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Roscoe Gorham, 76; managed popular Roxbury club, aided musical acts

ROSCOE GORHAM

ROSCOE GORHAM

Humble and generous, Roscoe Gorham stood out in the music business, which has its share of tough, hardscrabble characters. He ran Roscoe’s Lounge, a popular Roxbury club where future R&B group New Edition played its first gig and members of New Kids on the Block performed under his watchful eye.

“Roscoe was supportive of everyone,” said the musician Maurice Starr, who produced New Edition and New Kids on the Block. “I never met another guy like him in the music business.”

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Along with running his club for 20 years, beginning in the early 1970s, Mr. Gorham was one of the executive producers of New Edition’s first hit single, “Candy Girl.” He also was an early investor in New Kids on the Block, which recorded multi-platinum albums, and Mr. Gorham managed the R&B group the Energetics, which signed with Atlantic Records and had a positive outlook that mirrored Mr. Gorham’s.

“I never heard them say no,” Mr. Gorham told the Globe in 1979, speaking of the band’s upbeat presence. “They don’t know what the word means.”

Mr. Gorham, who was so well loved that a host of musicians gathered in early September for “One Last Night at Roscoe’s,” a sold-out fund-raiser for him at Hibernian Hall, died of prostate cancer Oct. 23 in Beth Israel Deaconess Medical Center. He was 76 and lived in Mattapan.

Starr and other Boston-bred acts such as Margo Thunder, Larry Woo, and Prince Charles & the City Beat Band combined to stage the fund-raiser, which drew more than 500 people.

“He was the man,” said Starr, who also performed at the event. “He gave young people a chance.”

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Mr. Gorham’s wife, Dorothy, whom he married in 1967, said he “was a hard-working man. He put everything into what he did.”

Roscoe’s Lounge “was his pride and joy,” she said. “And he helped so many young people who wouldn’t be where they are today without him.”

He left the club in the 1990s because “it was getting wilder,” she said. “A different type of crowd was coming in and he decided to bail out.”

Mr. Gorham held a series of other jobs, from managing an auto garage to owning a clothing store.

Roscoe’s Lounge, which started at a site in the South End and moved to its more famous location on Warren Street in Roxbury, was his proudest legacy, however.

Thunder, one of the venue’s hottest acts, recalled that “Roscoe really kept us working and kept us fed. Everybody hung out there. It was the place to go.”

She began at Roscoe’s as part of Margo Thunder & Intrigue before the group’s name changed to 9.9 after signing with RCA Records.

Mr. Gorham booked many national soul and blues stars, as well as newcomers. The Chi-Lites, Joe Tex, ZZ Hill, Carla and Rufus Thomas, the Mighty Dells, and LaWanda Page of the TV series “Sanford and Son” all played there.

He also had a noted house band stocked with talent from the Berklee College of Music. The band’s alumni include world-renowned saxophonist Walter Beasley and Paul Arnold, who became an engineer with Tupac Shakur and Atlantic Starr.

“Roscoe also funded a lot of recordings so people could make their first records,” Thunder said. “And you never saw him down and out. He always had a great spirit about him.”

Woo, another Boston artist he aided, recalled that Mr. Gorham “financed me. He gave me $100 a week. He was a phenomenal guy. He knew what he liked and he was a man of his word.”

Mr. Gorham helped Woo land a deal with Warner Brothers Records and find a manager.

Woo recalled that one time another act lost its equipment to a theft and Mr. Gorham put up $5,000 to replace everything.

Starr also received help from Mr. Gorham, but on a smaller scale.

“I wasn’t doing that good in the mid-’70s,” Starr said. “My band had broken up and I had to find different places to live. By then, I had become friends with him and I’d ask him for a dollar a day. I’d use 35 cents of it to buy a honey bun and 65 cents for a soda. I was starving, but just needed to get a little something in my stomach so I could work on my music. And Roscoe never denied me.”

Born in North Carolina, Mr. Gorham was the youngest of 11 children born to Claude and Hettie Gorham. They died when he was young and he was raised by a sister.

In 1967, Mr. Gorham moved to Boston to seek work. He started off as a welder, then worked as a bartender in Jamaica Plain, which provided a springboard into running Roscoe’s Lounge, his wife said.

Mr. Gorham leaves eight children from three marriages, Vickie Jelks, Carol, and Dennis, all of Connecticut; Roscoe Jr. of Waltham; Gloria Phelps and Milton, both of Virginia; Alyssa Rodney of North Carolina; and Kristen of Brockton; 18 grandchildren; and 19 great-grandchildren.

A memorial service is scheduled to be held at 11 a.m. Tuesday in Morning Star Baptist Church in Mattapan.

“I’ll always remember how Roscoe’s was where we would go and work on our craft,” Thunder said. “And you know, a lot of people never knew his last name. They just knew him as Roscoe.”

Steve Morse can be reached at spmorse@gmail.com.

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