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Thunderbird: The Juanita Sims Story

"THUNDERBIRD"
The Juanita Sims Story -
From Barmaid to Attorney

By Phyllis Sims

BeBop 40’s, Glamorous 50’s, Civil Rights 60’s, Educational 70’s

THUNDERBIRD: The Juanita Sims Story is an inspiring story about how 3 generations of single black women who overcame adversity while raising their daughters with love, wit, and spirituality and went on to host internationally famous celebrities during the tension-filled days of “Jim Crow.” It traces a fascinating journey that began in Athens, Georgia, with the birth of Adel Sims, the thirteenth and youngest daughter of Jethro and Annie “Mama Johnson” and continues to this day as told by Phyllis Sims, the third Generation in the line.

At the age of 14 Adel became pregnant by ST Sims, who also happened to be a thirteenth child. “Papa” as great-grandfather was called, stomped over to the Sims’ shack with a shotgun and brought ST back to his farm and hastily arranged his marriage to Adel.

It wasn’t long before Papa died leaving Mama Johnson, Adel, and siblings on their own. With Papa gone, Adel, now 19, left Athens and settled in South Philadelphia. She started out as a domestic and later got a job working for the Marine Corps during the day and as a bathroom attendant during evenings and weekends at an Italian club called Scioli’s in South Philadelphia. She went to nursing school and eventually graduated as a Licensed Practical Nurse.

An Excellent cook, Adel sold homemade soul food, dinners and held private psychic sessions at her frequent “house parties.”

Adel’s house in South Philly at 1932 Tasker Street was always filed with church people and believers.  She sent for “Mama Johnson” and housed her siblings until they got on their feet.  Sometimes, Adel would have a “house guest” who was a psychic, give “readings” and “figures” to the many frequent visitors.  She eventually got her license in “Clairvoyance.” The house was always full, bustling with activity even attracting many underworld personalities who would always come late at night to eat, drink and hold confidential meetings. “Mama,” as Adel was now called, had a statue that prominently sat in full view of the 3 monkeys (see no evil, speak no evil and hear no evil).

Her daughter Juanita was the only child of Adel. At the tender age of 15, she was fast-talked by a 25 year old smooth talking number-writin’ Christopher Williams and I was conceived. She did not want to marry “Chris,” but she wanted her child, Phyllis. Adel taught Juanita the ways of the world and at 21 years of age, Juanita opened her own record shop at 1713 Federal Street in South Philly. All the bands used to stop in when appearing in town and ask her to sing with them because she was beautiful, personable and most importantly, she knew all the lyrics to the songs. She and her boyfriend Poogie operated a little speakeasy under the shop and Phyllis was always well dressed, well fed and well educated.

Phyllis Sims Collection
Phyllis Sims Collection

The Mills Brothers
The Mills Brothers

Juanita got a job as a Waitress at the Showboat Jazz Club on Lombard Street, which led to her long career as a Barmaid at the legendary Club Harlem in Atlantic City. She was befriended by Sammy Davis Jrs' mother, “Baby” Sanchez, who taught her how to be a good barmaid. She worked there for 15 summers. In the winter, she worked in New York City at Red Randolph’s Shalimar or Sugar Ray’s and lived at Cecil or Theresa Hotel in Harlem, or the Comedy Club in Baltimore, or in Washington, D.C. at Lindsay’s, another upscale speakeasy in a private residence that serviced and housed celebrities. They called them “Bed and Breakfast.”

Gene from The Mills Brothers
Gene from The Mills Brothers

Johnny Hartman
Johnny Hartman

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