PHILADELPHIA (CBS) — One of the nominees from this year’s Grammys was a relatively unknown blues singer from our area. Eyewitness News has the story of how he overcame many obstacles and why getting recognition now is bittersweet.
“Lord have mercy, I said, that? What? I was flabbergasted,” Toni Bey said.READ MORE: Fall Full-Capacity Concerts, Xfinity Live! Preparing To Reopen Has Philadelphia's Stadium District Buzzing With Energy
The first time Toni Bey ever heard her own husband, Frank Bey, sing, it had been almost 20 years since he last performed — and it was a pivotal moment.
“Of course, the bug bit him. I tell you his mind was like a horse with blinders — I’m gonna do this. And that’s what he did,” she said.
Frank Bey was originally from a tiny town in rural Georgia, where he grew up singing in a family gospel group.
At 16, he moved to Philadelphia, taking various jobs, working for the likes of James Brown and Otis Redding as he pursued his own career.
But when his music group disbanded, he thought he’d never perform again — until that night his wife saw him on stage.
“He decided, he said from now on, no matter what I do, I’m going to be my own person,” Toni Bey said.
It was a comeback filled with passion, but also challenges. Fighting kidney disease was just one of his many battles.
“With economic woes and certainly dealing systematic racism,” documentary producer Tom Dwyer said.READ MORE: Tolls Increasing Sunday On 8 Delaware River Crossings Connecting Pennsylvania, New Jersey
Dwyer was Bey’s manager during his final years. He’s also the producer of the upcoming documentary about his life called “Frank Bey: You’re Gonna Miss Me.”
“His health issues really began to build one upon the other,” Dwyer said, “To me, it was really amazing because he never, ever, ever complained about what was going on. And that included a kidney transplant.”
“He ran with that kidney for 15 years,” Toni Bey said. “Had a good time with that kidney. All kinds of events opened up. On cruises in Europe. He worked as long as he could until his body finally said, I can’t go no further.”
In June of last year, Bey died at the age of 74. Five months later, news came that he was nominated for a Grammy for best traditional blues album.
When Toni Bey found out that he had been nominated for a Grammy award, “I started kicking heels up and down Broad Street, so to speak. I was just totally elated,” she said.
What is Frank Bey’s legacy?
“Being able to overcome any obstacle with resilience, with grace, with determination, and very often with success if we can be patient enough,” Dwyer said.
“Thank you frank for what you brought to this world. And the people that you have made happy, that enjoyed you,” Toni Bey said.MORE NEWS: Pennsylvania's Democratic Senate Race Raises Simmering Divisions Inside Party
The documentary called “Frank Bey: You’re Gonna Miss Me” is one of the songs on his final album. The filmmakers are hoping to raise enough money to have it released this September.