For more than four decades, the Rev. Louise Williams Bishop has entertained, encouraged and edified millions of Philadelphians as a gospel music radio personality.
With a signature voice that is unmistakable, she established herself as an iconic legacy during her tenure at WDAS 1480AM.
She can now be heard spreading the good news of the Gospel of Jesus Christ and playing traditional gospel music, every Sunday from 6 a.m. to noon, and weekdays from 5 a.m. to 6 a.m. on WURD 900AM.
Williams Bishop is a highly in-demand preacher but equally impressive is that, for more than two decades, the Democrat has served as the state representative for the 192nd District.
A 1953 graduate of West Philadelphia High School, she was elected in 1989 and serves more than 59,000 constituents.
The Tribune recently caught up with Williams Bishop during a Community Legislative Meet & Greet that she hosted at her 63rd Street district office in West Philly.
When it comes to the dichotomy of her ministry/broadcast career and legislative responsibilities, Williams Bishop reconciles both as service to the public, she said that “there’s no conflict of interest, they both do the same thing, they serve. As a radio personality, it’s amazing how that [gets] tied into the state representative” [position and the ministry]. “You are performing a service for the people.”
In 1987, a distraught listener called into Williams Bishop’s radio show, he conveyed that he was blind and that his wife had abandoned him and their five young children; three of the kids were still in diapers. The caller pleaded for help, and she asked her faithful listeners to assist this gentleman. Not only did many people quickly respond to help this man, but the city’s managing director immediately responded, too. It was that fateful call and the power of her influence in the community that led Williams Bishop to pursue her third career in politics.
In her opinion, being a radio personality, an ordained minister and a state representative, “All three of those fields are fields of service,” she said. “You are performing a service for the people.
“State representative and serving in government is a calling by the people, who live in your legislative district — who believe in you, and who wanted you to run in a public office to take care of their needs, to take care of their concerns. And when you’re elected, you’re almost doing the same thing that you do, when you’re called” [to the ministry.]
For Williams Bishop, it’s all about serving others and representing the people’s interests, “whatever those interests are.”
Elegant, soft spoken and humble, Williams Bishop is very appreciative of where God has brought her from. As a child, Williams Bishop was a victim of sexual abuse at the hands of her stepfather.
On the subject of being sexually abused as a child, Williams Bishop said, “I think the time has come when we have to talk about these things.”
She stated that some victims don’t recover well from being sexually abused.
“I was fortunate, it happened to me as a young person” and she said she handled her situation quite differently from most. “And my step-father also handled it differently. He was very cunning.”
She said he started the abuse around the time when she was between 7 and 9 years old. “It started with play,” Williams Bishop recalled. “The actual act did not happen until I was probably 12. But there was a playful kind of thing, I didn’t know what it would lead to, or what was happening. I always felt funny about it, and I always tried to cover myself with my sister and brothers, I always tried to stay around them.”
To avoid being molested by her step-father, she felt comfortable and safe being among her brothers and sisters.
“Then one day it actually happened,” she said. “I was hurt by it. But I knew I couldn’t tell my mom, because I knew it would hurt my mom. And I knew I couldn’t tell my sisters and brothers, because it was their father.”
Her next move, even at a young age, was to find a way to move out. And eventually she did move out, to reside with family in Philadelphia.
“I was able to protect myself, I was able to get to Philadelphia,” she said.
Williams Bishop is a vocal advocate against sexual abuse of children as she is the House Democratic Chair of the Children and Youth Committee.
She is also the most senior African-American woman serving in Pennsylvania’s General Assembly and she is a former officer of the Commonwealth’s Legislative Black Caucus and the Philadelphia Delegation.
Williams Bishop has sponsored several pieces of legislation including domestic violence, day care, mandatory drug treatment, education, health care and sarcoidosis.
Constituents can contact Williams Bishop at her local district office at 1991 N. 63rd St. or by calling (215) 879-6625 or (717) 783-2192.
E. Steven Collins was 19 years old when he met the famed radio announcer, Joe “Butterball” Tamburro. Like most Philadelphians in the 1970s, Collins faithfully tuned into WDAS FM and jammed to the R&B and soul classics of the ’50s, ’60s and ’70s.
But when there was an opening at WDAS for a newsperson, at that time, the news director, Dave Shorr, called Collins and asked him to try out.
“I was deliriously happy,” Collins recalled. “And I tried out on Butterball’s show — the midday show from 10 a.m. to 2 p.m. And I remember it because I was scared when I got there.”
As a Temple University student, most of Collins’ peers were auditioning for jobs at KYW and other local stations. Having previous radio experience at WHAT for a year and a half, he knew he was ready.
“I wanted to be a journalist, but I wanted to work in Black radio,” Collins said.
Around a quarter of one, Collins entered the studio on Belmont and Edgeley Roads. When he walked in, Butterball was on the phone. Collins sat down and Butterball pointed and directed him where to sit. There was a microphone there and Collins prepared his newscast.
Just as the music began to fade out, Butterball turned to him and said, ‘Alright guy, if you mess up, it’s back to WHAT.’ The two shared a laugh — a hearty laugh as Collins' described it that would spark a friendship lastly over thirty years.
And Butterball’s laugh carried over on air when he announced that it was time for news.
“He said what song had just been playing, Earth Wind and Fire or something. ‘And here’s E. Steven Collins.’ I was on the air. Because I was relaxed, I did a really good newscast. My father heard it and he called me.”
“When I finished, Butterball put a song on and he called Bob Kline — who was the general manager — and he said, ‘This guy is good enough for my show.’
Thus, Collins was hired in June 1978, a summer of memorable firsts.
“In all those years, and the most important thing, Butterball was a constant. I worked at WDAS, later Clear Channel, for 22 plus years and we had a number of different general managers, market managers, field mangers and promoters.”
“But there was only one program director all of those years and that was Butterball. [He]
was an enormously powerful person in the music industry. He was a guy who many people consulted with on what songs to release off new CDs. Kenny Gamble talks about it all the time.”
WDAS radio personality Patty Jackson said that Gamble often praised Butterball’s ability to hear a hit.
“Kenny Gamble said Butter had the best ears in the business for picking hits,” Jackson said. “Everyone from Smokey Robinson, The O’Jays, Patti LaBelle, James Brown and Frankie Beverly to Eric Benet, Babyface, Boyz II Men and Teena Marie got their chart topping hits started right here with Butter playing them first in the country on ’DAS.”
“A big part of the success that they had has to do with Butterball,” Collins continued. “Butterball had as Kenny Gamble once said, ‘a golden ear for radio and music.’ It didn’t matter who the artist was. Butterball would hear a song and he would know. Barry White would ask him. Luther Vandross would ask him. And [Butter] would tell them and he would play it on the radio right away.”
“He was so much more because he got Philadelphia. He was an Italian kid from South Philly, but he understood the African-American experience because he lived it. He didn’t see me as a Black kid from West Philly that was coming out of Temple and trying to get a job on the radio. He saw my potential.”
Butterball’s ability to hear talent even picked up Patty Jackson’s voice, which led her to work for WDAS.
“I remember Patty being on an AM radio station,” Collins said. “And I told Butter, ‘She sounds like us, man. You should put her on.’ And he said to me, ‘You don’t know anything about radio. I’ll listen to her.’ He and I went to get a cheese steak and I put on this AM station she was on, WSFJ, and Butter listened to her and said, ‘Hey I like her. Tell her to call me.’ She’s always had an amazing sound and of course Butter had that ear.”
From Collins’ 1978 interviews of Frank Rizzo, Edward Rendell, Hardy Williams and other people making news in Philadelphia, there was an impact in the news department and the Black community’s ability to get information.
“Butter wanted us to be in the community. Late in the summer of ’78, we talked about a way to create something for the community that would bring people together.”
During this time, Klein had been WDAS’ general manager for 30 years and retired. His assistant, Cody Anderson took over and had input into the efforts to have more station presence within the Black community. Even still, it was Butterball who implemented the Unity Day initiative and made it work.
During the same year in 1978, Fat Larry’s Band performed on the Belmont Plateau for Unity Day’s premiere. Collins remembered there were about eight or 10 vendors and people played softball.
“We had a ball,” Collins chuckled. “And 30 or 40,000 people [came] and we couldn’t believe people showed up for our first Unity Day. The city didn’t have an African-American centered event. The next year it became bigger.”
Unity Day eventually was held on the Benjamin Franklin Parkway with several performance areas with varied entertainment including the gospel stage, senior citizen area and children’s area. A highlight was the Unity award — given to someone who preserved and protected Black heritage. It was presented to several national recognized figures like Reggie White, Dr. Leon Sullivan and Julius Irving.
“Butterball was hands-on deck, very instrumental in helping us to get really good entertainment on these stages. Artists like Kool and the Gang, Phyllis Hyman, The O’Jays, The Whispers, and ultimately James Brown and Smokey Robinson. The top names would come in and perform in the dead of summer and give Philadelphia just an amazing day. What I call, ‘Our Day on the Parkway.’ ”
Collins said that Butterball’s impact to the radio station, community and to his personal life was a memorable experience.
“Butter was like a father with all of us at ’DAS then. He was proud of us if we got a new car or house, if we had a baby, if we got married. Butter could tell if you needed a pep talk or if you just wanted a partner to roll with and get a cheese steak. It wasn’t like you went out with your boss. You went out with Butterball.”
Collins now serves as director of urban marketing and external relations at Radio One.
“For all of us, Doug Henderson, Mimi Brown, Patty Jackson, Terry Johnson and Tony Brown and Louise Williams-Bishop, we cry when we think about him not being around,” Collins said. “It’s such a loss. I don’t know if I can find the proper way to express what he was in our lives. He was special.”
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.
The Second Annual “Music for the Spirit” Gospel Concert raised funds for the non-profit Center in the Park. The older adult facility located in the heart of Germantown brought together a full house to the Enon Tabernacle Baptist Church West at 230 W. Coulter St. on Saturday.
Enon member Dawn Morgan Moore performed despite growing health problems. She felt Saturday’s award presentation and concert was for a worthy cause. Having recently celebrated her 50th birthday, Moore was part of the Philadelphia Alumnae Quartet and later did a few solo selections with the other group members as backup singers.
“I am so glad that my church family came out to support CIP,” Moore said. “It’s our honor to be able to give.”
Perhaps no one was more excited about the success of the CIP fundraiser than Lynn Fields Harris of Mount Airy, the executive director. She acknowledged the afternoon’s three honorees. They were Verolga Nix, the Jones Sisters gospel group and state Rep. Louise Williams Bishop.
“CIP was founded by two older women,” Harris said. “Marguerite Riegel and Laura Drake Nicols saw a need for a place that the community’s elders could call their own. (They wanted) a place where they could come together to promote positive aging, stay healthy, independent and avoid isolation. Forty-four years later we are still a gem in Germantown.
“What does CIP do?” she asked. “Think of the words to (the song) ‘If I Can Help Somebody’ because that is what CIP does. It’s what we are committed to do. We help somebody. Thank you for helping us to continue to do that with your generous support.”
The concert featured the sounds of CIP’s Songsters Unlimited that was founded in 1986, the St. Thomas Gospel Choir, Intermezzo Choir Ministry, Joy Unlimited Movement Youth Chorale, and Reginald Troy Coleman. They, along with the Philadelphia Alumnae Quartet and Moore, all received scattered standing ovations throughout the program.
There were many sponsors to make the fundraiser a success. Besides Enon, the St. Luke’s Episcopal Church, Mount Vernon Baptist Church, Mount Tabor Baptist Church, Mount Airy United Fellowship, the First Presbyterian Church in Germantown, the Grace Ebenezer Baptist Church, and the Mount Airy Church of God in Christ were sponsors. In addition, state Rep. Dwight Evans, McClain’s Unisex Salon, Anne’s Wicker Garden, Bruce R. Hawkins Funeral Home, Canaan Baptist Church pastor Derick Brennan and his wife, and others were supporters as well.
CIP’s next event will be a “Sunday Afternoon of Soulful Jazz” featuring saxophonist Brian Lanier. The event will take place at CIP, 5818 Germantown Ave. in Vernon Park on Sunday, May 6 at 3 p.m. Tickets are $15 and there will be a light fare provided. For ticket information call (215) 848-7722, ext. 225.
Unanimous resolution opposes deadline on homeowner protection
City Council this week called on court officials to preserve the city’s Mortgage Foreclosure Diversion Program, rather than enact a proposed change that would cut the time frame residents and banks have to hammer out alternatives to foreclosure.
“We really believe it’s going to cost a lot of people their homes,” said John Dodds, director of the Philadelphia Unemployment Project, who urged council to approve the measure, which council unanimously did.
The program, which gives banks and homeowners a chance to reach a deal before foreclosure proceeds, has been heralded as a national model.
First Judicial District Administrative Judge John W. Herron wants to cut the time for mediation to 150 days. According to Dodds, the change could go into effect as soon as May.
Under current rules, there is no time limit — and Dodds worried that a time limit favors banks who can simply do nothing until the limit is reached and then foreclose.
“The problem is that banks do not have their act together at all,” Dodds said. “All the bank has to do is do nothing — then the family goes right out the door.”
More than 5,000 Philadelphia families have saved their homes through the diversion program since its inception.
Council members said it should remain untouched.
“It is not time to end the mortgage diversion program,” said Councilwoman Marian Tasco. “It is a national model. If it ain’t broke, don’t fix it.”
Herron could not be reached for comment.
The move comes as the Philadelphia metropolitan area faces a significant increase in foreclosures.
Two weeks ago, a report by RealTrac found that the number of foreclosures jumped to a total of 2,940 in February, a 47.2 percent increase over the same period last year.
Council also approved a resolution urging the state legislature to move on a package of bills that would change the statute of limitations for sexual abuse in civil cases.
State Rep. Louise Bishop and former House Speaker, now Councilman Dennis O’Brien introduced the proposal last year in Harrisburg at the height of the Penn State sex scandal. The bills have languished in committee ever since.
“Every time we’ve introduced legislation it has laid in committee,” Bishop told members of council.
She stood during council’s session to urge members to approve the resolution, and to tell, in very frank terms, the story of her own sexual abuse at the hands of her stepfather.
“I was young. I didn’t really know what was happening to me, didn’t understand it,” she said. “But every time my stepfather had an opportunity to caress me, feel me, bother me, he did.”
It didn’t stop there.
“I woke up one night to find him in bed with me,” said Bishop. “Not only was he in bed with me, he was in me. It was a very, very, horrifying and difficult for experience for me. But, because I knew that my grandfather, who lived with me, would kill him if he knew, and because I knew it would break my mother’s heart … there was absolutely nothing I could do but hold it within.”
It is not the first time Bishop has gone public with the story of her abuse. She decided to reveal her secret last November as she advocated for the laws.
“I could not hold it any longer,” she said.
The reform bills would give victims of child abuse and child sexual abuse until they are 50 years old to press a civil suit. Under current law, victims have until they are 50 to press criminal charges, but only until they are 30 years old for civil suits.
In addition, the proposal would also create a two-year window to revive cases in which the statute of limitations has expired.
Similar reforms were adopted in Delaware in 2007.
In other news, council will vote at its next meeting on a resolution by Councilwoman Blondell Reynolds Brown “calling for justice and standing in solidarity” in the Trayvon Martin case.
“Injustice anywhere is a threat to justice everywhere,” said Brown, quoting Dr. Martin Luther King.
She said many Black parents are required to have a talk with their sons similar to the “birds and bees” talk — but known as the “existing while Black” talk.
Finally, Councilman Jim Kenney introduced a bill that would change the Home Rule Charter to require individuals running who hold public office to resign before running for another office. The bill was referred to committee.
Deana Woodall and Caliph Gamble exchanged wedding vows at an elegant ceremony on April 21 at Estia Restaurant. Caliph is the son of Philadelphia International Records co-founder Kenneth Gamble and radio personality Dyana Williams. The wedding was officiated by the Rev. Louise Williams Bishop and entertainment was provided by R&B singer Jean Carne.