June is Black Music Month and it's nearly impossible to talk about Philly's hip-hop history without mentioning DJ, recording artist, and radio personality Lady B. She is the subject of A Salute to Lady B—a short documentary that examines the 30-plus years of Lady B's influence on hip-hop and Philadelphia at large—at the African American Museum on Friday.
Last December, WRNB 100.3 turned Lady B's 3 to 7 p.m. slot over to D.L. Hughley's syndicated radio show. "I was very disappointed with the company that I worked for," Lady B said. "There was no 'thank you' along with [my dismissal]. It was very cold and abrupt. There was no insubordination on my part, whatsoever. I was told by the station that they decided to go in a different direction."
But Lady B maintains that Philly is the biggest open secret when it comes to the formation of hip-hop.
During a time when hip hop was still an obscure novelty, Wendy "Lady B" Clark played an integral role in filtering the then-new sounds of rhythmic vocal patterns over customized beats to Philadelphia radio. Filmed by Mike "Mike D" Dennis in 2011, A Salute to Lady B was meant as a tribute to celebrate Lady B's 30th anniversary on the air. But it never screened after weather conditions cancelled the original premiere seven years ago. The documentary is a glimpse into how Lady B's career helped shape the radio culture of Philly and hip-hop with intimate interviews and appearances from notables like Russell Simmonds, Will Smith, Jill Scott, "Fly Ty" Williams, E-Vette Money, World B. Free, and others.
"Hip-hop has come so far," Lady B said. "Philly played a pivotal role in the history of hip-hop and I think that sometimes that's overlooked. I think it's important [for others to know] that New Yorkers weren't the only trendsetters in the genre. There were a lot of firsts to come out of Philly, including me, Will Smith [and DJ Jazzy Jeff], who was the first hip-hop artist to win a Grammy. Schoolly D was the first 'gangster rapper.' One of the most popular graffiti artists ever was, Cornbread and a lot of people think he's from New York, but he's a Philadelphian. If we don't keep telling the stories, our children won't know."
>> READ MORE: How Schoolly D invented gangsta rap
The emergence of the mainstream hip-hop music that now dominates radio did not come to prominence without hard work. "I went from begging for these songs to be played, that no one knew anything about, to having a weekly show. You could only get your hip-hop on the weekends when I started. Mr. Magic, up in New York, and I were the only jocks from the radio that would play hip-hop music," she said
A Salute to Lady B also highlights the philanthropy that served as the underpinning of Lady B's career. For decades, she has been well known for using her radio platform to amplify the voices and struggles of marginalized communities. She said that she understands the power of the microphone and over the years, she's learned how to wield that power for the betterment of her community.
"I went from the party girl who had everyone raising their hands in the air like they just don't care, to being very concerned about our children and our seniors. It is what I miss most about being on the radio; being able to get valuable information out to the masses that could change people's lives for the better."
Along with A Salute to Lady B, Philadelphia filmmaker Mike D will also be screening a teaser of his documentary Bring the Beat Back, focused on the origins of hip-hop in Philadelphia.
"I love Lady B," said Mike D. "You have friendships that go in and out but Lady B is a constant. She's always there for me and for Philadelphia."