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Mark Davis, 93, Band Leader Who Played for Society and Other Events

June 3, 2010
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Mark Davis, who provided entertainment for thousands of Philadelphians as the leader of his own band for more than 50 years, died May 2. He was a resident of Cherry Hill, N.J., and was formerly of Jenkintown.

Born in 1916 in South Philadelphia to immigrant parents, at age 5, Davis began to take lessons on the violin, which was to become his signature musical instrument for life. While trained in classical music -- and an eventual substitute violinist for the Philadelphia Orchestra -- he decided that it didn't offer him the opportunity to make the kind of living that he needed in order to raise a family.

A graduate of South Philadelphia High School, Davis began his musical career working for local "house" bands, regularly featured at Center City hotels and night clubs. During prohibition, he played "speakeasies" frequented by the mobsters of the day.

Davis was often the band leader of choice for Philadelphia "society" families who hosted the grand weddings, dinner-dances and June debutante parties of the day.

Among his clientele were Walter Annenberg, publisher of The Philadelphia Inquirer; Frederic Mann, philanthropist and a driving force at the Academy of Music; Henry McNeil, founder of McNeil Laboratories, eventually to become of part of Johnson & Johnson; Roger Firestone of the automobile tire family; and other prominent families, such as the Wanamakers, Wetherills, Pews, Strawbridges, Clothiers and DuPonts.

On many occasions, Davis also served as the band for celebrities of the day, including Zsa Zsa Gabor, Gordon MacRae and comedian Jack Carter. He appeared with famed big band leader Paul Whiteman, and even played for then Vice President Richard Nixon.

Davis is survived by daughter Judith Hepps; son Kenneth Davis; four grandchildren; and four great-grandchildren. He was predeceased by his wife of more than 50 years, the former Dorothy Yorker, in 2004.

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