Bruce Cornell Webb, who for decades owned a record store where musicians like Miles Davis and Smokey Robinson pulled up in limousines and snapped pictures with customers, died of cancer on Thanksgiving Day at Sacred Heart Home in North Philadelphia. He was 83.
“We have one picture with Grover Washington Jr.,” said Edna Brown, Mr. Webb’s longtime companion. Other artists who she said visited Webb’s Department Store were the Temptations, Richard Pryor and Dianne Reeves.
Mr. Webb, who owned the record store at 22nd Street and Ridge Avenue for at least 40 years, had previously co-owned a separate North Philadelphia record store before striking out on his own, his family said. He also was active in the music industry as a promoter, consultant, and a distributor. For about 50 years, he was a photographer for the community newspaper Scoop USA.
“His store was a Philadelphia institution,” said Stephanie Turner, a staffer at Scoop who, among other jobs, edited the captions for Mr. Webb’s photos.
She said he had continued to write the “Pick Hits” and record charts for the Top 25 R&B and gospel music records for the paper until he became ill less than two years ago.
“The charts stopped [being published] when he stopped doing them,” Turner said.
Brown said one of the photos Mr. Webb took for Scoop was of a young Janet Jackson when she began her solo music career. Her record company had a press event at The Pub in Pennsauken.
As a music distributor, Mr. Webb often worked into the wee hours of the morning.
“We used to stop by the radio stations at 2 in the morning to drop off records to the DJs,” Brown said.
They made those visits because Mr. Webb knew the disc jockeys worked late shifts, so the couple went to the stations after an evening out on the town.
“He loved to go out and be entertained,” Brown said. “He loved to go to the theater, the movies and to concerts.” He was also known for his love of dancing, she said.
Mr. Webb didn’t boast about the famous musicians who stopped by, sometimes to say hello and sometimes to look for a recording that was hard to find.
“You could never tell from him how well-connected he was,” said Sherri Johnson, owner of Supreme Gospel Entertainment & Marketing.
She said Mr. Webb was a mentor as she began her own marketing business, and he encouraged her to broaden her skills by writing articles and taking photographs.
“He said, ‘Don’t stay in one lane, Sherri. There are multiple lanes, ‘ ” Johnson said.
Mr. Webb was born in Philadelphia Dec. 4, 1933, to Lula and William Webb. He was one of 15 siblings — nine brothers and six sisters — and was born about “the middle” of the group, his youngest brother, Lowell Webb said.
The family lived in the West Philadelphia neighborhood known as “The Bottom” near 32nd and Winter Streets.
Among other jobs, his father worked as a chef for the Pennsylvania Railroad, cooking for passengers and crew on trains. Their mother stayed home.
Mr. Webb was educated in the Philadelphia public schools and later joined the Army after graduating from high school.
In the Army, he developed boxing skills, said another brother, Creadell Webb. He then used those skills to coach boxer Jimmy Young how to jab for a title fight Young had with Muhammad Ali in 1976. Many in the crowd thought Young should have won the decision.
Creadell Webb said in addition to the music stars, Joe Frazier also was a visitor to Webb’s store.
As Mr. Webb approached his 80s, he kept up with music trends, and just as he taught earlier generations about the music industry, he mentored young rappers.
“He went along with the flow,” Lowell Webb said. “If [the music industry] changed, he changed. When rap came out, he changed. He grew with the music.”
Stephanie Turner, at Scoop, said she considered Mr. Webb a friend.
“He was funny. He was a mentor for a lot of people in the music business. His first love was music, all kinds of music,” she said.
She said Mr. Webb continued to take photos of community life, going to wherever someone was getting an award or opening a store.
“He was a good man. He was a caring man. He helped anybody he could. There’s no higher accolade you can give a person than to say he was a good man,” Turner said.
In addition to Brown, his brothers Lowell and Creadell, and another brother and a sister, Mr. Webb is survived by a son, Jonathan; a goddaughter, Te’h Fortune; and a granddaughter. He was predeceased by his daughter, Brucette Webb.
A viewing will be from 9 a.m. to 11 a.m., Dec. 9, at the Germantown Church of the Brethren, 6611 Germantown Ave. in Philadelphia. Funeral service will follow at 11 a.m.
Interment will be at 9 a.m., Dec. 11, at Washington Crossings National Cemetery, 830 Highland Road, in Newtown.