Radio Audience "Broadcast Applause Card" (Back)
WFI Radio - Philadelphia
One of four sons of a professional singer, Ednyfed “Ed” Lewis was born in North Wales, England during 1886. At fourteen he and his family moved to Liverpool where he and his brothers formed a group, the Brothers Lewis Quartet, that toured and sang in various places throughout Great Britain.
In 1914, Lewis emigrated from Wales to the United States and soon after began working as a grocery store clerk in Center City Philadelphia at 11th and Chestnut Streets. Overcoming a slight language barrier, he felt happy to land a job and, like most people immigrating to America, hoped for better things.
Shortly after Lewis’s arrival, the choir of a local church held tenor auditions. Ed tried out and gained instant praise. According to the Philadelphia Inquirer, Lewis stated, "When the pianist heard me sing, she stopped playing, grabbed me by the arm, and said, 'What a voice!' and 'Where have you been?' The church engaged me on the spot."
Short in stature, but warm and dignified in manner, Lewis eventually secured a position in payroll at the famous Strawbridge and Clothier store local at 8th and Market in Philadelphia. According to Lewis and the Inquirer, Herbert J. Tily, president of the store, “befriended Lewis and treated him like a son.” At the store Ed would meet his future wife, the former Marie Agnes Clauser, whom he would marry in 1919.
In 1922 Lewis became program manager and joined the Strawbridge and Clothier Quartet, a celebrated chorus in the eastern United States and a group well-known and well-received on Philadelphia radio in the 1920s and 1930s. Lewis served as the quartet’s tenor, second tenor, and assistant conductor.
Lewis eventually moved to a job in Strawbridge’s credit department and began attending classes at the University of Pennsylvania. In 1922, he became general manager of Strawbridge’s radio station, WFI, then in its formative stage. The station debuted on March 18, 1922 at 10:16 am, (the same day that station WIP commenced its operation, but forty-four minutes earlier), and Lewis began the opening program by singing a solo song called “The Star.” This was at 10:25 am, only nine minutes after the station signed on the air. There were speeches and another song by Mae Ebrey Hotz.
The Strawbridge and Clothier Quartet, with Lewis singing second tenor, then followed with another song. Lewis also did the announcing for the station and alternated with Herbert J. Tily in leading and conducting the Strawbridge and Clothier Chorus at holiday concerts and other events. Lewis even conducted the Philadelphia Orchestra along with the Strawbridge Chorus at the Robin Hood Dell in the mid-1930s. According to the Inquirer, Jack Steck, an announcer and program director at WFIL, the station that succeeded WFI, declared “the quartet to be highly respected and very popular in Philadelphia."
Ed Lewis maintained a rather busy schedule and assumed new challenges by also directing Philadelphia’s Welsh Choir throughout the 1920s and 1930s. One of the greatest Welsh-American choruses ever, the choir won many competitions at Welsh music and poetry festivals all over the United States.
After WFI merged with WLIT of Lit Brothers in 1935, Lewis chose to leave the new station and began work in the advertising department of Strawbridge and Clothier. He retired from the store in 1955, after working there for thirty-five years.
Lewis remained married to his wife Marie for fifty years, before her death in 1965, and lived in Upper Darby, PA, for more than sixty years. He passed away at age 103 in 1989. At that time, Lewis’s son Frank, five grandchildren, and seven great-grandchildren survived him.
Ednyfed “Ed” Lewis, regarded by many as the first person ever to sing on radio in Philadelphia, enjoyed success as an employee, tenor, program manager, conductor, husband, and father and will always rank as a true pioneer in Philadelphia broadcasting history.
From the official archives of the Broadcast Pioneers of Philadelphia
Card originally donated by Charlie Higgins
Bio written by Broadcast Pioneers member Chuck Gagliardi
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