Nate Morris, a founding member of Boyz II Men.
Part of the problem, says Temple University history professor Bryant Simon, âis the diversity of the sounds. They donât lend themselves to coherence like Nashville or Motown. Which story would you tell?â
Philadelphia was one of three finalists for the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame but lost out to Cleveland. Music promoter Larry Magid, who brought the Live Aid concert to Philly in 1985 and booked shows at the storied Electric Factory venue, was involved in the failed effort to locate the Rock Hall here. Over the years heâs tried to rekindle the idea of a Philly music museum but funding has proven elusive.
âItâs not about a piano or a gold record or a piece of clothing,â he said. âItâs asking why did all these talented people come out of Philadelphia? How did it work?â
Many touchstones in the cityâs musical landscape have been torn down, burned down or turned into apartments and businesses. Others are in distant or rough parts of the city that see little tourism or business.
Kenny Gamble and Leon Huffâs Philadelphia International Records, home of musicians like Teddy Pendergrass, Lou Rawls and the OâJays, offered tours and a small gift shop before an arsonist nearly burned the place down in 2010. Before they bought the building in 1970, it was home to Cameo Parkway Records, where Chubby Checker recorded the âThe Twistâ and Dee Dee Sharp recorded âMashed Potato Time.â
A hotel and residence is now planned for that site. But the vision of a museum honoring The Sound of Philadelphia â which Gamble, Huff and Thom Bell created â is still alive, according to Chuck Gamble, Kenny Gambleâs nephew. Most of the studioâs memorabilia was saved from the fire and could be displayed. âPhiladelphia needs the same kind of attention that Memphis gets and Detroit gets,â he said.
Heâs working with the R & B Hall of Fame â a virtual hall of fame that has inducted over 100 artists â to bring the hallâs annual induction ceremony to Philadelphia in 2018. The hope is to build interest and perhaps establish a joint museum one day, he said.
The Uptown Theater is one of Phillyâs last remaining historic theaters, part of the âChitlin Circuitâ that featured black performers over much of the 20th century. âEverybody who was anybody played at the Uptown,â said Simon, whose courses at Temple included one about the Uptown. âRay Charles, James Brown, Miles Davis, famous black comedians, all the Motown acts, all the Atlantic (Records) acts, all the Philly International acts.â
Linda Richardson has spent 25 years saving the Art Deco theater and bringing it back to life, along with the surrounding community near Temple. Sheâd like to raise money to renovate it and find âan impresarioâ to run the entertainment side. âWe used to have tour buses come past and stop but it didnât give them a flavor and wasnât bringing any revenue,â she said.
MUSIC TOURISM SUCCESSES
Music tourism has taken off in cities like Detroit and Memphis and even in the Mississippi Delta, birthplace of the blues.
At the Motown Museum â located in the house of the labelâs founder, Berry Gordy â visitors glimpse the sofa where Marvin Gaye napped and the candy machine Stevie Wonder memorized the buttons for. They even learn the steps to âMy Girlâ in the studio where The Temptations recorded it. Motown Museum CEO Robin Terry says some 75,000 people visit annually.
In Memphis, Elvis Presleyâs mansion, https://www.graceland.com/ Graceland, became a tourist magnet after opening to the public in 1982. That spurred revitalization of a stretch of clubs and restaurants on Beale Street. Two historic recording studios, Sun and Stax, also opened for tours. Today Memphis is a major destination for music fans from around the world.
âPhiladelphia is such a great city with a strong musical legacy similar to Detroit, New Orleans, Liverpool and Memphis,â said Regena Bearden, chief marketing officer of the Memphis Convention & Visitors Bureau. âAll are still influencing artists today. I know these projects can be challenging to get done but Memphis is living evidence of how important it is to cherish, promote and support the legacy as well as the musicians making music today.â
She added: âThe Liberty Bell is a great symbol and a nice photo op, but it doesnât make you dance.â
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