Brewerytown: Philadelphia’s 1960s Soul Girl Group

The Honey Bees photographed for a promotional still. The group's first single was "You Better Go Now" written by Felder's brother Allan. Photo courtesy of Broadcast Pioneers.

Motown in Detroit wasn’t the only city full of rhythm and blues in the 1960s and 1970s. Philadelphia also had home-grown talent who rocked stages. Sixty-three-year-old Nadine Felder of Brewerytown was the lead singer for Philadelphia’s only girl group, Honey and the Bees.

She sang solos at William Penn High School and her best friend always made her sing for her friends, but Felder didn’t consider or aspire to be a professional singer.

“People would get together, we would sing songs from the radio but I never thought I would be singing professionally,” Felder said.

Honey and the Bees with Jimmy Bishop (right) photographed in the 1970s. Photo courtesy of Broadcast Pioneers.

Felder said she grew up as a casual singer who idolized Diana Ross’ voice and was a fan of the Motown big-shots, such as Stevie Wonder, Smokie Robinson and Martha and the Vandellas. It was Martha and the Vandellas’ song Come and Get These Memories that 15-year-old Felder sung in Fairmount Park and won a contest.

“When I came home I showed it to my mother and she said, ‘Oh my God, I didn’t even know you could sing.’ And it was a surprise to my mother and that’s how it started.”

Soon she started singing small shows with a band and by the time she graduated high school, she caught the attention of Jimmy Bishop, the program director of WDAS radio in Philadelphia, and Bishop decided to sign her and make a girl group around Felder.

Gwendolyn Wesley, Cassandra Ann Wooten and Jean Davis Sanders had started their own singing group called the Yum-Yums. Bishop added Felder and for a short period the group was called Sugar and Spice, but later Bishop decided on the name Honey and the Bees.

Felder said she and the three girls rehearsed seven times a week and that included dancing in their routines, which wasn’t warmly embraced or popular in the late 1960s.

“We did routines and people would say, ‘Girls, don’t do that!’”

The Honey and the Bees’ first radio single was (You Better) Go Now, a song written by Felder’s brother Allan which started his lengthy career as a songwriter.  The Honey and the Bees’ routines lead to performing throughout the country, including numerous shows at the Uptown Theater in North Philadelphia, sharing the stage with the Delfonics, the Ambassadors, Harold Melvin and the Bell Notes and touring with James Brown. Felder said the traveling was great but could be draining.

“We flew twice a week,” Felder said. “I loved that, flying, because you can be refreshed and when you arrive you’re still refreshed. Whereas when we went on road trips on the James Brown tour and travel city to city, we were worn out. But once we would get to the different cities and performing for 20,000 or 30,000 people, it wasn’t a problem.”

Nadine Felder photographed today at the Greater Brewerytown Community Development Corp. where she volunteers as a secretary in the neighborhood she grew up in.

She said James Brown was always cordial to her and the other three girls in the group and remembered the late singer’s personality.

“After the show was done for the night he would call us back to his hotel room and perform. We were tired and sleepy but he continued to perform.”

Felder said all four of the girls were support systems for each other and she said that’s important to have in show business.

“It’s a very cruel world out there and I thank God I had three other girls with me because we were support for one another. Because when you are alone, you don’t know who to trust. People want something from you.”

The Honey Bees photographed for a promotional still.. Photo courtesy of Broadcast Pioneers.

By the mid-1970s Felder said she realized performing wasn’t fun anymore and she decided to quit. Wooten and Wesley joined another group and became the Ritchie Family and released multiple hits during the disco hey-day of the 1970s.

Felder came back to Philadelphia even though she never really left. Whenever she had a break from touring, Felder would go back to her family home on Hollywood Street in Brewerytown and just enjoy being in her bedroom by herself.

She got married in 1979 and had a daughter and two sons. She later, at age 61, got a degree in business management from Community College of Philadelphia and currently is a volunteer secretary at the Greater Brewerytown Development Corp., a consultant for Ethnic Expressions and is a singer and minister at New Faith Non-Denominational in Southwest Philadelphia.

For more information about her group, see this site.