Bon Bon

Photo of Bon Bon
  • Birth Name

    George Tunnell
  • Born

    June 30, 1912
    Reading, Pennsylvania
  • Died

    May 20, 1975 (age 62)
    Philadelphia, Pennsylvania
  • Orchestras

    Jan Savitt
    Johnny Warrington

Best re­mem­bered as vo­cal­ist for Jan Savitts or­ches­tra, pop­u­lar singer Bon Bon, born George Tunnell, grew up in the Philadelphia area and be­gan singing as a child, mak­ing ap­pear­ances on The Horn and Hardart Children’s Hour pro­gram on lo­cal sta­tion WCAU in the late 1920s. In the early 1930s, he teamed up with pi­anist Bob Pease and elec­tric gui­tarist John Slim” Furnell to form the Three Keys. Using no writ­ten arrange­ments, the trio fea­tured har­mony singing and a unique sound de­scribed as a new mode of in­stru­men­ta­tion.”

The Three Keys quickly be­came pop­u­lar in the Philadelphia area. In 1932, they be­gan ap­pear­ing on lo­cal ra­dio sta­tion KYW, an NBC af­fil­i­ate, where they caught the ear of a net­work ex­ec­u­tive who brought them to New York for an au­di­tion. They launched their own fif­teen-minute na­tion­wide pro­gram in August, broad­cast from Philadelphia four times a week, and in 1933 they recorded ten sides for Brunswick as well as ap­peared in the sixth Rambling Round Radio Row short. The trio moved to New York in 1934 be­fore head­ing to Europe, where they played London’s Palladium and gave a com­mand per­for­mance for King Edward VIII. They also per­formed over British and French ra­dio.

With Jan Savitt

Upon their re­turn to Philadelphia, Bon Bon be­came a vo­cal­ist with the KYW stu­dio or­ches­tra, led by Jan Savitt, which was also broad­cast on NBC. When Savitt de­cided to take his group on the road in 1938 and seek na­tional recog­ni­tion, Bon Bon went with him, mak­ing him one of the first African-American vo­cal­ists to reg­u­larly ap­pear with a white or­ches­tra. Able to sing both sweet and swing as well as scat, he proved a sen­sa­tion dur­ing the band’s de­but at the Lincoln Hotel in New York’s Times Square and quickly be­come one of the most well-known vo­cal­ists in the na­tion, plac­ing fifth in Billboard mag­a­zine’s 1940 col­lege poll for most pop­u­lar male band singers and sixth in 1941.

As a black per­former in an oth­er­wise all-white band, he faced much dis­crim­i­na­tion on the road. He of­ten pre­tended to be the band man­ager’s valet in or­der to stay in the same ho­tel as the oth­ers. He re­fused to go much fur­ther, how­ever, and did­n’t tol­er­ate the racism he came up against. During a per­for­mance in Kentucky, af­ter he was re­fused ser­vice by the ball­room’s soda stand, he boy­cotted the show, only ap­pear­ing on stage to sing dur­ing the thirty min­utes of the band’s na­tional ra­dio broad­cast.

Bon Bon be­came in­fa­mous for quit­ting and re­join­ing Savitt’s or­ches­tra nu­mer­ous times in his three year stint with the band. During his pe­ri­ods away from the group, he of­ten re­turned to Philadelphia to sing with the Three Keys again, though once he at­tempted to start his own band to lit­tle suc­cess. Finally, in March 1942, he quit Savitt for good, re­turn­ing home to be­gin a solo act at the pop­u­lar Philadelphia night­club Lou’s Moravian Inn, which would be­come his home away from home for many years to come.


Bon Bon re­turned to KYW as well, singing with their then cur­rent stu­dio or­ches­tra, led by Clarence Fuhrman. Also slated for an NBC Blue Network pro­gram, he cut record­ings on Decca un­der the name Bon Bon and His Buddies us­ing a stu­dio crew. A four-piece band bear­ing that name made its live de­but in April at Lou’s and later ex­panded to a six-piece combo. They ap­peared on lo­cal tele­vi­sion sta­tion WPTZ as well.

In May, Bon Bon moved to ra­dio sta­tion WCAU, where he hosted Dixiana, an all-sepia” va­ri­ety pro­gram, dur­ing the sum­mer. The pro­gram ran off and on over the next year. He also con­tin­ued work­ing with his band around the Philadelphia area, per­form­ing mostly at Lou’s. He re­mained pop­u­lar in his home city but strug­gled to gain the same na­tional fol­low­ing that he had earned with Savitt. His band signed with the Fredericks Bros. agency in March 1943 and made a New York ap­pear­ance, but he was soon back in Philadelphia again.

In late 1943, Bon Bon be­gan singing for WCAUs stu­dio or­ches­tra, led by Johnny Warrington, who had once been an arranger for Savitt. An ex­cit­ing band, Warrington be­gan to tour re­gion­ally, tak­ing Bon Bon with him. In sum­mer 1944, Bon Bon once again faced racism when he was de­nied the chance to sing at Atlantic City’s fa­mous Steel Pier due to its pol­icy of al­low­ing only white per­form­ers on its stage. He quit Warrington soon af­ter and re­turned to Philadelphia.

Later Career

After leav­ing Warrington, Bon Bon be­gan to work on and off with the Four Keys again, the cur­rent ex­panded ver­sion of his old group, also per­form­ing solo and with other area bands. In September 1944, he signed to a multi-year con­tract with Beacon Records, one of the small la­bels run by mu­sic pub­lisher Joe Davis with the ex­press pur­pose of plug­ging his songs. Bon Bon be­came one of Davis’ most used plug­gers, mak­ing mul­ti­ple record­ings over the next four years on both Beacon and the Joe Davis la­bel as well as Celebrity, an­other Davis im­print. His records were pop­u­lar in Philadelphia but made no im­pact na­tion­ally. He also recorded on the lo­cal Melody la­bel with the Four Keys.

Bon Bon made an­other at­tempt to front his own or­ches­tra in mid-1945, part­ner­ing with arranger Eddie Durham, who had just scrapped his all-girl out­fit. The six­teen-piece band played sev­eral one-nighters in Florida dur­ing October but failed to catch on.

In August 1948, Bon Bon signed with Philadelphia ra­dio sta­tion WDAS to star in his own pro­gram. The Bon Bon Show both fea­tured mu­si­cal per­for­mances and served as a com­mu­nity ser­vice show for the city’s African-American com­mu­nity. Bon Bon would of­ten take a tape recorder out onto the street and ask passers-by their opin­ions. The show was pop­u­lar enough that WDAS gave it a sec­ond weekly edi­tion in April 1950. By the end of the year though, Bon Bon had moved to WPEN to work as a DJ be­fore un­suc­cess­fully at­tempt­ing to launch a solo mu­sic ca­reer again. He fi­nally re­tired from show busi­ness in April 1951, tak­ing a job as as­sis­tant dis­trict man­ager for the Eastern Division of Schlitz brew­eries.


  1. The nick­name Bon Bon is a ref­er­ence to the choco­late cov­ered candy. African-American per­form­ers dur­ing this time pe­riod of­ten used ref­er­ences to choco­late in names and ti­tles. The late 1920s all-black re­vue Hot Chocolates at one time fea­tured a singing group called the Bon Bon Buddies, a moniker trac­ing back to a pop­u­lar song writ­ten in 1907. Some his­to­ri­ans have con­fused the singer Bon Bon with this group due to his form­ing a combo known as Bon Bon and His Buddies in the early 1940s. He had no con­nec­tion to the New York group how­ever. The name Bon Bon it­self was used by sev­eral per­form­ers over the years, in­clud­ing a pop­u­lar white strip­per in the 1950s.


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  • 720 in the Books
    Jan Savitt (Bon Bon), Decca (1939)
  • Good Morning
    Jan Savitt (Bon Bon), Decca (1939)
  • Make-Believe Island
    Jan Savitt (Bon Bon), Decca (1940)
  • Truthfully
    Bon Bon and the Red Caps Trio (Bon Bon), Joe Davis (1945)
  • Better Stop Playin' Around
    Bon Bon and the Red Caps Trio, Joe Davis (1945)

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  1. Simon, George T. The Big Bands. 4th ed. New York: Schirmer, 1981.
  2. “Bon Bon.” IMDb. Accessed 29 Jul. 2016.
  3. “The Three Keys, Radio's Latest Sensation.” The Afro-American [Baltimore, MD] 20 Aug. 1932: 7.
  4. “Notes for Coming Week.” The Montreal Gazette 20 May 1938: 10.
  5. “On the Stage.” Pittsburgh Post-Gazette 11 Aug. 1938: 9. Print
  6. McClarrin, Otto. “Otto McClarrin's Seaboard Merry-Go-Round.” The Washington Afro-American 18 Feb. 1939: 6.
  7. “Bon Bon Leaves Savitt.” The Afro-American [Baltimore, MD] 2 Nov. 1940: 14.
  8. “Night Club Reviews: Sherman Hotel, Panther Room, Chicago.” Billboard 7 Feb. 1942: 13.
  9. “On the Records.” Billboard 21 Feb. 1942: 66.
  10. “On the Records.” Billboard 14 Mar. 1942: 25.
  11. “Bon Bon, Hot Singer, Back in Pa.” The Afro-American [Baltimore, MD] 21 Mar. 1942: 15.
  12. “Advertisers, Agencies, Stations.” Billboard 21 Mar. 1942: 6.
  13. “On the Stand: Bon Bon and His Buddies.” Billboard 11 Apr. 1942: 22.
  14. “Orchestra Notes.” Billboard 25 Apr. 1942: 23.
  15. “List of Winners: Collegiate Choice of Vocalists.” The Billboard 1943 Music Yearbook, 1943: 139.
  16. “Campus Picks Top Chirps.” Billboard 2 May 1942: 19.
  17. “Advertisers, Agencies, Stations.” Billboard 23 May 1942: 8.
  18. “Advertisers, Agencies, Stations.” Billboard 4 Jul. 1942: 6.
  19. “Orchestra Notes.” Billboard 1 Aug. 1942: 23.
  20. “Program Reviews: Dixiana.” Billboard 15 Aug. 1942: 8.
  21. “Orchestra Notes.” Billboard 12 Sep. 1942: 21.
  22. “Four Keys Originated in Philly.” The Afro-American [Baltimore, MD] 19 Sep. 1942: 12.
  23. “Off the Cuff.” Billboard 26 Dec. 1942: 18.
  24. “Off the Cuff.” Billboard 20 Feb. 1943: 19.
  25. “Program Reviews: Open House.” Billboard 27 Feb. 1943: 9.
  26. “Bon Bon Leads Combo Again.” Billboard 27 Mar. 1943: 18.
  27. “No Time to Fill, But Lee Broza Buys New Talent.” Billboard 16 Oct. 1943: 7.
  28. “On the Stand: Johnny Warrington.” Billboard 16 Oct. 1943: 16.
  29. “Talent-Hungry Radio Lanes Turn To Rich Unit Pasture.” Billboard 23 Oct. 1943: 22.
  30. “Program Reviews: Dixiana.” Billboard 6 Nov. 1943: 11.
  31. “Philly Earle Light $17,800, Fay's 96C.” Billboard 27 Nov. 1943: 17.
  32. “Births.” Billboard 24 Jun. 1944: 33.
  33. “Hate Policy Bans Bon Bon.” The Afro-American [Baltimore, MD] 12 Aug. 1944: 8.
  34. “Philly Cocktaileries Bring Back Talent.” Billboard 12 Aug. 1944: 29.
  35. “Bon-Bon Contracted to Cut 16 Disks Yearly for Beacon.” Billboard 23 Sep. 1944: 36.
  36. “Off the Cuff.” Billboard 23 Sep. 1944: 37.
  37. “Off the Cuff.” Billboard 21 Apr. 1945: 28.
  38. “Bon Bon Fronts New Ork.” Billboard 14 Jul. 1945: 66.
  39. “Bon Bon and His 16.” Billboard 29 Sep. 1945: 32.
  40. “Music as Written.” Billboard 20 Oct. 1945: 24.
  41. “Adanced Record Releases.” Billboard 3 Apr. 1948: 126.
  42. “Back Stage Whispers Got Peggy a 'Break.'” The Baltimore Afro-American 8 Jun. 1948: 6.
  43. “1-Hour Daily Negro Service Program Skedded by WDAS.” Billboard 13 Aug. 1948: 6.
  44. “No New Quintet for Public.” Billboard 4 Dec. 1948: 20.
  45. “Vox Jox.” Billboard 29 Oct. 1949: 26.
  46. “Music as Written.” Billboard 12 Nov. 1949: 42.
  47. “Vox Jox.” Billboard 1 Apr. 1950: 24.
  48. “Music as Written.” Billboard 9 Dec. 1950: 17.
  49. “Music as Written.” Billboard 5 May 1951: 18.