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Melanie Johnson: “I’m a Philly Girl Through and Through.”

October 22, 2012


As City Representative, Melanie Johnson represents the mayor and the city, handling all sorts of events, like the Welcome America celebration and the Fourth of July Jam. G.W. Miller III talks to the West Philly native about her role in promoting the city.

When the promoters talked to the city about Made in America, was it an easy thing to say yes to because we’re a city that loves music?

The mayor had to make that decision. And the mayor, as I’m sure you know, is a huge lover of music – all kinds of music. The man is never without music.

You deal with commerce but you also work with the folks marketing the city.

The city doesn’t have a whole lot of money. One of the ways we’ve been able to do what we do is through events like Welcome America. I use our special events as marketing tools.

Can music play a role in marketing the city?

So many people have come out of here in the past 10, 15, 20 years. You have such diverse artists as Jill Scott and Pink. Then you have a group like The Roots who have been around much longer than many people know. They are Grammy Award winners and they have a genius in Ahmir (Thompson). He plays with everyone from classical to rap. Working with him has helped us grow Welcome America. We couldn’t have gotten Lauryn Hill without him.

We’d like to do a huge music festival here in Philadelphia. It’s really the only big city that doesn’t have a huge festival. That’s something we’ve been talking about over the years.

We helped launch the Jazz Coalition two years ago. I was part of the Mellon Jazz Festival as a student and I loved it. I remember one night, I was at the Academy of Music where Sarah Vaughan and Miles Davis were on the same ticket. It was the same night that Wynton Marsalis introduced Christian McBride, who was about 15 years old at the time. I left that show and went to the African American Museum where Betty Carter was performing with Abdullah Ibrahim. I was the MC at that concert because I was on WRTI.

You hosted a music show?

Yes. My show was on Saturdays, overnight.

What were you spinning?

Jazz. All jazz. Big band. I was sax woman. And I was a Lee Morgan fan like you wouldn’t believe. I also loved vocals. I loved female groups and I would play them all the time.

How did you not wind up in the music industry?

I did. After I left Temple, I went overseas and worked for the BBC in London. When I came home, I became the producer of Blue Stage, which was a blues program on NPR. I was on NPR for five years. I stayed there until I came back to Philly for a job with Ed Rendell.

How did that happen?

My grandmother got sick. It was her and my mother living together, along with my brother’s son. My mother wasn’t well either. And they were taking care of a 7-year-old kid. So, I had to make a decision. I talked to a bunch of friends before coming back. There just happened to be a job opening up as deputy press secretary for Mayor Rendell.

I’m a Philly girl through and through. I love this city and I have to say I didn’t always love this city. I left this city because there were so many things happening that I didn’t like about the city. I had to leave.

Did the city change or did your perception change?

Meeting Ed Rendell made me change. Ed has such a love for Philadelphia. It is hard to be around him and not fall in love with this city. Working for him really gave me a new perspective of Philadelphia. He gave me my ability back to love this city.

I had traveled around – London, Paris, Italy, New York. My whole world had expanded. I didn’t think I’d come back. Life is funny. And life is really funny that I’m in the position that I’m in as the marketing, promotion and branding person for the city of Philadelphia. Who would have thought that I’d love this city so deeply again?

Do you make time for music anymore?

Not as much as I should.

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