By Mary Alice Miller
Bopping heads and tapping feet filled the audience last Saturday at Brownsville Heritage House.
Word on the Street – the house band – entertained the young and not so young with an afternoon of jazz. “It was beautiful. I have been coming ever since they started having this concert,” said Ms. Woods, who couldn’t stop smiling when the set ended. “I haven’t missed one.” Julia Blunt concurred, “I loved it. I love jazz.”
Brownsville Heritage House’s monthly jazz concert was the brainchild of drummer Wade Barnes. A few years ago, Barnes approached Ms. Patricia Deans, chairperson of Brownsville Heritage House, with the idea of providing jazz to the local community and schools. He wanted to collaborate on giving community children somewhere to go in terms of learning music.
“We encourage the community to bring their family and children; it’s a family experience,” said Ms. Deans. “Bringing jazz into Brownsville is part of the healing that is very much-needed.”
“Word on the Street Ensemble was formed by Wade Barnes about four years ago,” said Vincent Chancey who plays the French horn. “Wade passed away this past March,” said Chancey. “We are carrying on the band in his tradition.” Chancey added, “The crowds are incredible. Every time we come it’s a good house. They love the music. It’s beautiful to see them here.”
The Word on the Street Ensemble presents their jazz concert at Brownsville Heritage House every third Saturday. Besides Chancey, core members of Word on the Street include saxophone player Bill Saxton, drummer Dave Gibson , Bob Cunningham on bass and Roy Meriwether, piano. Sometimes the ensemble brings different musicians with them, including an occasional songstress.
“It is important to bring jazz to Brownsville,” said Meriwether. “There’s no jazz around here.” He observed, “They seem to appreciate it,” an understatement considering the crowd stood on their feet and applauded several times during the concert.
Attendee Carolyn Johnson-Lee offered a series of accolades. “I thought it was fantastic. The musicians were right on time. The audience enjoyed it,” she said. “It was a great experience and I am looking forward to even more enlightening things like this. Johnson-Lee has been coming to the concert for the past several months. “I came and saw the importance to the community, the importance historically,” said Johnson-Lee, “and this is something I need to be a part of.”
Iris Robinson, Secretary of the Board for Brownsville Heritage House, encouraged attendees to “Tell your friends. Have a wonderful day of fellowshipping and enjoying good music, refreshments and all the good stuff.”
The “good stuff” Robinson referred to is the wall-to-wall art that fills every available nook in Brownsville Heritage House. There is elaborate art made from carved wood, mirrors, corrugated cardboard and metal. Figurines range from 2″ tall to a life-sized Nelson Mandela made from papier-mâché. Collections include themes from ancient Egypt, China and native North Americans. The Middle Passage is thoroughly represented with pictures of Harriet Tubman and Frederick Douglass. There is an encased display of authentic slave handcuffs juxtaposed with modern handcuffs, contrasting how much things have changed yet remain the same. Amid all the visual stimulation stands life-size pictures of President Barack Obama and First Lady Michelle.
“The community is responding to these cultural events. I do this for the children,” said Ms. Deans. “They have a very rich culture and history, and they need to know it.”