|Birth: ||Mar. 13, 1958|
|Death: ||Apr. 11, 2007|
When I knew him, Reginald Bannister was known to me as "Reggie B" - an extraordinary DJ and kind gentleman. I wish I knew more about his life, but can only tell about it through the prism of my own life.
There was a time in my life after I was in a severe automobile accident and could not return to desk work that I took a job in west Philadelphia, bartending at a large night club. It was a just-right mix of old glamour and danger, a little worn down but full of beautiful, edgy people, mostly African American. It was a huge old converted movie house with security scanners at the vestibule, big men keeping watch roaming the interior, a bustling kitchen, high ceilings, lots of massive tables, five bars, large sound and lights systems, and a dance floor that could accommodate hundreds of people. DJ Jazzy Jeff and the Fresh Prince, LL Cool J, the O'Jays, and Redd Foxx had all entertained there. City councilmen had fundraisers there, Chubby Checker came and partied there, and Yo-Yo gave a great concert there, while Miss Gloria ran the kitchen and served up incredible hot wings. The ladies had the hair and great clothes, the more dapper men wore shiny sharkskin suits and derbies, but everyone looked great... even we bartenders looked pretty good back then behind the bars in clingy little black lycra minis, tux shirts, red bow ties, our feet shoved into hot heels as long as we could stand it, and our nails dragon-lady long, and fake, because bartending isn't kind to natural nails. Anyhow...
This place was all new to me, a basic white child of the suburbs. My ears were opened to new music of the time (but now called "Old Skool"). Most of my long nights working there were made bearable and indeed, fun because of the good work of this fellow, Reggie B.
Reggie spun the music. He knew the tunes and how to work the crowd. It was because of his talent that my shifts went faster, and I was exposed to stuff most of my friends weren't hearing yet- artists like Babyface, BBD, Boyz II Men, and many more. Reggie took the time to become my friend at a time and place where I stood out as a non-local. He clued me in on who was who, shared his mind with me, and and let me in on cultural stuff that I had yet to learn... like just because people are getting loud, doesn't mean there's going to be a fight. Where I came from, people never got loud, so I found it unsettling, but Reggie just laughed his slow, honest, attractive, deep laugh and let me know it was okay. His music was my engine, keeping me moving while serving thirsty big crowds. I always paid for his drinks, and he would play anything I requested, most often "Whip Appeal" when I needed a break, and when I needed a kick in the pants to serve lots of hot, pushing, dance-exhausted customers, "Motown Philly" or "Gonna Make You Sweat" or any of the stompin' hits of the time that made keeping going easier.
I lost touch with Reggie. The people who were the backbone of the club kind of scattered when two shooting incidents occurred within months of each other. Thankfully both times I saw nothing except people running to get away. Anyway, when the first one happened in April, I think we all rationalized it by thinking "Well, it's a big club, yeah, some gangstas hang here, but it's Philly and it's a crowd... it could have happened anywhere..." but when the second one happened in August, and customers quit coming, and locals were saying the club had become a shooting gallery, it was time to go. And that's when I lost touch with a lot of good people. The club was a microcosm of West Philly, so there were some sad folks, like a club liquor helper who began as a funny and kind-faced young man, and last I saw him, was a walking cadaver because of crack... but most were more lucky and making their way, like a sweet young waitress named Monica who was going to school by day and earning tuition at night, a handsome and gracious security gent named Brother Wendell who also had a bean pie business, and my sister bartenders Gwen, Gloria, and my other club mentor, Nicki, who was lightning quick with a drink or a saucy line. I hope life's been kind to all of them.
Reggie was a beautiful person, inside and out. He had an easy grace that could be misinterpreted as almost laziness, if you didn't know what a worker in the booth he truly was. Reggie was thoughtful, gentle, and softly well spoken. He made you think of a Gregory Hines gent in a New Jack world. You could tell he came from a good family. I drove him home sometimes, and his family's house was well-kept in a block that stood out for being well-kept. He was imperially slim with a handsome face, lighter skin for a black man, and beautiful tiger eyes, light, and rather green if I recall correctly. He had a longer face and gave the impression of being tall, but I don't think he really was, maybe 5'10" or so. He had gorgeous hands. I can remember both of us were hard up for cash back then, so after work we really did sit innocently in my car and talk for hours. He was easy to converse with, and fun as well. I can remember teasing him that with a WASP-y distinguished name like Reginald Bannister he should be a British attorney or something. We talked about a lot of things, music, family, our different upbringings and racial issues too. We both were kind of doing the best we could then, me with my recovery, and him trying to build a career as a deejay.
Perhaps in his world he was well-known later, but I never heard of him again. It would not surprise me if he went on to become more well-known on the local club scene. He had a sultry and natural voice, great delivery with unforced good diction, and an in-depth knowledge of the industry. Or maybe he did kind of disappear, possibly because he testified the truth about what he saw in one of the shootings and had to lay low, or maybe he just grew up and said to himself "This is crazy, time to let go of dreams and get real."
Whatever the case, from time to time over the years I tried to find him and could never come up with a working phone number for him. Finally in January 2009 I slammed his name and "Philadelphia" into Google, and came up with an article describing the death of a Reginald Bannister from Philadelphia. Once I found that, I kept finding more. The articles basically said a man named Malcolm Alexander failed to show up to face charges stemming from an incident where allegedly he and another auto driver on I-95 near Woodbridge, Virginia had been racing each other, and Alexander then lost control of his car and struck a tractor trailer driven by Reginald J. Bannister of Philadelphia. Bannister, the truck driver, had tried to regain control of the vehicle, but according to Virginia State Police the tractor-trailer flipped, went through a guard rail and hit a tree. It was about 1:35 in the afternoon, and Bannister was pronounced dead at the scene. I then found a follow up article (also reproduced here) where Alexander pleaded no contest to Bannister's death. I found more about the incident here too. In the event all these links go dead one day, below is one summary from the Richmond Times-Dispatch (VA), Friday, April 13, 2007:
State police have reported the death of Reginald J. Bannister Jr., 49, of Philadelphia. He was killed about 1:35 p.m. Wednesday when he ran off Interstate 95 after a car hit his tractor-trailer as the car changed lanes, police said.
Police said his rig crashed through a guardrail and hit a tree. The wreck occurred just south of state Route 234 in Prince William County, police said.
Virginia's 2007 highway death toll yesterday was 220, compared with 236 as of the same day last year.
"Oh no, not Reggie B." I thought. Maybe there could be another Reginald Bannister from Philly? But remembering Reggie's old neighborhood, I found the nearest funeral home, and sure enough, the funeral director knew instantly who I was talking about because Reggie had grown up with his kids. I found Reggie's mom to offer my condolences, and she told me that Reggie never completely let go of deejaying, and continued working clubs on weekends and trucking the rest of the week. I'm glad he kept the DJ part of himself alive all his life.
Those of my generation may recall a song that spoke of passed-on great musical talents that said "If there's a rock and roll heaven, you know they've got a helluva band." In this case, if there's a hot club in heaven, you know they've got a master deejay, Reggie B, setting them up for the assembled host for all eternity... and kickin' it just for you.
I can't swear these listed tunes below were Reggie's favorites (he was catering to a club crowd) but they sure are evocative of a certain time and ambiance. The songs below are among the music I can remember Reggie playing. The topics include love and power struggles, attraction, respect, not messing with drugs, gangs or guns, homelessness, leaving a toxic relationship, dream fulfillment, being cheated on, female empowerment and, of course, partying. The links open in a new window. If you can't get past the old clothes and hair and dance styles, then cover your eyes, but listen because if you appreciate R & B, rap, New Jack, hip hop and house stuff, the music is timeless.
[links open in new window, and please forgive any ads that are on before the video begins]
"So You Like What You See" by Samuelle (and yes, that's Tyra Banks)
"Gonna Make You Sweat" by C + C Music Factory
"Poison" by BBD
"You Can't Play with my Yo-yo" by Yo-Yo (featuring Ice Cube)
"Back to Life" by Soul II Soul
"Whip Appeal" by Babyface
"Treat 'em Right" by Chubb Rock
"Gypsy Woman (She's Homeless)" by Crystal Waters
"Looking at the Front Door" by Main Source
"Here We Go" by C + C Music Factory
"I Thought it was Me" by BBD
"I Wanna Sex You Up" by Color Me Badd
"Mama Said Knock You Out" by LL Cool J
"Motown Philly" by Boyz II Men
Mount Zion Cemetery
Plot: Section C, Lot 609, Grave # 1
Created by: sr/ks
Record added: Jan 19, 2009
Find A Grave Memorial# 33058336
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