It seemed only fitting that the ultimate silence of one of urban radio’s most powerful and influential voices would draw thousands in tribute to his life. Longtime WDAS AM/FM radio personality Joe “Butterball” Tamburro was laid to rest on Thursday during a standing-room-only Mass of Christian burial at the Cathedral Basilica of Saints Peter and Paul in Center City Philadelphia.
Tamburro, who died on July 27 at age 70, was eulogized by members of his radio family who spanned the arc of Tamburro’s career.
The first speaker was fellow radio icon state Representative Louise Williams Bishop, who recalled insisting that her former husband, Jimmy Bishop, (the then-WDAS program director in 1964) hire the young man. Bishop not only put Tamburro on the air, he slapped the portly young man with the nickname “Butterball.” Within months, “Butter” was a hit with listeners — and was a popular on-air presence until his death.
During the hour-plus service, current WDAS FM mid-day host Patty Jackson delivered a biblical passage, which drew a round of applause in recognition of her decades-long friendship with Tamburro, whom she called her “mentor.”
Monsignor Arthur E. Rodgers also received applause when he recalled Tamburro as an Italian-American from South Philadelphia who was an avid admirer of African-American rhythm and blues music culture. Prior to landing at WDAS, the aspiring radio disc jockey played at record hops around town for legendary Philadelphia on-air personality Hy Lit. The lessons he learned there, he would eventually bring to the airwaves for the next 47 years.
As program director for WDAS, Tamburro was uniquely attuned to the station’s faithful listeners for 25 years. He maintained the sound heard on WDAS AM/FM by selecting the music played, choosing the jocks that played the music and going on air himself. It was a winning formula that drew high ratings for the stations, as his distinctive touch and charming personality warmed the hearts of listeners for nearly five decades. Tamburro had often shared that he smiled when he spoke on the air, thus creating a soothing bond that listeners responded to as friendly.
According to a station spokesperson, Tamburro had been battling complications from heart disease and diabetes, and was in his Haverford home at the time of his death last week. In passing, Tamburro is survived by his wife, Cynthia, five adult children and eight grandchildren.
Aretha Franklin, one of the most successful musical entertainers of all time, will be performing in the Arena at Trump Taj Mahal, in Atlantic City, N.J., on Saturday Oct. 6 at 8 p.m. “The Queen of Soul” recalls fond memories returning to the Philadelphia area, a place that helped jettison her career.
Commenting about her upcoming concert at the Trump Taj Mahal, Franklin said “I’m absolutely looking forward to it, I haven’t been on for about a month or so, and I just came out to do the Thelonius Monk Institute of Jazz [in Washington, D.C.]. I had an appearance there, but I didn’t do a full concert.”
Franklin has superstar status as an entertainer but she’s also a very active philanthropist.
During the September 25, 2012, Thelonius Monk Institute of Jazz, the theme celebrated “Women, Music and Diplomacy” — the gala honored the former U.S. Secretary of State Madeleine Albright with the Institute’s 2012 Maria Fisher Founder’s Award. Joining Franklin at the gala event were A-list celebrity guests Herbie Hancock, Helen Mirren, Thelonious Monk Jr. and Billy Dee Williams. The event was hosted by Tipper Gore.
“[On Sept. 30] I sung out in Liberty, N.J., for the Cancer Foundation, and there were 4,000 survivors there,” Franklin said. “We had some kind of good time … we were rocking and socking and a little shouting [was] going on, we went to church 3 or 4 times.”
Franklin has earned numerous musical accolades and awards that many musical entertainers strive a lifetime to earn. In August 2012, Franklin was inducted into the Gospel Music Associations’ Hall of Fame. A few of her other awards include: being voted #1 Vocalist of All Time by Rolling Stone magazine (2009); Presidential Medal of Freedom (2005); National Medal of Arts (1999); recipient of a Kennedy Center Honor; 18 Grammy Awards, including Best Female R&B Vocal Performance for eight consecutive years; five American Music Awards and four NAACP Image Awards. She was the first woman inducted into the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame (1987), and in 1979, she received a star on the Hollywood Walk of Fame and was the recipient of TV Land Music Icon Award. Franklin has received 12 honorary doctorate degrees.
Franklin’s musical career had its genesis in gospel music.
“I wasn’t a mega gospel star, but I was known in the world of gospel because of my dad,” she said.
Her father, the late Rev. Clarence LaVaughn Franklin, was a Baptist preacher and a civil rights activist in Detroit, Mich.
“And whenever I would go out on tours with him, he would have services in different arenas, and city auditoriums across the country, from Detroit to Los Angeles, I would precede him singing one or two things,” she recalled. “So, I was known to a Gospel audience but I was not a mega star.”
Franklin credits her father for keeping her grounded with all the super stardom and success she has enjoyed.
Remarking about how she has handled the enormous notoriety and international favor she’s received over the decades of entertaining millions, she said, “I receive it in a very appreciative way because people don’t have to say or give you anything. I am very much appreciative of that, but I don’t let [fame] or awards, or things like that go to my head. My feet are very firmly planted on the ground, my dad took care of that many years ago; that I would not be carried away with the [music] business or any of the things that might be given to me.”
Franklin hosts an annual revival in Detroit, and the Clark Sisters are frequent guest performers.
“I have a Gospel celebration, year to year, and I have different gospel artists there,” Franklin said. “All of the gospel artists have come to my events annually, and we really have a great time.”
Franklin’s life is being pegged for a bio pic.
“Speaking of the Clark Sisters, Karen is going to be playing a character, the part of Kitty Parham, who came out of Philadelphia, who was one of the world famous Ward Singers,” Franklin said. She added that the Ward Singers will play a major role in her film “as Clara Ward was one of my mentors.”
A production date or release date hasn’t been scheduled yet, but the written treatment for her film is in its final stage of development. She has Taylor Hackford, a Hollywood producer/writer/director, is working on the project.
“We are fine tuning it now,” she said. “We are re-working some of the different scenes that are going to be in it.”
Hackford has directed Oscar-nominated actors such as Louis Gossett Jr. and Jamie Foxx. Some of Hackford’s notable film credits includes the blockbuster hit movies “Ray” and “Dream Girls.”
Franklin said Denzel Washington is being targeted to portray her father in the film but she admits Billy Dee Williams was her first choice.
Aretha has a strong affinity for Philadelphia and its fan base.
“I’m right at home with Philadelphia,” she said. “Philadelphia is very much, largely where I started, [with] many of my interviews at WDAS [radio station].”
She credits local radio personalities Mary Mason, [the late] Georgie Woods, and Jimmy Bishop, for giving her great promotion locally “and Dale Shields, which really goes all the way back in the beginning,” Franklin said. “I use to work the Showboat Theatre, right off Broad Street there. And I worked Peps, which was right on Broad Street, and then I worked, finally, the Cadillac Club which was on Broad Street. So, I’m right at home in Philadelphia, and with Philadelphia. I love it.”
Tickets for Franklin’s Atlantic City performance can be purchased by calling Ticketmaster at 1-800-736-1420 or on line at www.ticketmaster.com.