Luther A. Randolph, a jazz organist, producer and record label owner, died on Monday, Jan. 27, 2020. He was 84.
He was born on May 7, 1935, to the late Rev. Fredrick Randolph and his wife Emma in Media. He was one of four children.
He spent his youth in Media, where he attended elementary, junior and high schools and received track and field medals. A firm believer in education, Randolph earned his bachelor of arts degree from the Philadelphia Institute of Arts and a masters of education from Howard University in Washington, D.C. Post-college he joined the U.S. Army, where he served as a musical ambassador and helped to improve German-American relations during the Cold War.
Randolph’s interest in the arts and music began at an early age, when he explored the trumpet and piano. At the age of 12, he began playing the piano in earnest and spent most of his waking hours perfecting his craft.
Randolph began his semi-professional career playing piano for the First Baptist Church of Morton. At 16, he began playing R&B and jazz professionally with jazz trumpeter Marcus Belgrave. Fascinated by the artistry of Jimmy Smith, Randolph began playing jazz-organ in 1960 and quickly became proficient at it — eventually moving away from the piano in favor of the multi-tonal musical complexities of the organ.
As co-founder of Harthon Records, Randolph produced records for Barbara Mason, Herb Ward and many others. He produced Mason’s “Yes, I’m Ready,” which peaked at No. 2 on the Billboard R&B Charts in 1965. They also produced Eddie Holman’s hit single, “Hey There Lonely Girl,” which also earned national acclaim, landing at No. 2 on the U.S. Billboard Hot 100 Pop Chart, No. 1 on the Canadian RPM Chart and No. 4 on the U.K. Singles Chart.
Randolph became an icon on the Philadelphia music scene, where he helped create the Sound of Philadelphia, a musical genre well regarded throughout the world.
Over multiple decades, Randolph headlined at many popular Philadelphia-area venues, including the Round Table, Bob’s and Barbara’s, Zanzibar Blue and La Collina. He also toured up and down the East Coast and was often featured at resort hotspots in Atlantic City, New Jersey, in the pre-casino era.
While music was his primary passion, Randolph did not overlook the many racial injustices affecting African Americans during his lifetime. Despite growing up in a relatively integrated environment, he joined the Civil Rights Movement in the late 1950s. Having met Martin Luther King, Jr., he followed in his footsteps organizing sit-ins at the segregated lunch counter at F.W. Woolworth in Chester in an effort to end this discriminatory practice. Randolph’s activist spirit could be heard in much of his music and was passed down to his only daughter. He remained a civil rights activist throughout his life.
Randolph began his teaching career in 1966 at elementary school in Philadelphia. He later taught art and music at Sayer Middle School in West Philadelphia, where he met his wife, Sylvia Hayre Randolph, who he married in 2001. He retired from the School District of Philadelphia in the early 1990s.
During retirement, Randolph continued his education by taking Series 7 classes in stock and security trading. He focused much of his attention on investment strategies, sharing his knowledge with family and friends. He also enjoyed visiting friends and spending time with family in Delaware for summer cookouts and holidays. He most enjoyed introducing his granddaughter to the world of music and art.
In recent years, Randolph was honored at a multi-generational gathering of British and European fans in Orlando, Florida, for his talent and contributions to music abroad. During this time, he also created two albums, “New Jack Jazz” and “Aries.”
In addition to his wife, he is survived by: his sisters, Elise Hunt and Naomi Randolph; daughter, Coree Cuff Lonergan; son-in-law, Richard Lonergan; stepdaughter, Lee Harrison; granddaughter, Chloe Cuff; and other relatives and friends.
Services will be held Feb. 7 at the First United Methodist Church, 350 W. State St., Media. Viewing is at 9 a.m. Services will follow at 11 a.m. Burial is in Rolling Green Cemetery in West Chester.