For the record: PBS special spotlights Vintage Vinyl’s cultural impact

Vintage Vinyl’s marquee is a familiar sight to St. Louis music fans. 

By Ellen Futterman, Editor

When it comes to St. Louis treasures, few places rank much higher than Vintage Vinyl in the Delmar Loop, especially if you are a music lover. Seems as if Nine PBS (Channel 9) agrees, too, because Thursday, Sept. 3 at 8 p.m. it is airing “Papa Ray’s Vintage Vinyl Roadshow” (with encore presentations on Sept. 5 at 6:30 p.m., and Sept. 8 at 8 p.m.) as part of its fall membership drive. 

This hour-long documentary tells the history of the independent record store, with archival footage and videos from in-store performances and signing events. It includes the history of the man who has owned and operated it for decades, Tom “Papa” Ray. 

So what, exactly, is Jewish about all of this. That’s where Ray’s wife, Laura, comes in.

After two marriages and divorces from the same man, Laura Roodman-Ray, whose Jewish grandparents, father, and two uncles (the late Louis, Essie, Jerry, Harvey, and Herman “Muni” Roodman) owned and operated Roodman’s Delicatessen on Easton Avenue (currently Martin Luther King Drive), had pretty much given up on finding love again. Luckily her good friend thought otherwise and posted Roodman-Ray’s dating profile on Jdate 17 years ago.

“As a middle-aged twice-divorcee with two young daughters, my long-time friend thought that being on the Jewish dating service would be the perfect way to meet a nice Jewish man,” Roodman-Ray explained. And while Ray isn’t Jewish, he later told Roodman-Ray that he thought Jdate would be the perfect place to meet someone his own age with similar interests. Plus, he told her, he always loved Jewish women.

About a year after meeting, the two got married at the City Museum with Cantor Ronald Eichaker from United Hebrew officiating.  Ray proudly sat on the pulpit years later watching his two daughters each become a bat mitzvah. 

A few years ago, when Ray’s Vintage Vinyl partner, Lew Prince, decided to retire, the Rays bought out his portion of the business. At the time, Vintage Vinyl had won accolades for being one of the Top 10 Record Stores in the United States by USA Today

“Very aware of the resurgence of vinyl records, the history of great musicians who came from the St. Louis area such as Chuck Berry, Miles Davis, Oliver Sain, David Sanborn and Scott Joplin, among others; the fact that music is such a healing force, and the basic human need of nostalgia amidst the craziness of our current world — and the fact that there are two cable shows just on cupcakes, we decided to do a show that was a love letter to St. Louis, showcasing all of the above,” said Roodman-Ray. 

The special explores the apex of Vintage Vinyl’s cultural influence on the city and St. Louis’ proud heritage as a music town: the birthplace of ragtime and rhythm and blues. The city also has strong ties to gospel, jazz and hip-hop. 

“In a time when a pandemic as well as social and political turmoil tests our faith in the future, we hope to remind St. Louis of its greatness, as well as acknowledge this fact: Music is the healing force — whether or not you met on Jdate,” said Roodman-Ray.