Johnny Kemp's memorial service at St. Phillip's Episcopal Church in Harlem (139512)
Credit: Bill Moore

Double parked cars lined the church side of West 134th Street between Frederick Douglas and Adam Clayton Powell boulevards. A capacity crowd of 600 filled St. Philip’s Episcopal Church Monday afternoon for hours to memorialize Harlem resident and famed recording artist Johnny Kemp. Kemp, 55, Bahamian born, most notably known for his popular song “Just Got Paid,” died accidentally in a fall while in Montego Bay, Jamaica, April 16.

Like Keith Sweat, Doug E. Fresh and Teddy Riley, Kemp was one of several aspiring Harlem artists to make it big in the 1980s. “Just Got Paid,” released by Columbia Records in 1988, and still frequently played on radio and in clubs, reached No. 1 on the R&B and dance charts, and No. 10 on the Billboard Hot 100 chart. It received a Grammy Award nomination for Best R&B Song, losing out to Anita Baker’s “Giving You the Best That I Got.”

“I’m so sad about this,” said “The Lion King” and “Motown the Musical” actress Marva Hicks, still shocked and broken up by Kemp’s passing. “That’s all I can say.”

“Johnny Kemp commanded an audience with kinetic energy and great vocals,” stated Russell Patterson of Black Ivory, who attended the service with group members Stuart Bascombe and Leroy Burgess.

They were just several of the noted artists, musicians, DJs, business associates and performing-artist friends of Kemp, who joined his family in tribute of him.

Singer Alyson Williams, who flew in on the first flight that morning, her birthday, from a gig in Alabama to speak at this memorial, said, “Johnny was a true and cherished friend. A brother. He was an extraordinary artist and person.” It was a sentiment also shared by Valerie Simpson of Ashford and Simpson, and all those who spoke at the pulpit of St. Philip’s so lovingly and adoringly of Johnny Kemp, as a man and a family man, a friend and an accomplished artist.