Benjamin Bynum Sr., nightclub owner who has linked music and politics, dies at 98

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Benjamin Bynum Sr., nightclub owner and impresario who skillfully mixed the entertainment and political arenas of Philadelphia, died on Tuesday, October 19 at the age of 98 from a brief illness.

He was active and vital until recently, his son Benjamin Jr. said, after enjoying a late summer trip to Ocean City, Md., With his longtime partner, Thelma Peake, before getting sick.

Mr Bynum had been keen to say he would never retire, and even in his 90s he would often be found working the doors of his sons’ restaurants, like Warmdaddy’s blues club, in his latest incarnation. , before its closure in the event of a pandemic. , in south Philadelphia.

His son Benjamin Bynum Jr., whose restaurants with his older brother Robert now include South and Relish, said he was their inspiration in life and in business. Bynum said his father “always insisted on us persevering and recognizing that things weren’t always rosy.” He was blunt, getting his point across without raising his voice.

“Sometimes you have to listen in more detail to hear someone speaking quietly than someone speaking loudly,” Bynum said. “It’s like when a jazz band plays and they bring things down really slowly. You have to allow your ear to hear what they are playing.

Mr. Bynum was a familiar figure at the doorstep of his own establishments, most notably the Cadillac Club, on Germantown Avenue just off Broad Street. Since his founding in 1965, Mr. Bynum has reserved an eclectic who’s who of show biz, such as Nina Simone, BB King, Redd Foxx, Kenny Gamble, Woody Herman, Count Basie, Gladys Knight, Fats Domino, George Benson, The Stylistics, and Aretha Franklin.

Soul singer Billy Paul’s debut album in 1968 was named Feel good at the Cadillac Club – the second LP ever produced by the team of Kenny Gamble and Leon Huff – based on his live performances. (Four years later, Paul found gold with the “Me and Mrs. Jones” Torch Slow Jam, which Gamble and Huff wrote with Cary “Hippy” Gilbert.)

Seeing the boom in disco, Mr. Bynum and his wife Ruth, who looked after the books, closed the Cadillac in 1976 and opened the Impulse Discotheque on the site. Her clientele consisted mostly of black professionals aged 30 and over as she joined a collection of black-owned bars and clubs along a mile-long stretch of North Broad Street, including Chuck’s Place, El Dorado, Ruth’s Spot, Prince’s Total Experience and Sid Booker’s Stinger Lounge (the survivor, attached to the fried shrimp takeaway window at Broad Street and Belfield Avenue).

At that time, her son Robert Bynum was a student at the University of Pennsylvania, where his roommate and best friend at St. Joseph’s Prep was Michael Nutter, the future mayor. While the two young men worked for Mr. Bynum, Nutter (who was a DJ under the name Mixmaster Mike), took courses in diplomacy, hospitality and government.

“We are in college and we are witnessing the development of black and brown politics in the city,” Nutter said. A political fundraising event at Impulse had a huge impact on Nutter, as he met leaders such as political strategist John White Sr., and future leaders such as John White Jr., William H. Gray III, Marian Tasco, Augusta “Gussie” Clark, David Richardson and Dwight Evans.

Mr. Bynum mingled with them as easily as with customers walking past his booth on entry. noted. “As mayor, I had to remember a lot of names, shake a lot of hands and every once in a while to throw someone out of my office. I would never have been in public service without Ben Bynum.

The club closed in 1991, shortly after Mr. Bynum’s sons opened the first incarnation of Zanzibar Blue, their groundbreaking jazz club, on 11th Street near Pine in the city center.

“There was a feeling of warmth every time you greeted him,” said Patty Jackson, a longtime radio personality who has hosted numerous events at Bynum-owned establishments. Jackson said Mr. Bynum looked with pride at his sons and their work, saying, “This is the seed I planted.”

Benjamin Louie Bynum Sr., born April 6, 1923 in Lexington, SC, was one of five siblings. During World War II, he was a member of the Montford Point Marines, the US Marine Corps’ first African-American trainee unit.

Prior to the Cadillac, Mr. Bynum operated other bars, starting with the Cosmo Club and later the Big Moose, both in Brewerytown.

Ben Bynum recounted family trips to the Jersey Shore, as well as outings to Phillies games at the former Connie Mack Stadium in North Philadelphia – now the site of the Evangelical Deliverance Church, where Mr. Bynum will take place.

Longevity is apparently written in his genes. A brother, Jimmy, is 100 years old and a sister, Zellen, died last year at 102. Ruth Bynum died at age 80 in 2005.

Besides his sons, his brother and his partner, he is survived by his daughters Antoinette, Benita and Denee, nine grandchildren, seven great-grandchildren and one great-great-grandchild.

The viewing will take place from 9 am to 11 am on Monday, November 1 at the Deliverance Evangelical Church, 2001 W. Lehigh Ave., Philadelphia, followed by a service at 11 am. Interment will be in Ivy Hill Cemetery, Philadelphia.


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