Jerry Blavat Cause of Death: The quick-witted Philadelphia DJ and promoter Jerry Blavat, often known as “The Geator with the Heater,” passed away at 82. The city where he maintained an iconic presence for seven decades had its pop music culture transformed by his tireless promotion of groundbreaking Black performers in the 1950s and 1960s.
In the 1950s, Mr. Blavat first achieved prominence as a dancer on the teen-oriented pop music television program Bandstand. He first became known as one of the program’s stars, then hosted by Bob Horn, after learning to jitterbug by watching his mother, aunts, and uncles dance to Tommy Dorsey and Artie Shaw records. “The Italians, when the radio was on, would start dancing,” he recalled.
Jerry Blavat Cause of Death
He suggested Horn play the originals rather than the diluted renditions performed by artists like Pat Boone after hearing Black DJs like Jocko Henderson and George Woods play Fats Domino’s “Ain’t That a Shame” and Little Richard’s “Tutti Frutti” on Philadelphia station WDAS.
In a subsequent statement, Little Richard described Mr. Blavat as having “too much soul for a white lad.” Moreover, what a dancer! I can still see him playing The Slop on the piano while I was filming his TV show. One Geator alone exists.
He became a band manager, record store and club owner, TV personality, concert promoter, DJ, friend to the famous, and a living, breathing, priceless repository of Philadelphia music history. He also made his mark as all of these things and as a friend to the famous.
Mr. Blavat’s close friend A.J. Mattia and his longtime partner Keely Stahl confirmed that he passed away on Friday morning at Jefferson-Methodist Hospital. Myasthenia gravis, an autoimmune neuromuscular illness, and other medical issues were the cause of death.
Jerry proudly stated, “Life is precious, and I am pleased,” according to a family statement released on Friday. And when I’m pleased, I want everyone else to be too.’ Only Philadelphia could rival his affection for music. Nothing made him more proud of this beautiful city than the influence Philadelphian music had on the world.
At the time of his passing, listeners could still routinely hear him on his own Geator Gold Radio network and The Geator’s Rock ‘n’ Roll Rhythm & Blues Express, his monthly Saturday night show on WXPN-FM (88.5).
He had just adjusted his constantly busy schedule, canceling performances at his Margate, New Jersey, club, Memories, due to severe shoulder ailments. Additionally, he withdrew his yearly oldies all-star concert at the Kimmel Center, which was set for January 28.
Mr. Blavat was well-connected in the entertainment industry and a brilliant self-promoter who called himself “The Boss with the Hot Sauce.”
His early support helped artists like Dionne Warwick and Aretha Franklin, who remained devoted to him over the years. In the 1950s, he grew to be friends with Sammy Davis Jr., and in 1970, he served as best man at his weddings.
When Frank Sinatra first met him at the 500 Club in Atlantic City, he was Don Rickles’ valet. The slim Blavat earned the moniker “matchstick” from Sinatra. Later, when playing in Atlantic City, he would come to enjoy the ravioli that Mrs. Blavat would make for him.
2011 saw the release of Mr. Blavat’s biography You Only Rock Once, abbreviated from one of his catchphrases: “Keep on rockin’, because you only rock once!” “For all the artists, and all the others in the music business, you have been so vital to all of us through the years,” Motown founder Berry Gordy later wrote of Mr. Blavat.
I love the Geator, as stated more succinctly by the Queen of Soul. As stated in the memoir, Mr. Blavat’s Jewish father, Louis the Gimp, ran an illegal bookmaking business out of their rowhouse on Bancroft Street while his son grew up in South Philadelphia. His mother was Italian and was known as “Lucy the Riveter”; she worked at the Navy Yard during World War II.
I learned to love from my mum,” Mr. Blavat said to The Inquirer in 2011. My father showed me how to hustle and taught me about the streets and nightclubs. Mr. Blavat has outstanding taste and favored proper rhythm and blues bands’ original recordings of songs to bland mainstream artists’ covers of those tunes.
The sound of the music created in Philadelphia, where soul music influenced both Black and white music creators, was influenced by Mr. Blavat’s support of real R&B. Mr. Blavat was honored into the Philadelphia Music Alliance Walk of Fame in 1993. In 2019, Todd Rundgren gave the Hooters their induction.
Rundgren stated: “I tell people everywhere I go that I’m the product of the Philadelphia music scene. What does that mean, people often ask me? I explain that it all comes down to the fact that I listened to the Geator as a child.
He played music produced south of the Mason-Dixon Line, which would have been referred to as racial recordings at the time. And because of this, so many white children in Philadelphia developed a desire to sing R&B. In keeping with the history of hep cat DJs who maintained a continual stream of chatter while hyping tunes on the radio, Mr. Blavat spoke his language.
Long after they had finished their teenage years, his devoted followers, whom he referred to as “yon teenagers,” flooded the dance floor at places like Memories. “My guy, pots and pans!” addressed longtime friends, new acquaintances, and total strangers. Because his radio show would devour you like an alligator, Mr. Blavat came up with his moniker early on as a version of the word “gator.”
Dick Clark questioned Mr. Blavat, “What do you do, sir?” during their 1960 interview. “Geator with the Heater,” he retorted. Clark informed the TV audience that Mr. Blavat was “the most well-known young people’s DJ in the city of Philadelphia and Camden, New Jersey.”
Mr. Blavat served as the road manager for Danny & the Juniors, a Philadelphia doo-wop group whose huge success was “At the Hop” in the late 1950s. He won $120 in a dice game, which he used to purchase time on Camden radio station WCAM-AM when he got off the road and returned to South Philadelphia.
He then made money by selling the time to advertising, which gave him the freedom to use the airtime however he pleased without being constrained by the requirements of program directors. In 1960, he began hosting a chat show from the Venus Lounge in South Philadelphia. Actress and former Mickey Mouse Club member Annette Funicello was his first visitor. However, he grabbed control of Camden’s WCAM radio station during a snowfall and began playing music.
In a 2021 interview with the National Association of Music Merchants, Mr. Blavat said, “I took all my rock and roll recordings, and I started to play Little Richard, Frankie Lymon, the Cleftones, Earl Lewis and the Channels, and my buddy Earl Carroll & the Cadillacs. And these children, who were absent from school, were exposed to my older songs that were fresh to them. And that was the start of it.
Mr. Blavat was active in many facets of Philadelphia’s music industry. He co-owned the local chain the Record Museum in the 1960s and was a partner in the Lost Nite and Crimson Record record labels. After Dick Clark and Bandstand moved to Los Angeles in 1965, he hosted The Discophonic Scene, a Philadelphia music program geared toward teenagers, from 1965 to 1967.
Crimson released the Soul Survivors’ song “Expressway To Your Heart,” written by Kenny Gamble and Leon Huff, which became the group’s first top-five mainstream success. Gamble and Huff released a statement on Friday expressing their sadness at Jerry Blavat’s loss. Jerry was a well-known radio host in Philadelphia and for consistently promoting Philadelphia music and its rich history abroad.
He significantly impacted making songs, first regional, then national hits. He released Warwick’s debut single, “Don’t Make Me Over,” in 1962 and gave her her first public performance by inviting her to a record fair in Mount Ephraim, New Jersey.
On Friday, Warwick posted the following on Twitter: “My heart is heavy as I publish this. Jerry Blavat, the “Geator,” my real champion, changed. He continued to play my music on his radio show even before I started recording. I hope and pray that he is now truly at peace. On January 28, she intends to give a eulogy at Mr. Blavat’s funeral.
My heart is heavy as I post this. My true champion Jerry Blavat the “Geator” made his transition! From the beginning of my recording career he kept my music playing on his radio show. My prayer is that he now truly will Rest in Peace. pic.twitter.com/gS4oZHaXjV
— Dionne Warwick (@dionnewarwick) January 20, 2023
Ben Vaughn, a musician and radio host whose program airs before Mr. Blavat’s on WXPN on Saturday, said of Mr. Blavat, “His passion for music and dancing was so true and sincere.”
According to Vaughn, people from the Delaware Valley have a unique understanding of music compared to people from other parts of the nation. We are stuck with hundreds of obscure doo-wop and soul songs that are unknown to anybody outside our region. And Jerry Blavat, one man, is to blame.
Mr. Blavat commonly refers to stories regarding organized crime. When Chelsea Bouras was fatally shot in a South Philly restaurant in 1981, he had supper with the purported mob boss. The New Jersey State Commission of Investigation looked into his ties to Nicodemo Scarfo and Angelo Bruno; when invited to testify, he invoked the Fifth Amendment.
He was upfront about his connection to Bruno. In 2011, Mr. Blavat told The Inquirer, “They were family to me. “My mother’s family is from an Italian town, and so was Angel’s wife. We grew up near a grocery store owned by Angelo. However, he denied ever being a member of the Philadelphia mafia.
Along with packing the dance floor at Memories, Mr. Blavat ran the Geator Gold Radio network for many years and was frequently spotted looking spry as he rode his bike to his East Market Street office and studio.
However, he was a legend by the middle of the 2000s without a gig on a for-profit radio station. He was invited by Bruce Warren of WXPN-FM (88.5) to host a one-hour Saturday night show that lasted for 17 years. Starting at 2 p.m. on Saturday, the station will air five hours of Blavat shows; it also intends to air his show every Saturday at 6 p.m. for the foreseeable future.)
Warren, the program director for WXPN, referred to the late icons Joe Tamburro and Jocko Henderson by saying, “You think about all the great DJs that were unique to Philly like George Michael and Ed Sciaky and Butterball and Jocko.” The Geator is connected to all of that,
Mr. Blavat was inducted into the Radio and Records Museum of the Rock & Roll Hall of Fame in 1998 and the Broadcast Pioneers of Philadelphia Hall of Fame in 2002. His companion Stahl, daughters Deserie Downey, Geraldine Blavat, Stacy Braglia, and Kathi Furia, five grandchildren, and five great-grandchildren are all still living.
On January 28, there will be a funeral Mass at the Cathedral Basilica of SS. Peter and Paul. Mass is at 11:30 a.m. after a viewing that starts at 9 a.m. Kimmel Center for Performing Arts Jerry Blavat Endowed Fund, kimmelculturalcampus.org, accepts gifts in place of flowers.