In ISSUE 6 of The Chester Spotlight, which I published from 2006-2010, I wrote this bio of Charles McMillan. For those of you who know him, it’ll bring back memories. For those of you who don’t, read about one of Chester’s greatest celebrities.
(April 7, 2007) – I made my occasional stop to Silk Gordy’s C&C Fashion on 7th and Lloyd late one afternoon where I met Charles McMillan. He was excited about the last issue of The Chester Spotlight and I was honored that he was going to forward a copy to Jerry Butler.
We made arrangements to meet up and do a story on his experiences in the music industry working with Jerry Butler and his affection for his home town of Chester, PA.
Mr. Mack is another great one who followed the path of Booker T Washington elementary school, Frederick Douglass junior high and Chester High school. He played a little basketball at Douglass and got involved in football, track and basketball in 11th and 12th grade at Chester High. While competing in the Penn Relays, he was mesmerized by the Morgan State College men’s track team and wanted to be a part of that program.
He had received scholarship offers from a couple other schools but wrote a letter to the track coach at Morgan State indicating his interest in joining them. The coaches visited his home to offer him a partial scholarship which he gladly accepted and turned it into a full scholarship after his freshman year.
After graduating, in 1955, he applied for a position at the Chester Boys Club and joined the staff with George Carter, Willie DeJarnette and Joseph West where he stayed until 1969.
In 1962, Jamo Thomas, leader of the Jerry Butler band introduced Mr. Mack to Jerry. Later that summer, Jerry Butler had invited Mr. Mack to join him on tour in Florida and Nassau. While there, Jerry Butler offered him a job but Mr. Mack was so loyal and happy with his work at the Boys Club and teaching school that he turned the offer down. Jerry Butler asked again and again and it took an offer Mr. Mack couldn’t refuse to finally convince him to join Jerry Butler in 1969 as his business manager. He moved to Chicago and fell in love with the entertainment business and the city.
During those early years when Jerry was performing in the Philadelphia area he and his band would rehearse at the Boys Club. He would travel with 9 horns and on summer days with the windows open the entire neighborhood would enjoy the music. Chester natives Jamo Thomas and Hasson Miah were a big part of the Jerry Butler band.
Chicago is home to some of the country’s largest advertising agencies and while walking down the street one day, Mr. Mack was approached by two men who insisted that he had the look that an agency was looking for and they were getting ready to shoot. Mr. Mack was skeptical but took their card and made the phone call to inquire. Within a few hours of making that phone call he found himself posing for a print ad for Carnation’s Coffee Mate Instant Creamer.
That was the start of Mr. Mack’s ‘side’ career in advertising and acting. He has done ads for Fisher Price, Schmidt’s Beer and a poster for Minister Louis Farrakhan and has appeared in the movies ‘The Hunter’ with Steve McQueen, ‘The Blues Brothers’ in the dance scene in front of Ray Charles’ record shop, ‘Touch and Go’ with Michael Keaton, and ‘The American Dream’, a NBC TV series where he played three characters.
He later became the mid-west rep for the great Broadway play ‘Wiz’ when it came out and made a huge impact in this facet of the entertainment business where he learned a lot about theaters, promotions and advertising.
“I started my own company, Jerry Butler Productions, and Jerry and I became partners in Entertainment Consultant Inc. (ECI) which when spelled backwards creates ICE, short for the Iceman, Jerry Butler’s well known nickname that was given to him by Georgie Woods during a performance at The Uptown. There was some disturbance in the room during Jerry’s performance and Jerry just kept right on singing. Woods thought that was so cool that he named Jerry Butler the Iceman which Jerry has since trademarked.”
As Jerry’s manager, Mr. Mack has encouraged him to not be held hostage by the entertainment industry. “With our other enterprises generating income, we can pick and choose the dates that Jerry will do. If the money isn’t right, we don’t accept the event. A lot of artist who only have one source of income have to take dates when the fee is not up to par. We plan for the future by getting involved in other things knowing that he can’t sing forever. We even started the Iceman Beer company with two distributorships and The Iceman’s Ice company,” says Mr. Mack.
Jerry Butler is most recognized as the host of the PBS music specials. “I cut the deal with the people in Pittsburgh to host the Doo Wop shows which caused him to be on TV consistently. I cut a 5 year deal with Time Life to do infomercials. These projects allows Jerry to keep his face out there. Visibility in the entertainment business is critical,” says Mr. Mack.
“If you’re not appearing somewhere, you’re disappearing everywhere,” says Mr. Mack.
“Currently I’m working on ‘Doo Wop 2007 Alive and Well’ with the Doves, Del Vikings, Speedo and the Cadillacs, Arlene Smith’s Chantels, and others, hosted by Martha Reeves of the Vandellas. We are trying to present something similar to what people have been seeing on PBS which Jerry Butler has been hosting.”
“The other project is ‘A Tribute to the Music of Curtis Mayfield and the Impressions’. The first date is June 3 in Atlanta which is Curtis’ birthday and the place he called home for so many years. We’re also taking this show to Chicago where it all began for Jerry, Curtis, and The Impressions. Curtis’ music was so positive…People Get Ready, We’re a Winner, Keep on Pushin’, I’m so Proud of You, Gypsy Woman, The Makings of You, If you Had a Choice of Colors, which is in such contrast to today’s hip-hop music,” says Mr. Mac.
“What makes Jerry Butler so great is that he’s been selective about the songs he’s recorded which usually have an association between man and women falling in and falling out of love. He always had his own style.”
“There are only 2 kinds of music, the kind you like and the kind you don’t like,” states Jerry Butler.
“He started with the Impressions in 1958. Your Precious Love was the big hit. People who heard the song wanted to know who was singing lead. When the record was pressed it said ‘Jerry Butler and the Impressions’. The Impressions thought Jerry had gone behind their backs and cut a side deal for himself, which he didn’t. When they did a show, Jerry Butler was in big bold letters on the marquee and The Impressions were in small letters if their name appeared at all.”
“After 6 months of arguments, Jerry removed himself and went solo, without The Impressions. Many times he was so scared to be on stage without the group, he just stood there and sang. That style started to take on its own persona and he began to utilize it as his act,” says Mr. Mack.
Jerry Butler is still a big draw. “I’ve got dates for Jerry Butler through February 2008,” says Mr. Mac. He’s on the phone Monday through Friday from 10am to 6pm or later talking to other acts, other buyers – theaters, auditoriums, night clubs, and organizations- supplying them with entertainment. “I’ve got Chuck Jackson in Canada on Mother’s Day, Jerry in Philadelphia at the Liaquris Center on May 12 then to the Paradise in NYC on Mother’s Day, Ray Goodman and Brown in San Antonio on May 18, and Air Supply on May 20 in Kingston Jamaica, and there’s more,” he says.
Mr. Mack says the entertainment business is challenging but he enjoys the variety the work presents him daily. He comes up to Chester from his Maryland home often and enjoys running into old friends and family.
So, when you want to have Jerry Butler, The Temptations or The Whispers perform at your anniversary event, or Brian McKnight, Will Downing, or Roberta Flack sing at your wedding, or have War, Jeffrey Osborne, or The Gap Band play at your block party, or Morris Day & The Time perform at your birthday bash, don’t hesitate to call Mr. Charles McMillan, Esq. He can make it happen for you.
I look forward to working with my new friend, Mr. Mac, real soon.
Charles McMillan passed on January 26, 2015. OBIT