The guy giving the tours at the Philadelphia Brewing Company is a gospel aficionado.
David April listened to DJ Billy G spin T-Bone Walker, Big Joe Turner and other blues legends on Hatboro’s WRDV-FM and he was inspired. He became so excited that he stopped by the studio and told the station manager, “I want to play 50’s R&B and black gospel music.”
Surprisingly, the station manager replied to the 26-year old white boy raised in Virginia, “OK. We’ll let you give it a shot.”
That was in 1992 and April, who gives tours every Saturday at the Philadelphia Brewing Company and is the co-founder of the Fishtown Beer Runners, has been spinning gospel and R&B music at the station ever since.
In January, he celebrated his 20th anniversary on air. In honor of the milestone, he and Philadelphia Brewing Company’s Dean Browne brewed up a batch of “Holy Smoke” rauchbier.
“I’m not really a religious person,” April says. “It’s really more about the musical journey. I want to understand the music and where it came from.”
While growing up in Missouri and Virginia, April, now 46, was surrounded by music. His father played big band and classical music all the time. His sister, who is 10 years older, listened to popular black music of the 60s, like The Ohio Players and James Brown.
April tried to discover the influences of musicians, so he tracked the origins of the music. When he discovered R&B from the 40s and 50s, he asked himself, “Where the hell have I been all these years?”
He became obsessed with that soulful, funky, blues-based music created by the likes of Mahalia Jackson, Sam Cooke, James Carr and Philadelphia’s own Garnet Mimms and the Enchanters.
“It all seems to come out of the church,” April says.
Now, he works to preserve that sound, introducing people to the roots of American music. He’s visited senior centers and played for them and he’s DJ’ed clubs and events around the region.
In addition to his radio show, April also hosts a gospel brunch on the second Sunday of every month at Johnny Brenda’s, an event he jokingly refers to as “hipster church.” As DJ DNA, he spins The Dixie Hummingbirds, The Harmonizing Four and other gospel legends, and occasionally even brings in quartets to perform live.
“We wanted to do things during brunch that add more depth to our music offerings,” says Paul Kimport, co-owner of Johnny Brenda’s. “And David really brings a crowd.”
For the first gospel brunch, held on Easter in 2010, the restaurant was packed. April’s radio listeners came by, as well as the crew from the brewery and a bunch of the beer runners (the Fishtown Beer Runners are a club that meets every Thursday for a jog from April’s house to a bar).
“It was like the segments of my life coming together,” says April.
For his dedication to gospel and R&B music, April has been recognized by the R&B Foundation and the African American Museum, which honored him with a “Living Legends Award.” “Something about the music just resonates with me,” April says. “It makes me want to move.”