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8 Aug 2012

Joseph “Butterball” Tamburro, WDAS personality, dead at 70

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August 8, 2012 Category: Local Posted by:

By Kiarra Solomon


Philadelphia and the urban music community nationwide are mourning the death of popular WDAS personality and South Philadelphia native Joseph “Butterball” Tamburro. Tamburro, 70, died on Friday, July 27 at his Haverford home. Although the cause of death was not released, he suffered from heart disease and diabetes, according to Loraine Ballard-Morrill the Director of News and Community Affairs at Clear Channel Radio in Philadelphia.


Butterball got his start at WDAS as an advertising salesman in 1964. Within months he earned an on-air spot next to some of the great radio DJs of the time including, Georgie Woods, Jacko Henderson and Hy Lit. Former WDAS programming director Jimmy Bishop hired Tamburro and gave him his nickname “because he was a little overweight”. Tamburro was eventually promoted to programming director of WDAS FM and later of WDAS AM, when it launched in 1971.


PHOTO: Butterball with Patti Labelle and Labelle members Nona Hendryx and Sarah Dash with WDAS radio personality Patty Jackson.

(Photo courtesy of WDAS)


Tamburro’s career spanned almost 50 years and he was well known for “breaking” some of the biggest artists. WDAS was in the process of arranging a 50 year celebration for Butterball at the time of his passing.


On Friday, ‘DAS personalities honored Butterball with an on-air tribute with the songs of artists he “broke.” Several of his iconic musician friends called Patty Jackson on Friday to share stories and express their condolences, including Eddie Levert, who, while fighting back tears, told a story of being introduced to Tamburro by Kenny Gamble as his “right hand man”.


His longtime friends Kenny Gamble and Leon Huff said in a joint statement:


“We are deeply saddened by the loss of one of the greatest disc jockeys and radio personalities in music radio history,” said Gamble & Huff in a joint statement. “Joe ‘Butterball’ Tamburro was a class act in radio and the music business, and he was an icon here in Philadelphia. Butterball had a major impact and influence in picking many of the radio hits for our PIR label.


PHOTO: Butterball with Luther Vandross.

(Photo courtesy of WDAS)



More importantly, Butterball was a part of the Gamble-Huff Organization family. He will always be remembered and respected in our hearts and minds forever. There will never be another R&B and soul radio legend like Butterball.”


Kernie Anderson, former WDAS General Manager, said “Butterball was not only my programming director and employee, but he was a very dear friend.” Listeners loved both the oldies show and Butterball, and both remained a hit on WDAS. Butter was Program Director for WDAS FM and WDAS AM until a recent illness but was still active as an on air personality on WDAS AM. “Butter” spoke to his listeners rather than at them and created a strong connection. He once said, “I smile when I speak on the air.”


Fans, listeners and even some celebrities shared their remarks and memories of Butterball over social media. DJ Jazzy Jeff tweeted: “My heart is heavy. We lost a true icon. You have no idea how he helped Will [Smith] and I as well as a ton of others. RIP.”


In addition to all that he did for radio in Philadelphia, Butterball was also very active in the Civil Rights Movement, providing airtime for leaders like Martin Luther King, Jr. and Cecil B. Moore. Throughout the years, Butterball has been honored for excellence and service by two of the City of Philadelphia’s former mayors (W. Wilson Goode and William Green).


PHOTO: Butterball with Luther Vandross.

(Photo courtesy of WDAS)


The NAACP, F.B.I., Philadelphia City Council, Pennsylvania State Legislature, American Jewish Committee, Martin Luther King Center for Change, and numerous other organizations have all honored him for his work in the community.


On the night of his passing, The O’Jays, Frankie Beverly and Maze, along with Patti LaBelle performed at the Mann Music Center. Live Nation plans to donate $5000 of the concert’s proceeds to the American Diabetes Associate in memory of Joseph “Butterball” Tamburro.



His Funeral Mass was conducted at the Cathedral Basilica of Saints Peter and Paul at 1723 Race in Philadelphia on Thursday August 2, 2012. In lieu of flowers the Tamburro family is requesting that donations be made in his name to the American Diabetes Association (150 Monument Rd. Suite 100, Bala Cynwyd, PA 19004.)


He collected old records and classic cars and once aspired to become a race car driver. He was also a skilled auto mechanic, a lover of good foods, and a connoisseur of restaurants. Joseph “Butterball” Tamburro leaves behind a wife, Cynthia, five children and eight grandchildren.

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