Philly Music Alliance ready to party like it's 1986

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Posing with their plaques, from left, are inductees and family members Ludie Montgomery, sister of late Motown singer Tammi Terrell (“Ain’t No Mountain High Enough”); R&B legend Billy Paul (“Me & Mrs. Jones), rock innovator Charlie Gracie (“Butterfly”), pioneering teen idol Dee Dee Sharp (“Mashed Potato Time”), and Michelle Whyte, niece of influential jazz trumpeter Clifford Brown (Miles Davis, Charlie Parker). (Credit: Philadelphia Music Alliance)

On an arctic day in the winter of 1986, a group of local music-scene mahoffs welcomed representatives of the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame to Philly with the intention of persuading them to put the hall here.

Inexplicably, Cleveland ultimately got the nod (some insiders blamed then-Mayor Wilson Goode's lack of enthusiasm for the project). But there was a positive by-product of that ill-fated, long-ago visit: the Philadelphia Music Alliance.

For almost 30 years, the nonprofit PMA has been the guardian and promoter of Philadelphia's illustrious and influential history as a music capital. Its most prominent work to that end is the Walk of Fame, a series of plaques touting our local music royalty, embedded on both sides of the Avenue of the Arts.

For the first few years of its existence, the PMA toasted honorees - among them "The Sound of Philadelphia" avatars Kenny Gamble, Leon Huff and Thom Bell; Philadelphia Orchestra icons Leopold Stokowski and Eugene Ormandy; and "Bandstand"-era popsters Chubby Checker, Bobby Rydell and Frankie Avalon - at lavish, black-tie bashes.

More recently, festivities have been relegated to daytime plaque unveilings and luncheons.

But Monday, the PMA heads back to the future with a full-blown gala at the Fillmore Philadelphia, in Fishtown. Getting the local-heroes treatment this year are performers Billie Holiday, Ray Benson, the Roots, Cinderella, Andrea McArdle and the Trammps, along with veteran disc jockey Harvey Holiday (no relation to Billie), all of whom will be feted for their contributions to the musical arts.

The sold-out evening, hosted by former "Saturday Night Live" star Joe Piscopo, will follow an 11:30 a.m. ceremony to unveil the newest inductees' plaques along South Broad Street.

Back to basics

The idea for the soiree, explained the PMA's current board chairman, Alan Rubens, is to revive and improve upon the body's original mission. He said that Electric Factory Concerts co-founder Larry Magid initially sowed the seeds of the organization.

"In looking at Philadelphia trying to be the home of the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame, people realized how wonderful the Philadelphia music scene was," said Rubens, whose day job is vice president and executive producer at Time Life. (He's the guy behind those music-collection TV infomercials.)

"Larry Magid was the original driving force behind it. I think that Larry felt that Philadelphia needed something to recognize its own, that with our tremendous history and tremendous talent that has come out of the city, it was important there should be an organization that honors that heritage and those names and those legends.

"This is one of the few cities that, in every decade . . . has been a major [music-biz] player. It is important for people to recognize and say, 'Yeah, Philadelphia did that.' "

But Rubens was quick to add that the past isn't the PMA's sole concern. The other charge, he said, is "to support the new talent that comes from here, and hopefully support people who are put on the Walk of Fame 20, 30, 40 years from now."

To achieve that, the PMA offers cash awards to entities like the Philadelphia High School for the Creative and Performing Arts, which Monday night will receive a to-be-announced amount as recipient of the Education Award.

But the party's focus will be on the latest group of honorees. For Ray Benson, who left Philly more than four decades ago for Texas, where he co-founded the Western-swing band Asleep at the Wheel, the recognition is important because it emphasizes his local roots.

"For many years, folks didn't realize I was from the Philadelphia area," Benson wrote in an email. "I'd been so identified as a Texas musician that the idea that a Yankee from Philly could be so Texan was foreign to some. But it was the formative musical years of mine growing up and playin' in Philadelphia that prepared me so well for my future musical life.

"It's great to have my name mentioned among such great Philadelphia musical heroes of mine."

On Twitter: @chuckdarrow