11 More For Fame – It was a Night for a Crescendo of Tributes to the Additions to the List of the City’s Musical Legends
Ann Kolson and Amy Linn, Inquirer Staff Writers
Gems, glitter, stars and fond memories reigned last night as more than 1,000 people gathered to honor 11 musical legends at the second annual Philadelphia Music Foundation (PMF) Hall of Fame awards ceremony at the Wyndham Franklin Plaza Hotel.
It was a night when opera stars, rockers, crooners and jazz greats were officially inducted. It was a night of putting on the glitz. And a time to eat Pasta Seafood Symphony, renew old friendships and praise Philly, praise Philly, praise Philly.
“Any time your career is recognized is an honor, but there can be no honor greater than this,” said Eddie Fisher, the smooth-voiced songster whose longtime career was marked by hits such as the six-million seller, “Oh! My Papa.” “I don’t think I have to tell you how much this means to me. I’m not only appreciative, I’m a little bit in awe. Thank you for taking me into your hearts tonight.”
Award winners gave speeches, watched snippets of past performances on special video screens erected for the event, and then picked up their “Phillys” – brass-and-pewter statuettes in the shape of the PMF insignia, a G clef intertwined with a P. Earlier in the day, bronze plaques bearing their names were dedicated along the Walk of Fame, a stretch of sidewalk on Broad Street between Walnut and Pine.
Pop singer and beach-movie star Frankie Avalon, more tanned than ever, stood outside near the festive ballroom where the awards were given, smiling incessantly. “Even after I come down from the high of this evening, my name will be there on Broad Street. And it will be there when I’m dead and gone.”
Avalon and Fisher were joined in the Hall of Fame limelight by the Dixie Hummingbirds gospel group, the Four Aces vocal group; jazz saxophonist Stan Getz and opera singer Anna Moffo. Also honored were late artists Jim Croce, Nelson Eddy, Jeanette MacDonald, Eugene Ormandy and Ethel Waters.
Avalon was not the only South Philly guy present. TV actor James Darren was the evening’s emcee. Darren grew up next to Bobby Rydell. And Rydell, who was inducted last year, was there to honor his old friend, neighbor and fellow musician, Avalon. After the gala, one of them joked, they could all head down to Pat’s Steaks.
“Is there anyone who didn’t come out of South Philly?” Rydell said.
The crowd was filled with record company executives, promoters, family and friends of the stars, and a number of celebrities such as former Sixers star Julius Erving.
There were the graying “once weres,” including Gene Raymond, 80, a leading man of the Thirties. “I fell in love all over again,” swooned Cissie Hurst, a Philadelphia Music Foundation board member. Raymond flew in from Pacific Palisades, Calif., to accept the Philly award for singer-actress MacDonald, to whom he was married.
There were punked out, “almost there’s,” like Jade Starling, with her burning bush of hair and tight black mini-skirt.
Starling handed an award to white pompadoured Al Alberts, of the Four Aces, a man who sang hits before the members of Pretty Poison, Starling’s band, were even born.
And there were the fans. Lucy and Perry Pickering from Baltimore, members of the Nelson Eddy Appreciation Society, picked up the award for the late tenor and movie star.
Sequined opera soprano Anna Moffo, in a floor length gown, said she was amazed at the number of successful people who come from Philadelphia, and keep coming from Philadelphia.
“I don’t think the barrel has even been skimmed yet.”
The award winners were chosen from a list of 41 nominees announced in the fall, and were selected from ballots by members of the local music industry. The PMF was founded to celebrate the area’s musical heritage, and is chaired by Larry Magid, head of Electric Factory Concerts.
Among the people accepting awards were Ingrid and A.J. Croce, widow and son of Jim Croce, who hit the charts with songs such as “Bad, Bad Leroy Brown” and “Time in a Bottle.” “His music had a wonderful vitality and when you hear his lyrics you automatically think of Jim and smile,” said band leader and songwriter David Bromberg, who presented the award. “He really did put time in a bottle for all of us to hold on to.”
Not only performing artists were honored last night. Founders Awards were given to Doug Arthur, a DJ for former pop music AM radio station WIBG; Elaine Brown, director of the Singing City Choir for nearly four decades and Jack Steck, programmer for WFIL-AM radio and Channel 6 TV.
The PMF Institution Award went to the Philadelphia Orchestra.
And Marjorie Samoff, producing director of the American Music Theater Festival, was named recipient for the Hal Weissman Humanitarian Award, named in honor of the PMF’s late co-founder and public relations executive. Weissman died in an automobile accident in December.
The night was not without its weird moments. Tug McGraw, in homage to Nelson Eddy, wore a bright red Canadian Mounties suit uniform, and was summoned on stage by emcee Darren, who trilled “When I’m calling youuuuu,” from Eddy’s signature song.
Tables were decked centerpieces of the PMF insignia and long sprays of flowers. An ice sculpture with the same insignia graced the hors d’oeuvres tables outside the hall.
Rockers Robert Hazard, Tommy Conwell (of Young Rumblers fame) and jazz bassist Stanley Clarke helped present awards. Alberts grinned as he surveyed the scene.
“It’s something when strangers tell you about how they admire your work,” Alberts said. “But when your friends do it, it’s really something special.”