Philadelphia legacy radio — the sound of golden oldies touching on early rock and roll and rhythm and blues — lost two local legends this weekend with the passing of Jerry Blavat and Sonny Hopson.
Blavat passed away at the age of 82 on Friday from the effects of myasthenia gravis and related health issues at VITAS Inpatient Hospice at Jefferson-Methodist Hospital. Hopson passed peacefully at home, at the age 85. In both instances, the family and friends of Blavat and Hopson remained at each man’s side until the end.
There are many parallels between the two radio giants. Both men made their fame, first, by spinning records at local dances and area night spots before they hit the radio. Both men were renowned for their unique, vivacious styles of rapid-fire patter. And both remained true to their roots and the City of Philadelphia that helped make them a success, nationally and locally.
“Life is precious and I am happy,” Blavat told Metro in 2018. “And, when I am happy, I want the world to be happy.”
Both Blavat and Hopson owned nightclubs, made records under their own names, and had successful enterprises outside of radio. Hopson was involved with managing The Fantastic Johnny C, organist Charles Earland, and vocal groups such as the Emanons. While Blavat was a tour manager for doo wop’s Danny and the Juniors, a valet for comedian Don Rickles, a partner in Philadelphia-based record labels Crimson and Lost Nite, and a co-owner of the vinyl chain, Record Museum.
Blavat expanded onto television with his own dance show, ‘The Discophonic Scene’, and guest shots on national series such as The Monkees. Hopson co-wrote hit songs such as the Freedom Now Brothers’ ‘Sissy Walk,’ which was sampled by Fatboy Slim and made famous for generations to come.
“The type of music I play will reach out and grab you,” Hopson told Metro in 2000. “ Make you cry… find someone to get into bed with and do something positive with yourself.”
Both men were authors whose memoirs tell poignant personal tales of love and the songs of their youth – Hopson with ‘The Untold Story’, and Blavat with ‘You Only Rock Once: My Life in Music’.
And certainly, both had the most colorfully unique nicknames beyond radio—Hopson was “The Might Burner” and Blavat was “The Geator with the Heater” and “The Boss with the Hot Sauce.”
South Philadelphia’s Blavat got his start in 1953 as an on-air dancer on the original Bandstand on Philadelphia’s WFIL-TV before Dick Clark took over the program and made it national. The Geator debuted in 1960, at Camden’s WCAM-AM and became an instant smash by playing music “from the heart, not a research chart,” and talking to his similarly-aged audience, “the yon teens.”
West Philadelphia’s Hopson got his start in the clubs of 52nd and Spruce, from 1965 to 1986 on WHAT 1340 AM. He played the hottest soul platters and added his own heaven-sent shout-outs with an ear toward social activism, Black rights and his daily teardowns of the Vietnam War.
Most importantly, both Blavat and Hopson did what they had always loved doing until they passed – connecting with old friends and new fans alike, while playing the sweetly vintage R&B and rock and roll of the past.
Hopson burned up the sound waves of the Internet at WHTHmusic.com. Blavat not only syndicated his Geator Gold brand to radio stations in Philly and New Jersey, and had a Saturday show at WXPN-FM, but he also tirelessly worked casino shows, while curating and booking his annual Kimmel Cultural Campus concerts where reproduced the sound of each oldies’ acts’ records exactly as he heard them, with lush string and horn arrangements.
Though each icon of Philadelphia radio has passed, the voice and legend of Jerry Blavat and Sonny Hopson will always be remembered.
A memorial service for Jerry Blavat will be held on Saturday, Jan. 28, at the Cathedral Basilica of Saints Peter and Paul, 1723 Race Street. A viewing will begin at 9 a.m., with mass scheduled at 11:30 a.m. In lieu of flowers, donations are requested for the Jerry Blavat Endowed Fund, 300 South Broad Street, Philadelphia, PA 19102. Funeral arrangements for Sonny Hopson were not released as Metro went to press.