As an army nurse during the Vietnam War, Marsha Four developed a passion for aiding soldiers.
Almost 40 years later, Four continues to nurse the men and women who have served in the military through The Philadelphia Veterans Multi-Service & Education Center.
“We have a 32-year history of exclusively working with veterans in a very comprehensive and coordinated fashion,” executive director Four said.
“We provide counseling, job training and homeless services to veterans,” Four said. “And all of it is free.”
An estimated 81,000 veterans live in Philadelphia, according to the 2010 U.S. Census.
To raise money for veterans, volunteers put on the 7th Annual Philadelphia Doo-Wop Festival at Penn’s Landing.
Despite competition from the Philadelphia Eagles’ season opener, a multi-generational crowd of about 200 people attended the free outdoor concert.
“[Center job counselor] Bill [Diamond] called me and we organized some local bands to do something for the vets,” center volunteer Chuck Holloway said.
“Between New York and Philly, this is where doo-wop was born. This city has a festival for every genre of music except doo-wop, so we wanted to change that,” Holloway said.
Doo-wop is a derivative of rhythm and blues as well as jazz.
Peaking in popularity during the ‘50s, doo-wop was the soundtrack of Diamond’s youth.
“Back then, the music was about love,” Diamond said. “A lot of the music today, I don’t know what it’s about.”
Raising about $375,000 during the past six years, the festival has certainly proven successful.
“This was the perfect opportunity for us to do outreach in the community,” Four said.
“As a nonprofit, most of our programs are funded around federal grants. Our fundraisers are crucial because we don’t get dollars for some of the things we need,” Four said.
While bands of yesteryear such as The Del Satins and The Larkings rocked the crowd, rising star LaTanya Gentile crooned a stirring rendition of Whitney Houston’s “I Will Always Love You.”
“I lend my voice wherever I can for local charities,” Gentile said.
“I perform to connect with people on a different level because music is the epitome of love. Music lets me express myself in ways that I can’t do with mere words,” Gentile added.
Although Gentile caters to a younger demographic, 33-year-old attendee Chris Morris preferred the classic performers.
“I have always been into entertainment such as old school comedy and music,” Morris said. “Even though I grew up on doo-wop, this is my first time at the festival.”
With uncles and best friends serving in the armed forces, Morris appreciates the sacrifice and wants to give back to the soldiers.
“As far as I’m concerned, veterans are the real heroes,” Morris said.
“To come down on a beautiful day, listening to great music and having some drinks right on the water front…man, there is nothing better. I’m going to have to make this a yearly event,” Morris said.
Chief of the “doo wop police” George Felice is one of the co-founders of the festival.
“My favorite part of the event is the family atmosphere,” Felice said.
“Sometimes you’ll see four generations at these festivals; you’ll see the great grandfather, the grandfather, the father and then the kid. Doo-wop is timeless, brother,” Felice added.
Despite the fear that hip-hop, rap and pop music will leave doo-wop in the dust, Holloway said, the oldies won’t go down without a fight.
“Harvey Holiday still plays doo wop Sunday nights on WOGL,” Holloway said.
“Jerry Blavat still brings the old school disc jockeying. On WRDV in Warminster, they have a weekend dedicated to doo-wop,” Holloway added.
As the attendance continues to grow each year, Four remains positive that not only will doo-wop thrive into the future, but also that her life commitment to soldiers was well worth it.
“People need to be aware of the issues and challenges,” Four said.
“We are always looking out for new vets. We want to get the word out that if there is any assistance that we can provide, we are there for them,” Four said. “The festival is a great way to spend an afternoon with your family listening to some great music and supporting the men and women who have served this country.”
John Corrigan can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.