Luther Anthony Randolph, 84, of Media, a jazz organist and record producer whose hits “Yes, I’m Ready” and “Hey There Lonely Girl,” helped shape the Philadelphia soul sound of the 1960s, died Monday, Jan. 27, of complications from a series of strokes at Bryn Mawr Terrace.
Mr. Randolph became interested in music at an early age, when he began playing the trumpet and piano. At age 12, he began studying the piano in earnest. He spent so much time practicing that his mother had to chase him off the instrument to do his chores, his family said in a statement.
Mr. Randolph launched his career playing piano for the First Baptist Church of Morton and by 16 was playing R&B and jazz professionally. Fascinated by the artistry of organist Jimmy Smith, Mr. Randolph tackled the jazz organ in 1960 and mastered it. He moved away from the piano in favor of the organ.
In 1962, teaming up with guitarist Johnny Stiles and jazz drummer Norman Connors, Mr. Randolph released the hit record “Cross Roads.” It soared to No. 1 in Philadelphia R&B rankings and enjoyed a strong showing nationally.
Mr. Randolph joined with Stiles and vocalist Weldon McDougal III to establish Harthon Records, a Philadelphia soul label, in the early 1960s. The company produced records for vocalists including Barbara Mason and Herb Ward.
Mason’s “Yes, I’m Ready” peaked at No. 2 on the Billboard R&B charts in 1965. Sharon Stiles, Johnny Stiles’ wife, said the song became a million-dollar seller. Stiles died in 2017.
“The song that really put Philadelphia soul on the map was Barbara Mason’s ‘Yes, I’m, Ready,’ a pop #5 hit in the spring of 1965,” wrote Peter Shapiro in the 2015 book Turn the Beat Around. The record established the lush tones that would characterize the Philadelphia soul sound, he wrote.
“In a rinky-dink office at 59th and Chestnut Streets in Philadelphia, that’s where the whole thing started,” Sharon Stiles recalled. “Luther and Johnny Stiles had a big part in everything that was done. We were close.”
The label also produced recording artist Eddie Holman’s 1970 hit single, “Hey There, Lonely Girl,” which placed at No. 2 on the U.S. Billboard Hot 100 Pop Chart.
Over the next few decades, Mr. Randolph headlined at the Round Table in West Philadelphia, Bob and Barbara’s Lounge on South Street, and Zanzibar Blue in the Bellevue Stratford. He and Stiles toured the East Coast and played at Atlantic City hotels before the casinos arrived.
Born in Media to the Rev. Fredrick and Emma Randolph, he spent his childhood in Media, where he attended the public schools. Later, he lived in Ridley Township, Sharon Hill, and Philadelphia.
Mr. Randolph believed in education as the key to advancement. He completed a bachelor’s degree at an art college in Philadelphia and a master’s degree in education at Howard University in Washington. After graduating, he joined the Army and was deployed to Germany as a musical ambassador to help improve Cold War relations.
Mr. Randolph and Stiles remained friends through the years. “Luther had an infectious smile,” said Sharon Stiles, who described him as a handsome man with an imposing physical presence and a winning manner. “And he was so nice. He lit up a room because he was always smiling. He was so gentle. He was raised that way.”
While Mr. Randolph pursued a music career, he had a parallel career as a teacher in the Philadelphia School District. Starting in 1966, he taught elementary school and then art and music at Sayre Middle School in West Philadelphia. He retired in the early 1990s.
Mr. Randolph became aware of the civil rights movement and joined its ranks in the late 1950s. He met the Rev. Dr. Martin Luther King Jr., and inspired by his speeches, helped organize sit-ins at the segregated lunch counter at an F.W. Woolworth’s store in Chester.
In retirement, Mr. Randolph took classes in how to trade stocks and securities and shared his knowledge with friends and family.
Mr. Randolph was married to Myrtha Randolph. They divorced; she survives. He married Geraldine E. Randolph, who died in 1993. In 2001, he married Sylvia Hayre.
In addition to his wife, he is survived by a daughter, Coree Cuff Lonergan; stepdaughter Lee Harrison; two sisters; a granddaughter; and many nieces and nephews.
A viewing starting at 9 a.m. Friday, Feb. 7, at the First United Methodist Church, 350 W. State St., Media, will be followed by an 11 a.m. funeral. Interment will be in Rolling Green Memorial Park, West Chester.