Famous African American Musicians from Philadelphia: Who Do You Know?

Which famous Philadelphian woman was the first African American to perform at the Metropolitan Opera? 

Marian Anderson! She was born in 1897 in South Philadelphia. Hard-working and respectable, her mother was a former schoolteacher. Her father delivered ice and coal throughout the city. At the heart of their community stood the Union Baptist Church at the corner of Fitzwater and Martin Streets. It was within these walls that Marian first began to sing.

A key moment in her career came in 1955 when she became the first African American to perform at the Metropolitan Opera. Three years after this immense achievement President Eisenhower named her a delegate to the 13th General Assembly of the United Nations. Over two dozen universities presented her with honorary doctorates and in 1963 President Lyndon Johnson awarded her the Presidential Medal of Freedom. Have you ever been to the recreation center named after her?

Which famous female Philadelphian singer is known as the Godmother of Soul? 

Patti LaBelle! Along with her group, she gave us the iconic “Lady Marmalade”, often returns to Philly to perform for various celebrations. She is also in the Grammy Hall of Fame and has a star on the Hollywood Walk of Fame. Have you ever been on Philadelphia’s Walk of Fame on South Broad Street? 

Which famous African American rock ‘n roll singer and dancer that lived in Philadelphia popularized the Twist and the Pony dance styles? 

Chubby Checker! He is widely known for popularizing many dance styles including the twist dance style, with his 1960 hit cover of Hank Ballard & The Midnighters’ R&B hit “The Twist” and the Pony with hit “Pony Time”. 

By the time he entered high school, Ernest had learned to play the piano a little at Settlement Music School and could do a number of vocal impressions. He also went to South Philadelphia High School with his friend Fabian Forte, who would have show business success of his own. He entertained classmates whenever he could. After school, Chubby would sing and crack jokes at his various jobs including Fresh Farm Poultry on 9th Street and at the Produce Market. It was Ernest’s boss at the Produce Market, Tony A., who gave Ernest the nickname “Chubby”.

The storeowner of Fresh Farm Poultry, Henry Colt, was so impressed, he began showing off his employee to his customers through a loud speaker. Henry and his friend Kal-Mann arranged for young Chubby to do a private recording for Dick Clark. A Yuletide novelty tune called, “Jingle Bells” on which Chubby did several impressions of top recording stars, was cut. Dick Clark sent it out as a Christmas greeting to all of his friends and associates in the music business. Cameo-Parkway liked it so much that they wrote a song called “The Class” and it became Chubby’s first hit in early 1959. Can you do the twist or the pony? Have you ever been to the Produce Market on 9th Street?

 Which famous African American Jazz Singer was born in Philadelphia and was famous for singing the Blues?

Billie Holiday! Even during her teenage years Holiday was gifted with her strong beautiful voice and an uncanny sense of timing and phrasing that transmitted strong emotions that touched peoples’ hearts. Early in her life, she was influenced by Louis Armstrong and Bessie Smith (The Queen of Blues). Have you ever been to her historic marker located at 1409 Lombard Street?

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