By Harold Bell

Legendary vocalist Frank Sinatra’s classic rendition of “My Way” best describes the life and times of D. C. businessman Ed Murphy.

Murph was born in Raleigh, North Carolina but grew up in Washington. D.C.  He attended Shaw Middle School and graduated from Cardozo High School.

After graduation he enlisted in the United States Army where he received an honorable discharge in 1950.  Murph returned to his DC hometown to embark on his life-long dream of establishing a business in the heart of the inner city.

He was known on the streets as “Eight Ball” because of his love for the game of Billiards (pool).

Murph was the black community’s Donald Trump without the pedigree, bankroll, education and business background.  Trump’s father was a New York real-estate developer and Trump was educated at the famed Wharton School of Business.

Murph had a Ph.D. earned the hard way, on the mean streets of DC’s Business Schools of Hard Knocks!

His success as a businessman can be attributed to his hustler’s mentality and time spent in the U. S. Army.  They were the attributes that helped prepare and equip him with the “Street Sense and Common Sense” for the real Game Called Life.

During his stay in the Army, Murph used his “Street Smarts” as a gambler to support himself and send money home to his mother. Whatever goal he set in his mind he was willing to prepare himself to work hard to perfect his craft and gambling was no exception.

I don’t think Murph was aware that this talent would be the key for his success in his ventures as a developer and businessman. There was one characteristic that I loved about Murph–“Playing Safe” was not a part of his vocabulary!  He took risks and was never afraid to roll the dice!

Ed’s first business venture in 1955 was a Variety Store, followed by a restaurant and Murphy’s Market which led to his ownership and opening of his pride and joy, Ed Murphy’s Supper Club in 1963.

The Ed Murphy Supper Club became one of the most popular attractions for “The In-Crowd” in Washington, D.C.  It was frequented by a Who’s Who in politics, entertainment, pro sports, media personalities and everyday people.  They all could be found hanging out at the club on any given day or night.

Legendary radio and television personality Petey Green and I made it our place to meet,eat and hang out.

The restaurant became a network oasis for information, social gatherings and political meetings.  It was here information and opinions where shared. It was quite unique for one business to attract such a wide range of patrons.

Many business contacts, lasting friendships, and even marriages began at the club.  The good times were happening over cocktails.  There was also live entertainment and the best soul food you could find anywhere in the city.

Murph had the gift of gab, he was a dapper dresser and his outgoing personality made him the perfect host. He had a genuine love for his people and I could not detect a phony bone in his body.  If you didn’t want to know the truth about yourself it was not a good idea to be around him.

In 1972, Murp relocated the club across Georgia Avenue and called it the New Ed Murphy Supper Club. The old club site was where he launched the development plans for his ultimate dream, the Harambee House Hotel.

H. Bell, Boston Celtics legends Red Auerbach and K. C. Jones having lunch at Ed Murphy’s Supper Club

It took more than 15 years from when he opened his first store, and five presidential administrations — Johnson, Nixon, Ford, Carter and Reagan—before he finally saw the Harambee House Hotel open in 1978.

The hotel was the first black owned and operated, full-service, first-class hotel in the United States.  The 10 million dollar, 150-room luxury hotel, featured many full service amenities such as: indoor, climate control swimming pool and health spa, coffee shop, two bar/lounges, 150-seat supper club, 200 seat ballroom, banquet and meeting rooms, deluxe suites with complete kitchens and saunas, lobby level beauty and barber shop, a boutique and indoor parking.

In 1977 Muph hired Sharon Pearl as his administrated assistant. In 1980 Howard University took over the Harambee House Hotel.  The hotel had become a financial burden for Murph.

As President of Harambee International in the 80’s he began plans for the new Ed Murphy’s Restaurant and Catering, located in the Frank D. Reeves Municipal Center at 14th U Streets, N. W.

With this new facility, he presented another first in the food service industry—a full service fine dining restaurant, offering a combination of quick, cafeteria-style service for breakfast and lunch, full table service with bar/lounge, live entertainment and catering facilities all in one operation.  This business was also the first of its kind in a DC Government building.

Murph despite the adversity he never quit. He marched to his own drum beat.

He enjoyed the spotlight and during my career as a sports talk show host I would often coordinate celebrity tennis and golf tournaments, but my Inside Sports Celebrity fashion show was usually the talk of the town.

Athletes came from all around the country to participate in the fashion show. They included, (NBA) Earl “The Pearl” Monroe, Sonny Hill, Spencer Haywood, K.C. Jones, Sam Jones, (NFL) Roy Jefferson, Freddy Scott, George Nock, Johnny Sample, (Boxing) Sugar Ray Leonard, Johnny Gant, Thomas Hearns, Hilmer Kenty, Derrick Holmes, (Media) Jim Vance, James Brown, Dave Dupree, Fred Thomas, Paul Berry, Martin Wyatt, (Entertainment) Melvin Lindsey, Robert Hooks, Stacy Lattisaw and a host of others that I have forgotten!

During a lunch conversation with Murph’s good friend actor/producer Robert Hooks I discovered that Murph was upset with me because I had never asked him to participate.

I was surprised because he never gave me any indication he wanted to participate.  But I think his ego got the best of him and I got the message loud and clear.  My next fashion show was being held at the popular Foxtrappe Club.  Murph was front and center and I was honored to have him participate.

Robert and Ed were very close friends and colleagues throughout the decade of the 70s.

He said, “Murph and I shared a love for DC and its people.  We wanted to see the city make a strong comeback from the upheaval after the 1968 riots.

When I returned home to start the DC Black Repertory Company in 1970 and had no place to locate our workshops-it was Murph who offered his warehouse building (free of charge).  The warehouse was located next to his restaurant.  It was only then could we begin to recruit the local talent.  Without this gracious and heartfelt gesture by Murph-it would have been much more difficult to get the company started.”

Time always brings about change and in the 90s Murph constantly re-invented himself to rise up with even more creative and unique business ventures.

Murp’s attitude was if one thing failed he had no problem in trying and trying again.  He could go from Superman, to Batman to Spiderman in the blink of an eye.  He was always ready for the next challenge and he never needed a phone booth to change.

In 1992, he founded the African-American Business Association (AABA), which addressed the needs of small businesses in the heart of the black community.

Long before President Obama told the Congressional Black Caucus to stop whining, groaning and complaining, Murp was telling the black community to stop complaining and practice “self-help” but his shout-out was all about love for his people.  Murph led by example—he was black and proud!

Murph had no problem calling out politicians, ministers, and business leaders to support one another.  He was convinced that if we spent just a portion of our 4 billion dollar annual income within our own community, we would be upholding the true meaning of Harambee (Swahili for pulling together).

Unlike today’s black businessmen, politicians, clergy, and community advocates, Murp was a man for all seasons and for all people. He made an effort to be Inclusive instead of being Exclusive!

Murph also started the Annual Business Awards Dinner, which each year honored small business owners, who otherwise received little or no recognition. He was a constant small business advocate.  He created the motto and creed of the AABA “Spending our dollars where we create jobs and opportunity in our community.”

The husband and wife team of Ed and Pearl Murphy founded the African-American Media Incubator (AAMI) which was the first African-American radio broadcasting school in the country.

There were other black restaurants in town during that era, Sylvia’s and Billy Simpson’s but none could match the locker room camaraderie of Ed Murphy’s Supper Club—when you walked in you could feel the energy and everyone felt connected!

Face’s Restaurant was another Georgia Avenue landmark that came close to matching Murph’s supper club but in the final analysis it was still a distant second.  Ed Murphy’s Supper Club was one of a kind much like the man himself.

On Saturday October 15, 2011 the legacy of Ed Murphy will live on as City Leaders will meet on the front lawn of Howard University Hospital at 10:00 am.  They will re-name Byrant Street, N. W, “Ed Murphy Way.” Congratulations to Murph, a man who did it his way!

4 Responses to “MY WAY = ED MURPHY’S WAY!”

  1. Write more, thats all I have to say. Literally,
    it seems as though you relied on the video to make your point.
    You definitely know what youre talking about, why throw away
    your intelligence on just posting videos to your blog when you
    could be giving us something informative to read?

  2. Reblogged this on IBSA Newswire and commented:
    I met this great man while volunteering at Million Man March Headquarters in Washington, DC

  3. Horace Fletcher Jr Says:

    Impressive businessman.


    MY WAY = ED MURPHY’S WAY! | Black Men In America

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