Arriving at the Airport: Music of Philadelphians

Joe Logan, Inquirer Staff Writer

Next time you’re at Philly International, give a closer listen to the airport public-address system. You may hear some familiar voices.

Beginning Thursday night, Boyz II Men crooning “On Bended Knee”; the Patti LaBelle-Michael McDonald duet “On My Own”; Harold Melvin and the Blue Notes’ toe-tapper “Wake Up Everybody”; and Sister Sledge’s anthem “We Are Family” will be among the 15 homegrown acts and composers whose tunes will sound through the terminals in 70-minute bursts – interspersed, of course, with the usual boarding announcements and no-smoking warnings.

“It’s just a great way to promote Philadelphia right at the airport,” Mary Rose Loney, the airport’s director of aviation, said of the facility’s new soundtrack.

“In New Orleans, they play jazz at the airport. And when I worked at the airport in Las Vegas, we’d tape stars saying, ‘Hi, this is Shecky Greene. Please stand to the left on the moving sidewalk – and while you’re in Las Vegas, I hope you’ll catch my show.'”

The program will air twice each morning, twice each afternoon and twice each evening. Other local artists performing on the tape are Bobby Rydell (“Volare”); Hall and Oates (“Out of Touch, Out of Mind”); the Stylistics “(I’m Stone in Love With You”); DJ Jazzy Jeff and the Fresh Prince (“Summertime”); Grover Washington Jr. (“Just the Two of Us”); the Three Degrees (“When Will I See You Again”); the Tymes (“So Much in Love”); Billy Paul (“Me & Mrs. Jones”); Jim Croce (“Operator”); Frankie Avalon (“Venus”); and Cyndi Lauper (singing “Time After Time,” co-written by Lauper and Philadelphian Rob Hyman).

The idea for the project originated with Ellen Shire, a local filmmaker, who mentioned it to Susan Schulman, exective director of the Philadelphia Music Alliance, a nonprofit promotional group. In no time at all, the PMA had compiled a list of more than 100 performers, songwriters and producers with Philadelphia ties who deserved recognition.

Loney and a committee from the PMA culled the list for the initial tape, factoring in tempo, musical style and genre.

Once the songs were assembled, Dean Tyler, PMA board member and former radio DJ, who now runs WMGK-FM and WPEN-AM, taped the between-song narration identifying each song’s local connection.

“Assuming it works, we’ll do more tapes,” says Tyler. “There’s still people like Dizzy Gillespie, Pearl Bailey, Al Martino, the Soul Survivors, Andrea McArdle, the Dovells, Tommy Conwell, Linda Creed, Julie Gold, Janis Ian, Luther Vandross and Joan Jett. And we could do a whole tape of nothing but Gamble & Huff.”