Illadelph forever: Philly street named for The Roots

The Roots perform during halftime of the NFL football NFC championship game between the Philadelphia Eagles and Minnesota Vikings Sunday, Jan. 21, 2018, in Philadelphia. (AP Photo/Matt Rourke)

The Roots perform during halftime of the NFL football NFC championship game between the Philadelphia Eagles and Minnesota Vikings Sunday, Jan. 21, 2018, in Philadelphia. (AP Photo/Matt Rourke)

Editor’s Note: This article was updated at 12:48 p.m. on Friday, Feb. 20, 202o

City Council loves to honor local legends by attaching little red footnotes to street signs in the corners of Philadelphia where they got their start.

The Roots is the latest honored by this long tradition. The stretch of East Passyunk Avenue between South Street and Bainbridge Street has been dedicated to the beloved Philadelphia hip-hop group.

“They had first started there on Passyunk and South Street, that’s where they would go and do their singing at night,” said Councilmember Mark Squilla, who introduced the resolution to rename the street on Thursday at City Council. “Philadelphia is still a land of music and arts and culture, and the more we bring attention to it, the better we are.”

By Friday morning, the sign was already up, according to Billy Penn.

Leroy McCarthy, a Cheyney University graduate who now lives in New York, first reached out to Squilla’s office about a street honoring The Roots.

In a 2019 interview, the Brooklyn resident told OkayPlayer the story of his long fight to win a similar honor for The Notorious B.I.G. He eventually succeeded in having St. James Place between Gates Avenue and Fulton Street named Christopher Wallace Way. McCarthy said he was trying to do the same for The Roots in Philly and Tupac in Oakland.

Squilla proved a willing partner. He has been involved with several other music-related street renamings. With Councilmember Kenyatta Johnson, he introduced legislation subheading a stretch of Broad Street “Boyz II Men Boulevard.”

There are similar placards honoring soul singer Patti LaBelle as well as legendary producers Kenneth Gamble and Leon Huff.

The resolution, which dubs the 600 block of Passyunk Avenue “Avenue of The Roots,” was co-sponsored by Councilmembers Johnson, Maria Quiñones-Sánchez, and Cindy Bass.

“They made a name for themselves and, being from Philadelphia, they still promote Philadelphia, which is a great thing,” said Squilla.

The resolution chronicles the band’s history, beginning with its inception in the late 1980s, when Black Thought and Questlove got together at Philadelphia High School for the Creative and Performing Arts.

The legislative language provides a capsule review of The Roots’ trajectory, from their formation to their international tours to the varying success of their studio albums.

“The Roots started their performance experience by busking on the streets of Philadelphia. East Passyunk Avenue and South Street was one of their main locations. Since then, The Roots have taken Philadelphia with them on television nightly and to audiences worldwide. The Roots are, and will always be, appreciated as a talented band from the streets of Philadelphia,” the resolution reads.

Squilla said that the actual street-naming ceremony will occur in May. At the end of that month, the 13th Roots Picnic will take place at the Mann Center in Fairmount Park.

Want a digest of WHYY’s programs, events & stories? Sign up for our weekly newsletter.

Help us get to 100% of our membership goal to support the reporters covering our region, the producers bringing you great local programs and the educators who teach all our children.