The icon of the Mont Airy jazz club, Marine, pioneer, dies at 98

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by Len Lear

Benjamin L. Bynum Sr., longtime Mount Airy resident, who brought countless bold names to his North Philly jazz club, the Cadillac Club, from 1965 to 1977, and whose sons helped run a series of restaurants and concert halls in Philly, including two in Chestnut Hill, for more than three decades, died of age-related illnesses on October 19 at the age of 98.

In his twenties, Bynum joined the Montford Point Marines, the first African-American unit of the US Marines, starting in 1942. He began his entrepreneurial career in bars and cafes in North Philadelphia and in Germantown. In 1965, he opened the Cadillac Club at 3738 Germantown Ave., and it quickly became the hottest jazz club in town.

Some of the stars who played at the Cadillac Club were Nina Simone, BB King, Redd Foxx, Kenny Gamble, Woody Herman, Count Basie, Gladys Knight, Fats Domino, George Benson, Billy Paul, The Stylistics and even the Soul Queen, Aretha Franklin.

Billy Paul, who lived near 16th Street and South Street at the time, held the country’s number one record in December 1972, “Me and Mrs. Jones”. Paul was so grateful to Mr. Bynum for the career boost he provided that Paul called his debut album “Feelin ‘Good at the Cadillac Club”.

In an interview in 1978, Paul told me, “Mr. Bynum is a wonderful man who has helped so many artists and brought so much class to Philly. His wife, Ruth, looked after the finances, and his sons, Robert and Benjamin Jr. also worked there. There was no better place to play. All musicians have sad stories about the club owners who scammed them, but not Mr. Bynum. He treated everyone fairly.

Due to changing musical tastes and the popularity of disco in the 1970s, the Cadillac Club was transformed into the Impulse nightclub in 1977, which the family closed in 1991. In a previous interview, Benjamin Jr. recalled how, as a young boy, he met performers like Gladys Knight & the Pips, who regularly visited the family home in Mt. Airy when they were in town playing Cadillac: “Most of the time I was in bed. Most of the time I look at pictures and remember stories about how my mom got Aretha Franklin’s ears for the evening. But honestly, I don’t even remember how old I was when it happened. “

The two sons, who both attended Central High School, followed in their father’s jazzy footsteps in 1990 when they opened Zanzibar Blue, a jazz restaurant / club at 11th and Spruce Streets. In 1996, the Bynum brothers moved Zanzibar Blue to a location below the Bellevue Hotel, but they closed it in 2007. Benjamin Jr. said at the time: “We didn’t think he was in. our interest in renewing the lease.

In 1995, the Bynum brothers also opened Warmdaddy’s, another music restaurant, on Front Street in Old Town, moving it 10 years later to a complex in Pennsport that also houses the Riverview Cinema. While the sons had previously worked for their father at the Cadillac Club, at Warmdaddy the roles were turned and Ben Sr. worked for them. He worked at the club gate every Friday and Saturday night, even after Warmdaddy’s moved into his second home in Pennsport.

In August of last year, the Bynums closed Warmdaddy’s, attributing the move to the pandemic, but they have since moved to 1410 Mt. Vernon St. in Fairmount, next to the South Restaurant and Jazz Club, which the Bynums have opened. in 2015.

The Bynum brothers also own and operate Relish, a music and dining venue located at 7162 Ogontz Ave. at West Oak Lane. And they’ve been involved for a while with Al Paris in Heirloom, a BYOB fine-dining restaurant next to the State Store on top of the hill from 2011 to 2015 and Paris Bistro & Jazz Club next to the Chestnut Hill hotel from January 2014, until March 2020, victim of the pandemic. (Veteran Chestnut Hill restaurateurs Rob and Vanessa Mullen took over Paris Bistro in 2018. Bynum was already gone, with Al Paris in full control.)

Benjamin Bynum Sr. continued to work until he was 90 and said he would never fully retire. His sons certainly carry on the family tradition of providing good music and good food. His wife, Ruth, died at age 80 in 2005. Besides his sons, he is survived by a brother, James, who is 100 years old (sister, Zellen, died last year at 102); his partner, Thelma Peake, and daughters Antoinette, Benita and Denee and nine grandchildren, seven great grandchildren and one great great grandchild.

Len Lear can be contacted at [email protected]

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