Lawrence D. Benicewicz, a retired educator and record collector extraordinaire who served as a musical consultant to filmmaker John Waters, died Oct. 10 after a two-year battle with liposarcoma, a rare cancer, at Gilchrist Center Baltimore. The Waverly resident was 72.
“He worked on every movie from ‘Hairspray’ on and I think had every record that ever came out,” Mr. Waters said. “He had songs about bears, sex, Christmas and Baltimore, many of which I had never heard. He had the most obscure records.”
Lawrence Donald Benicewicz, the son of Casimir Benicewicz, a Baltimore Gas and Electric Co. carpenter, and his wife, Catherine Tarnowski Benicewicz, a homemaker, was born in Baltimore, and after a few years of living with his family in Brooklyn, moved to Brooklyn Park.
It was while he was a student at Brooklyn Park Elementary School where he developed a passion for record collecting and where he was the school’s DJ for sock hops, and later spent the rest of his life as a professional DJ to supplement his income.
After graduating in 1965 from Brooklyn Park High School where he was a scholar-athlete and valedictorian he enrolled at what is now Towson University where he was a civil rights activist and a Vietnam War protester, and served as president of the university’s chapter of Students for a Democratic Society.
Mr. Benicwicz earned a bachelor’s degree in 1969 in English from Towson and began his professional career at his alma mater, Brooklyn Park High School, teaching seventh graders.
He later was on the faculty of Corkran Junior High in Glen Burnie and Lindale Middle School in Linthicum where he spent the majority of his career teaching eighth grade earth science. After a brief tenure as a health instructor at Meade Senior High School at Fort Meade, he retired in 2003.
“We would be someplace and someone would start calling, ‘Mr. Ben, Mr. Ben’ — that’s what his students called him — ‘You were my favorite teacher,’ ” said his wife of a week, Carol Campbell, whom he married Oct. 4, after 40 years of being together.
Mr. Benicewicz obtained a master’s degree in liberal arts in 1972 from the Johns Hopkins University, where he also earned a certificate of advanced studies.
In the 1980s, Mr. Benicewicz, a blues aficionado, and Ms. Campbell, began traveling extensively through the South visiting historic blues venues in Mississippi, Memphis, Tennessee, and especially South Louisiana.
He was urged to write about his journeys and 45 rpm record collection, and his first published piece in 1987 for Bluesrag, the monthly magazine of the Baltimore Blues Society, was an obituary for Clifton Chenier, who was known as the “King of Zydeco.”
For the next 32 years and continuing until his death, Mr. Benicewicz was a regular contributor to the magazine, writing biographies, record and concert reviews, and obituaries. In addition, he wrote the liner notes to several CDs.
From 1989 to 1994, he covered the Mid-Atlantic blues scene for Maryland Musician, which later became Music Monthly. It had been founded and edited by Susie Mudd and during that time he interviewed such blues notables as Garry Cogdell, Deanna Bogart, Tom Larsen and the Rev. Billy C. Wirtz.
As his reputation grew, Mr. Benicewicz was asked by such foreign publications as Vienna’s Blues Life magazine, for which he wrote from 1989 to 2010, and Blues Gazette of Sinaai, Belgium, for which he wrote from 1995 to 2000. Other publications included the West Coast Blue Review of Victoria, British Columbia, and Soulbag, a Paris publication for which he has been a contributing writer since 2002.
In addition, he was a feature writer for the internet blues site BluesWorld.com.
He became acquainted with Mr. Waters in 1987 when the writer-director attended his annual Halloween party at his 33rd Street home.
When he spied Mr. Benicewicz’s vast record collection, “he said something unprintable but became very interested in engaging me to have a hand in providing the requisite eccentric, bizarre, or esoteric selections for which his movie soundtracks were noted,” Mr. Benicewicz wrote in an autobiographical profile.
“He was my music guy," Mr. Waters said.
“He never stopped searching for records. They were novelty records, country records and Baltimore records. Larry was the first guy I called after getting a script. I’d ask him to send me tapes of 20 seconds long of 100 songs, and then I’d go back and pick out 10, and in two days, he’d have full tapes ready of the songs I had requested."
Works from his record collection that can be found in the Waters canon include “Cry Baby,” “Serial Mom,” “Pecker,” “Cecile N. Demented” and “Dirty Shame.” He also contributed music to “Fruitcake,” an unfinished project, and was a credited co-producer of two CDs with Mr. Waters, “A John Waters Christmas” and “A Date With John Waters.”
“He was credited in my films,” the Baltimore writer-director said. “Larry was known nationally, and if he had lived in Hollywood, he would have been a rich man, but like the rest of us, he loved Baltimore.”
Bob Skidmore, who acted in several of Mr. Waters’ films, had been a close friend of Mr. Benicewicz.
“I first met [Mr. Waters] when he came to one of Larry’s famous Halloween parties,” Mr. Skidmore said.
"As a person, Larry was very generous, and when it came to music, he knew every song, who performed it and its label, for more than the last 50 years,” the Eudowood resident said. “He was also an encyclopedia of 45s. He knew them all.”
As the result of his extensive connections he made touring the South, Mr. Benicewicz became an agent for groups who performed Cajun, blues or Zydeco music, and from 1990 to 2010, he arranged tours for traveling troupes such as Rov Carrier, the Creole Zydeco Farmers and Thomas Fields when they were in the Mid-Atlantic, playing gigs in Baltimore, Philadelphia and Washington.
When in Baltimore, they’d stay at Mr. Benicewicz’s Waverly home while performing at the Cafe Tattoo, the Full Moon Saloon, the 8x10 and the Cat’s Eye Pub.
Mark Gretschel, owner of Tornado Alley in Wheaton, dubbed Mr. Benicewicz “the Mother Teresa of Zydeco,” and in 1993, in recognition of promoting indigenous Louisiana music, then-Gov. Edwin Edwards proclaimed him an honorary state citizen.
When noted Fells Point bartender, prankster and Abraham Lincoln look-a-like, H. Jefferson “Jeff” Knapp died in 1992, it was Mr. Benicewicz who arranged for the Treme Brass Band of New Orleans to be flown from the Crescent City to play and march in his funeral procession.
“Jeff wanted a Viking funeral where they put your body on a boat and light the funeral pyre at sea, but all he had was a rubber dinghy,” Mr. Benicewicz told The Baltimore Sun. “We gave him a New Orleans send-off, instead.”
Traveling to Paris — which he visited more than 50 times and “learned to speak passable French,” Mr. Benicewicz wrote in his profile — was another passion of his. He particularly enjoyed visiting Le Rosebud Bar on the Rue Delambre in Montparnasse, “an Art Deco jazz enclave,” he wrote, where he dispensed vinyl recordings and CDs.
Mr. Benicewicz left his body to the State Anatomy Board and plans for a celebration of life gathering are incomplete.