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Raphael Stanton Paris, 52, popular entertainer

He thought of his performances as religious ministries.

Raphael Stanton Paris
Raphael Stanton ParisRead more

IT WAS HARD to leave Randi's Restaurant when Raphael Paris was on the piano.

"If he knew you were leaving, he would play your favorite songs, ensuring that you would stay a bit longer," said longtime friend and fan, Jim Pauley.

"Raphael knew his crowd, what music would move them," said Pauley, a Philadelphia police sergeant.

The fans who crowded Randi's in the Far Northeast when Raphael was playing on Fridays and Saturdays were not just customers. They were friends.

"Friends who came from many different neighborhoods," Pauley said. "Some, who moved out of the area, would make sure they stopped to see him."

Raphael Stanton Paris, who had the knack of rousing his fans to hand-clapping fervor or bringing them to tears with his songs, saw his entertaining as a spiritual mission, an extension of the days when he passed out religious tracts on the street and button-holed strangers to tell them about his faith, died of complications of kidney failure at the age of 52. He lived in Olney.

"He loved everybody and everybody loved him," said Jim D'Amico, owner of Randi's. "He was an exceptional piano player and singer. He could sing like Sinatra or Dean Martin. He would talk to everybody. He had a great sense of humor."

Raphael was performing at La Padella, which D'Amico and his wife, Randi, took over 11 years ago and renamed. It was Jim Pauley who convinced the D'Amicos to keep Raphael on when they bought the club on Grant Avenue.

Raphael sometimes had a small musical group playing with him, and it was called "Cornbread," named after his friend and loyal fan, Darryl McCray, better known as the legendry graffiti artist, Cornbread, whose art and name were found all over the city for years.

McCray, who still does art but no longer on buildings, met Raphael when the musician told friends he wanted to meet the legend. They met at Broad Street and Olney Avenue, Raphael's old neighborhood, and Raphael said he wanted to write a song about Cornbread.

The song was written and performed at Randi's, with McCray in attendance. "I would go there, stuff myself with food, and listen to the music," he said.

The result was Raphael named his band after Cornbread.

"He knew everybody by their first names," McCray said. "Everybody loved him."

Raphael was born in Philadelphia to Theodore R. Paris Jr., an Army Air Corps master sergeant, and Lois Locust Paris, an elementary-school teacher.

He graduated from Howell Elementary School, Fels Junior High School and Northeast High School and attended Community College of Philadelphia.

The young Raphael played a tuba in the Northeast High School band, and during football games would signal his mother, the school's biggest fan, by raising his tuba twice in the air.

Raphael's spiritual journey began when he was baptized by his grandfather, the Rev. O.M. Locust Sr., at Jehovah Jireh Baptist Church. Raphael became involved in church activities, including singing on the choir, ushering, the outreach ministry and Sunday School.

He later became the church's piano player when its name was changed to 48th Street Baptist Church.

Raphael worked for the Philadelphia Anti-Graffiti Network for a time.

"Raphael's vision was always progressive," his family said. "He often reminded us that in order to teach about faith we had to reach people and meet them where they were. He believed ministry was never meant to be confined to the church walls."

He passed out religious tracts, spoke to strangers on the subway and in the streets. "Performing on the stage or sitting behind the piano in a more intimate setting, Raphael told us, 'It's a ministry.' "

Raphael was also a songwriter and producer. He had a record company, Lion Records, which produced records for young Christian hip-hop artists. He formed a band called Flexx, and it performed widely.

"The sound of Flexx mirrored the deep-hearted reflection and message of agape love, which was the theme of his music," his family said.

Raphael co-wrote and produced several albums, but the one he was most proud of was the contemporary gospel album, "La Christanostra."

"Raphael was loving, charming, witty, talented and a giver," his family said. "He was a father to many. He was a prayer warrior and intercessor for all."

Raphael was a fan of classical movies. He was especially fond of Spider-Man.

"He was such a big Spider-Man fan, my nickname for him was 'Peter Parker,' " Jim Pauley said.

When his family wrote a tribute to him, they ended it with the words, "Spider-Man has left the building."

Raphael is survived by a daughter, Rennet Williams; a brother, the Rev. Shawn Paris; a sister, Tedrionne Paris-Powell; 10 grandchildren; and three great-grandchildren.

Services: 10:30 a.m. Friday at First Presbyterian Church of Olney, 5435 N. 3rd St. Friends may call at 8:30 a.m. Burial will be private.