"Good evening, ladies and gentlemen, and welcome to Palumbo's." These were the words spoken each night by legendary band leader Carmen Dee as he opened the show at the famous South Philadelphia nightclub.
Mr. Dee, whose given name was Carmen DiPipi, was a favorite at the club for 35 years. He started in his teens as a saxophone player and then accepted a job as bandleader.
After a fire destroyed the club in 1994, he toured with his nine-piece Carmen Dee Orchestra and became the keeper of Palumbo's lore. By 2015, his original band members gone, he had just his old photos and memories.
"There's not one guy alive," he told the Inquirer's Mike Newall.
On Friday, Aug. 24, Mr. Dee, 91, died of respiratory failure in the hospice at Jefferson Methodist Hospital. Social media lit up with accolades. With Mr. Dee gone, a musical era was over.
"It is with great sorrow that we announce the passing of Carmen Dee," his son, Gregg, posted online. "He was my father and a true legend in Philadelphia music. It is definitely the end of an era."
A South Philly native and graduate of Bok High School, Mr. Dee took an early interest in music: By age 8, he had begun to learn the sax; at 10, he was in a school band; at 18, he joined the Philadelphia Musicians' Union and was hired to play in the Palumbo's band.
Wanting to do more with music, he left Palumbo's for a dance band that toured locally. Soon, he was back at Palumbo's, juggling that job with his tour dates.
"Then, on one special day in 1959, Frank Palumbo Sr. asked me to be Palumbo's bandleader," he wrote in a personal history. "I happily accepted and did that for 35 consecutive years."
He was on stage with some of the top entertainers of the day — Tony Bennett, Jimmy Durante, Vic Damone, Cab Calloway, Al Martino, Mel Torme, Patti Page, and Don Rickles, along with locals Bobby Rydell, Frankie Avalon, Fabian, and Cozy Morley.
"Tony Bennett — a gem. A gem! A good singer. He loved everyone," Mr. Dee told Newall in 2015.
Palumbo's, a landmark restaurant and social center as well as a nightclub, was not taking bookings and about to change hands when it burned in late June 1994. The uninsured building was a total loss.
"This was the only true nightclub left," Mr. Dee told the Daily News at the time. "Now it's gone. It makes you want to cry."
"I'm standing here on the corner watching 35 years of my life go down the drain," he said. "You could write a hundred books for all the things that happened here. It was a great meeting place."
After taking time off to weigh his options, Mr. Dee gathered the band and started booking dates in Pennsylvania, South Jersey, Delaware, and New York. His specialty was Big Band sound.
"He [used me whenever there] was an up-tempo version of `Shiny Stockings,' " posted musician Tommy Moore. "He was legendary, as was Palumbo's. I believe the finest compliment you can give a man is to say he was a gentleman. Carmen Dee was truly a gentleman."
Mr. Dee met his wife, Tina, when he stepped off a bandstand one night. "I love the way you play 'Body and Soul,' " he remembered her telling him.
They were married in 1954 and bought a house on Clarion Street and then 17th Street. They raised a son, Gregg. She died in 2015.
In his 80s, Mr. Dee still played a few shows a month. "But the way the business is, everything is rock-and-roll now," he told the Inquirer's Newall.
Besides his son, Mr. Dee is survived by a sister, Rita Borraccini, and many nieces and nephews.
A viewing starting at 9:30 a.m. Thursday, Aug. 30, will be followed by an 11 a.m. Funeral Mass at St. Monica Roman Catholic Church, 2422 S. 17th St., Philadelphia, Pa. 19145. Interment will be private.