One of the perks of researching our fun and fabulous 1960s South Philly photo album has been meeting the families, friends and fans of the many entertainers, athletes and other public figures it contains – and, a half-century later, meeting some of those same celebrities ourselves.
FINDING CARMEN DEE
Last year, we were charmed to meet Carmen Dee, the celebrated bandleader at South Philadelphia’s famed Palumbo’s restaurant and nightclub for over 30 years.
(A Palumbo’s postcard from the late 1930s. Palumbo’s opened in 1884 as a hotel
for Italian immigrants, and morphed into a top entertainment and wedding venue.
And, yes, that should actually read “Catharine” Street.)
Carmen appears three times in our mid-1960s album, and he helped us identify everyone from entertainers and local business owners to Jimmy Vance, maitre d’ at Palumbo’s private CR Club.
(This photo from our album also appeared in the June 19, 1964 issue of the South Phila. American newspaper with the caption “Carmen Dee, famed conductor and arranger, left, welcomes South Phila. American columnist Arthur Tavani, at the world famous Palumbo’s Theatre Restaurant, 824 Catharine St.” Tavani was the original owner of our magical photo album.)
BANDLEADER TO THE STARS
Born Carmen DiPipi in South Philadelphia, Carmen Dee joined Palumbo’s band as a saxophone player at age 18 in 1945. He left and returned twice, and became the permanent bandleader in 1961, staying until Palumbo’s was destroyed by fire in 1994.
Over the years, Carmen worked with performers like Jimmy Durante, Vic Damone, Tony Bennett, Al Martino, Frank Sinatra, Cab Calloway, Mel Torme, The Mills Brothers, Pattie Page, Don Rickles, Pat Cooper, and South Philadelphia natives Bobby Rydell, Frankie Avalon, Fabian, Cozy Morley and Phil Jaye.
A NEW BEGINNING
But the end of Palumbo’s was not the end of Carmen’s career. Since 1994, the Carmen Dee Orchestra has played at venues from New York City to Delaware, and is still available for bookings.
Who has he played with recently? Check out the photo section of his Carmen Dee Orchestra website, where you can also hear his Big Band sound. (And, yes, we dare you not to dance in your chair…)
And be sure to check out Mike Newall’s poignant interview with Carmen in today’s Philadelphia Inquirer, online here at philly.com.
It’s a touching tribute to why this exceptional era of Philadelphia cultural history just shouldn’t be forgotten.