Playing the oldies at Wharton Square


Conversation usually comes to a halt when talking about someone’s age, but when it comes to discussing the age of music, one can easily get caught up in the heated argument.

“What you might consider to be old, I consider to be old school,” Ali Hackett, of the 2100 block of Reed Street, said. “Old school is Al Green, early Temptations, Earth, Wind and Fire. Oldies is music from the ’50s, ’60s and maybe the early-’70s. “

Also known as the “King of Oldies,” Hackett is hosting “Throwback Thursdays” 5 to 9 p.m., or “till the cows come home” as he put it, every Thursday through Oct. 4 at Wharton Square Park, 2300 Wharton St., where he will play a mix of the oldies, old school and, of course, new school for Point Breeze neighbors.

“I’m an oldies fanatic,” Trudy Gay, Friends of Wharton Square chairperson and long-time Hackett fan, said at last week’s gathering.

The first official “Throwback Thursday” event was scheduled for May 24, but Hackett was forced to cancel it because of inclement weather.

“I heard people still came out, hoping that I had a tent or something, but the weather was too much,” Hackett said.

But a week later, Hackett made sure to arrive early and set up in the middle of the park. He was greeted by sunny, warm weather and several early guests eager to hear him play.

Maxine Hight was there in time to hear Hackett play The Drifters’ 1964 hit “Under the Boardwalk,” she was taken aback by the song and the memories that came with it.

“I was a kid when this came out,” Hight said. “I remember standing outside under the streetlights with my girlfriends when I first heard this record.”

The South Philly native, who currently resides on the 1200 block of South 23rd Street, also has been a long-time Hackett follower.

“I’m excited to see him out here, and playing good music. It’s bringing a lot of the older generation out because they love this music and it’s bringing back old memories for us,” Hight said.

Hackett’s parents introduced him to music at an early age while growing up in Chester. His mother’s favorite was gospel and his father played jazz, but Hackett was not limited to those two styles.

“I started playing music at the age of 5,” Hackett said between laughs. “I played music whenever my parents had guests over and I made sure that everyone was having a good time. It didn’t matter what type of music is was, it was just good time music.”

It is this “good time music” that Hackett wishes to share at Wharton Square. When he plays, he expects the community to listen, to remember and to have a good time.

For 13 years, Hackett was a disc jockey at WHAT radio playing old school and oldies. It was considered “the best Oldies show in Philadelphia” until the station closed. Hackett then did shows for various radio stations throughout the Philadelphia area, but nothing stuck.

“Oldies and old school for example have been blended together by the radio and DJs, but there’s a definitive line between the two genres,” Hackett said.

With a collection of more 15,000 records, LPs and cassettes, Hackett doesn’t just call himself a DJ. He takes on the role of both an artist and a historian, and hopes to paint pictures and memories of the past to his audience. Throughout his set, Hackett will create images of that past by playing a song, and then asking “remember when …?”

“There’s a whole generation of us folks out there who listen to this type of music and they don’t play it on the radio anymore,” he said.

He believes people have just accepted this fact and are willing to listen to music that they don’t like.

At Wharton Square, West Philly native Victoria Fraizer and friends lounged in beach chairs during the event.

“It gives people something good to do,” Fraizer said. “People are having a good time, and hopefully this will keep the riffraff away from the neighborhood,”

Delores Richardson agreed. The resident of the 1300 block of South 23rd Street said that neighborhood children need to see something different.

“Their ideas of a good time come from what they see in music videos and listening to hip-hop songs, and that’s not it,” she said. “There’s too much violence going on, and they need to see this is what a good party looks like.”

And that is exactly what Hackett hopes to achieve. While last week had a strong turnout, with mainly older adults and their friends at the event and parents and their children listening in from the playground, Hackett encourages his participants to bring more guests, including the younger generation.

“It’s an event for the whole family,” Hackett said. “Yes, grandma can come, but I want grandma to bring her children and her grandchildren.”

Hackett hopes that the memories brought on by this event not only will trickle down to the younger generation, but the youth also will appreciate the music. And even if the younger generation does not come out, or there are only a few oldies lovers in the audience, Hackett is still proud and excited about the weekly series.

“Old or young, if I wasn’t hosting this event, I would be attending this event, because it’s music, it’s people who love that music, it’s just a good time,” Hackett said.

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