Long before there was BTS or the Biebs, there was Bobby Rydell, the very height of teen idol vocal cool and one of South Philly’s first to make his hometown proud.
Bobby Rydell passed away Tuesday at the age of 79, just days from his 80th birthday. He is a legend that won’t be forgotten.
“Talent made me a survivor,” Rydell once told me. “That and the fact that I loved music. All sorts of music.”
Rydell started singing and playing drums at age 6 (he actually jammed in bands with Frankie Avalon and Pat Martino), and by 7, began performing professionally in nightclubs in the Philly and South Jersey area at the urging of his father. After three years as part of a national singing on-air crew, the vocalist and drummer changed his name to ‘Bobby Rydell,” and began playing for local bands such as Rocco and the Saints and The Emanons.
After having tried his luck with a handful of unsuccessful singles for small, independent labels, Rydell signed with Philadelphia’s Cameo Records (eventually Cameo/Parkway) and hit the charts with “Kissin’ Time” in 1959. With that single and its follow-ups, “We Got Love” (his first million seller), “Wild One”, “Swingin'”, and his take on the classic, “Volare”, Bobby Rydell became a bonafide teen idol.
In 1963, he recorded the single “Wildwood Days”, which, though not a hit, became the national anthem of the down-the-shore-town, and played the role of Hugo Peabody in the film version of the Elvis-goes-to-the Army satirical musical “Bye Bye Birdie” with Ann-Margret and Dick Van Dyke.
By the next year, Bobby Rydell would leave Cameo-Parkway Records for Capitol Records, the same label that his soon-to-be rivals in The Beatles appeared. Ceding their popularity to all things mop-top, Rydell, Avalon and the rest of the clean-cut teen idol crew became lounge singers in Las Vegas and on the international touring circuit. After leaving Capitol, Rydell gave Reprise Records a shot and even tried his hand at disco.
Along with touring as a solo act until the present day, and as part of The Golden Boys stage production since 1985 (with Frankie Avalon and Fabian, who were readying a spring and summer tour for 2022), Rydell was immortalized in the Broadway musical Grease and its 1978 film counterpart as their high school was named “Rydell High” after the singer.
God bless Bobby Rydell.