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Philadelphia Nightclub Entrepreneur Benjamin Bynum Sr. Has Died at Age 98

Ben Bynum
Courtesy of the Bynum family
Ben Bynum

Benjamin Bynum Sr., a prominent nightclub owner who served as a link between the entertainment and political worlds of Philadelphia, died of a brief illness on October 19th at the age of 98.

Bynum began his self-made career as an entrepreneur with bars and cafés in North Philly and Germantown. Among his heirs are restaurateurs Robert and Benjamin Bynum Jr., who own restaurants South and Relish as well as former blues and jazz clubs Zanzibar Blue and Warmdaddy's in Center City.

"Ben Bynum touched the lives of innumerable people through his love of music and devotion to giving Philadelphians a place to hear it," said WRTI General Manager Bill Johnson. "He is forever woven into the fabric of Philadelphia's music history and his legacy, thanks to sons Robert and Benjamin Jr., continues on even in his passing."

Born in Lexington, S.C., on April 6, 1923, Benjamin Louie Bynum Sr. was one of ten siblings. During World War II, he served as a member of the Montford Point Marines, the first African American unit in the U.S. Marine Corps. Bynum opened the Cadillac Club on Germantown Avenue in Philadelphia in 1965 after operating other bars, including the Cosmo Club and the Big Moose, both in Brewerytown.

With his wife, Ruth, who handled the books, the Cadillac Club became known for booking famous artists like Nina Simone, B.B. King, Redd Foxx, Kenny Gamble, Woody Herman, Count Basie, Gladys Knight, Fats Domino, George Benson, The Stylistics and the Queen of Soul, Aretha Franklin. Billy Paul's first album, "Feeling Good at The Cadillac Club," mentions the club which featured him and shaped his career as a soul singer.

With his finger on the pulse of the changing times and his clientele's tastes, Mr. Bynum transformed the Cadillac Club into The Impulse Discotheque in 1977. Robert and Benjamin Jr. worked for him through high school and college, eventually launching their own business.

Former Philadelphia Mayor Michael Nutter, Robert Bynum's best friend in high school, was influenced by Ben, Sr.'s political acumen. During his youth, Nutter held positions as a manager and DJ at the Impulse Club and took civic and social lessons from the elder Bynum, telling The Philadelphia Inquirer, "I wouldn't be here today if it wasn't for Ben Bynum."

After The Impulse closed in 1991, Ben Sr. started booking the finest blues acts in the tri-state area for his sons' Southern food restaurant, Warmdaddy's, where he brought a level of entertainment to the area never seen before.

As a self-proclaimed non-retiree, Bynum worked into his 90s. His Friday and Saturday responsibilities at Warmdaddy's continued, even after it moved to a second location on Delaware Ave. and Reed St. before its pandemic shutdown.

Mr. Bynum's funeral service will be held on Monday, Nov. 1st at Deliverance Evangelistic Church, 2001 W. Lehigh Ave., Philadelphia, 19132. There will be a viewing from 9 to 11 AM followed by a service at 11 AM., and is open to all who would like to pay their respects. Burial will be at Ivy Hill Cemetery, Philadelphia.

Bobbi I. Booker is an award-winning multimedia journalist and radio personality whose velvety voice has been a mainstay in the Delaware Valley for over two decades. She can be heard on Spirit Soul Music, Sundays from 6 to 9 a.m., and Jazz Through the Night, weeknights from 12 midnight to 6 a.m.