Most people’s nicknames are given to them. Cecil Callender Jr. made up his own.
For years, he was the Black Butterfly. That was the name he picked for the record store he opened in 1979 in his hometown, Atlantic City. The shop specialized in jazz and rhythm and blues, Callender’s favorites, as did the shows the Black Butterfly produced and hosted on the old WUSS-AM, back when the station catered to a black audience.
Callender also gave his nickname to the Black Butterfly Audio Visual Club, which he co-founded and led for years before he died last month of a heart attack. He was 66.
But as important as they were to him, those were all hobbies to Callender, who retired in 2010 after 40 years with three federal agencies. He moved from the Internal Revenue Service to the Treasury Department to the Federal Aviation Administration, working at the FAA’s Egg Harbor Township offices at the William J. Hughes Technical Center.
Gary Callender, 62, said that whatever he did, his big brother used the best technology to do it. Cecil’s fascination with computers started when he was a student at Washington’s Howard University.
“They had some computer glitch that almost shut down the school, and he became real curious about computers,” Gary said.
So Cecil went to a Philadelphia technical school to study computer science, then concentrated on computers the rest of his career. But the computer was hardly the only technology Cecil enjoyed, and mastered — even from a young age.
“Early in (Atlantic City) high school, he had this reel-to-reel (tape recorder) he just loved,” Gary said. “That was his greatest treasure.”
Cecil would tape music from the radio, from old records, anywhere he could find it.
“A lot of people referred to him as a DJ, but Cecil was really a purveyor of music,” his brother said. “He used music to preserve a lot of African-American culture.”
And he used the best technology he could find to do that. Charles Garrett, 65, of Atlantic City, was Cecil’s buddy from the days they were in diapers. Garrett, now an Atlantic County freeholder, said his friend would host big parties every July Fourth and New Year’s Day. They always had great food, but the best parts of the parties may have been the classic jazz concerts Cecil would play.
“It was always on huge screens,” Garrett said, adding this was decades before home theaters were common. “And the way he had it hooked up, it was like you were right there at the concert.”
Cecil was still sharing his recorded history until near the end. In May, he was DJ for a Mother’s Day get-together by 101 Women Plus, the Atlantic City civic group. The Black Butterfly never minded floating around town to play, or purvey, some great music.
A Life Lived appears Tuesdays and Saturdays.
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