An Oral History of the Mann Center

There may be no finer way to spend a summer evening in Philadelphia than sitting on a blanket and listening to the sweet sounds of the Mann Music Center. Here, an oral history of the city's beloved cultural jewel.

GOING TO THE MANN has been a rite of passage for generations—including the boldface names that run Philadelphia. but behind the scenes, it’s sometimes just as nutty as everything else in the city.

Rachel Haydon: Being an usher only pays 25 bucks a night, but it’s not about the money. People do it because they love music and they love the Mann. I always like the shows where I don’t think I’m going to like it and then it turns out to be awesome. Last summer Julio Iglesias came through, and I was like, “This will be ho-hum, some old dude playing ballads.” Well, he turned out to be awesome. He was hilarious. He sang in four languages, told dirty stories. The whole audience was rolling.

Larry Magid: After the show, there were a number of people that wanted to meet him. Dignitaries, other celebrities. So I was to introduce these people from the Mann or the board or the city or whoever to Julio and say “This is so-and-so, he represents this, he does that.” So we’re standing there and a good 25 to 30 people go by, and at the end Julio turns to me and goes, “You know, you and I are a lot alike.” I say, “Really, why?” And he says, “We’re both so full of shit.”

Michael Nutter, mayor: I “conducted” the Mormon Tabernacle Choir. When I finally arrived on the conductor’s platform and looked out there, I had to take a deep breath. It was a little scary, I’ll be honest. One of the more intimidating things I’ve done.

Ed Rendell, former mayor and governor: When I was running for reelection as mayor in 1995, Carly Simon was appearing. So I called her, told her that my campaign was going to buy a block of tickets for fund-raising purposes. At one point during the concert, Carly pointed out that I was in the audience and that we had gone to high school together, and said that I had been a star football player and she a cheerleader. Which was only partially correct: Carly Simon wouldn’t have been caught dead being a cheerleader—she was a protest singer, always with a guitar around her neck. And I was a mediocre football player at best.

Louis Jennings: When Whitney Houston performed, the place was completely sold out. All the bigwigs were there, and they wanted more seats in their boxes. At one point I was literally running around backstage, my hands full of chairs, and I came around a corner and almost took out Whitney.

Peter Lane: Whitney was about to go on, and I walked into the hallway with my full credentials and badges, and this giant bodyguard looked at me. He said, “You’re not going anywhere. We’re praying. Nobody goes in while we’re praying.” So I stayed out in the hall while they prayed.

Colonel Tom Sheehy, Philadelphia concert-business veteran: I saw a good many shows there. The best was Brian Wilson’s comeback, performing Pet Sounds. That was a holding-back-the-tears moment.

Brian Wilson, singer and composer, the Beach Boys: Performing Pet Sounds was great. The place has one of the best sounds in the country.

Stephen Starr: I love the Mann, it’s right up there with Reading Terminal Market and the Art Museum as far as making life worth living around these parts. Last time I saw a show there? The last time was actually the first time—I never got a chance to enjoy a concert at the Mann as a civilian. I went to see My Morning Jacket, and they were great. Made me feel like I was 22 again.

Jim James, singer-songwriter for My Morning Jacket: Standing onstage feels like you are playing inside an old wooden spaceship. It feels really important to play in a space like that, with so much history, and with the good people of Philly cheering and dancing and making it such a pleasurable thrill ride.

Jon Hampton: I got that vibe when we did Pavement. Here was one of my favorite bands of all time reunited on the Mann stage. The place was packed. A large part of the crowd had never been to the Mann, or if they had, they hadn’t been in years. It was the perfect summer night.