Jerry Blavat, ‘The Geator with the Heater,’ dies at 82
Jerry Blavat, the fast-talking Philadelphia DJ and impresario known as “The Geator with the Heater,” has died at 82. His tireless promotion of pioneering Black artists of the 1950s and 1960s shaped the pop music culture of the city where he maintained an iconic presence for seven decades.
Mr. Blavat first came to fame as a dancer on the teen-targeted pop music television show Bandstand in the 1950s. Having learned to jitterbug watching his mother, aunts, and uncles dance to Artie Shaw and Tommy Dorsey records — ”The Italians, when the radio was on, they would start to dance,” he said — he quickly established himself as one of the stars of the show, then hosted by Bob Horn.
Having heard Fats Domino’s “Ain’t That a Shame” and Little Richard’s “Tutti Frutti” — played by Black DJs like Jocko Henderson and Georgie Woods on Philadelphia station WDAS — he advised Horn to play the originals, rather than the watered down versions sung by the likes of Pat Boone.
Little Richard later said of Mr. Blavat: “For a white boy, the Geator’s got too much soul. And can that boy dance! I remember doing his TV show and he jumps on the piano and starts to do The Slop. … There’s only one Geator.”
He went on to make his mark as a band manager, record store and club owner, TV host, concert promoter, DJ, friend to the famous, and a living, breathing, irreplaceable repository of Philadelphia music history.
Mr. Blavat’s death on Friday morning at Jefferson-Methodist Hospital was confirmed by his close friend A.J. Mattia and Keely Stahl, his companion of over 30 years. The cause of death was myasthenia gravis, an autoimmune neuromuscular disease, and other health problems.
A family statement issued on Friday said: “Jerry proudly said, ‘Life is precious, and I am happy. And when I am happy, I want the world to be happy.’ ... His love for Philadelphia only superseded his love of music. He was proud of this great city, and nothing made him prouder than the impact the music from Philadelphia made on the world.”
At the time of his death, he was still heard regularly on his own Geator Gold Radio network, and on his weekly Saturday night show on WXPN-FM (88.5), The Geator’s Rock ‘n’ Roll Rhythm & Blues Express.
In recent months he had curtailed his always-busy schedule, canceling appearances at his Margate, N.J., club, Memories, due to painful shoulder injuries. He also postponed his annual oldies all-star concert at the Kimmel Center, scheduled for Jan. 28.
Mr. Blavat — a genius self-promoter who also dubbed himself “The Boss with the Hot Sauce” — was well connected in the music world and show business.
Artists like Dionne Warwick and Aretha Franklin benefitted from his early support and remained loyal to him through the decades. He became friends with Sammy Davis Jr. in the 1950s and was best man at his wedding in 1970.
He served as a valet to Don Rickles, who introduced him to Frank Sinatra at the 500 Club in Atlantic City. Sinatra nicknamed the skinny Blavat “matchstick.” Later, he would grow fond of the ravioli Mr. Blavat’s mother would cook for him when he played Atlantic City.
Mr. Blavat’s memoir You Only Rock Once — whose title was shortened from one of his favorite sayings: “Keep on rockin’, because you only rock once!” — was published in 2011. Motown founder Berry Gordy then wrote of Mr. Blavat: “For all the artists, and all the others in the music business, you have been so important to all of us through the years.”
The Queen of Soul put it more succinctly: “I love the Geator!”
Mr. Blavat grew up in South Philadelphia, the son of a Jewish father known as Louis the Gimp who, as told in the memoir, operated an illegal bookmaking operation out of their Bancroft Street rowhouse. He had an Italian mother who went to work at the Navy Yard during World War II and was called “Lucy the Riveter.”
Along with filling the dance floor at Memories, Mr. Blavat maintained his Geator Gold Radio network for decades and could often be seen looking spry, riding his bike to his office and studio on East Market Street.
In 1998 Mr. Blavat was inducted into the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame’s Museum of Radio and Records, and into the Broadcast Pioneers of Philadelphia’s Hall of Fame in 2002.
He is survived by his companion Stahl, daughters Kathi Furia, Geraldine Blavat, Stacy Braglia, and Deserie Downey, five grandchildren, and five great-grandchildren.
A funeral Mass will be held at the Cathedral Basilica of SS. Peter and Paul on Jan. 28. A viewing will begin at 9 a.m. and Mass is at 11:30. In lieu of flowers, donations are being accepted by Kimmel Center for Performing Arts’ Jerry Blavat Endowed Fund, kimmelculturalcampus.org.