The urban music industry and R&B fans alike are mourning the death of Joe “Butterball” Tamburro. The longtime WDAS Philadelphia radio personality and program director died on July 27 at the age of 70.
An Italian-American from South Philadelphia, Tamburro was a passionate fan and supporter of black music at a time when it was unheard of for a white man to work at a black radio station and vice versa. His nearly 50-year career at the Clear Channel urban adult contemporary outlet dates back to 1964 when he joined WDAS as an advertising salesman. He was soon helming his own show, in league with such personality pioneers as Georgie Woods, Jocko Henderson and Hy Lit. He later doubled as WDAS’s program director while continuing his on-air gig.
Among Tamburro’s ardent fans are Philadelphia International Records co-founders and legendary producers Kenny Gamble and Leon Huff. “Joe ‘Butterball’ Tamburro was a class act in radio and the music business, and an icon here in Philadelphia,” Gamble & Huff said in a joint statement. “He had a major impact and influence in picking many of the radio hits for our Philadelphia International label. He had a great love for R&B and soul music.”
Tamburro’s death also elicited tweets from fellow radio personalities, artists and industry executives. BET Networks president of music programming and specials Stephen Hill described Tamburro as “one of the kindest, generous-with-knowledge guys ever. True soul brother.” Noted DJ Jazzy Jeff, “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.”
A cause of death was not given. But according to published reports, Tamburro was suffering complications from heart disease and diabetes. A civil rights social activist in the 1960s, Tamburro was inducted into the Philadelphia Music Walk of Fame in 1997.
The O’Jays, Patti LaBelle and Maze featuring Frankie Beverly were set to perform at the Mann Center for the Performing Arts in Philadelphia on the evening of Tamburro’s death (July 27). According to an online report by Philadelphia Inquirer music critic Dan DeLuca, concert promoter Live Nation planned to donate $5,000 in honor of Tamburro to the American Diabetes Foundation.
Tamburro is survived by his wife Cynthia, five children and five grandchildren.