Tuesday, September 1, 2020

To Mom...In Loving Memory

Most of us have seen the full spectrum of the "circle of life"...We've welcomed new life into the world and bid farewell to lives with legacy. Losing parents will always leave an indelible mark on our lives...

As we grow, we continue to understand more about them, their struggles, and the memories that they left with us. 

The quietest day of my life: was when my mother passed away…The quiet was deafening, the reality was immediate and the loss: a myriad of quiet yet chaotic streams of thought swirling everywhere. I’ll never forget when I got the call August 4, 2010…I dutifully started to pack my things for the 5 hour flight back east.

Here I am, 10 years later, with a host of revelations and a ton of emotion. Having spent a good part of the last 10 years organizing memorials, writing obituaries and paying tributes, the tide of losses has somewhat, temporarily subsided. I am using these moments to express my grief and acknowledge the loss of my mother. 

Somewhere, the reality of this great loss does not surface for us until this- a reality it becomes. We know it will happen, but until it happens, we get lost in the surrealism of what we must accept. I understand the words "no more", yet my mother's soul is all encompassing. I feel her energy each and every day. 

My mother was "fair of face", "Monday's child", born March 7, 1921.  She was a beautiful woman  with a classic photogenic allure, poise and a winning captivating smile. Her tough as nails exterior concealed the squishy emotions that she kept protected behind a brick wall  reserved only for her own soul... To know her feelings one had to listen to the music that she enjoyed. It painted a canvas of her triumphs, defeats and challenges. 

So many people shared with me the wonderful things that my mother had done and what a purely generous and giving individual that she was. She never spoke of what she did for others... She just lived  her life's credo by the song she wanted sung at the celebration of  her life.

The thing that I most remember about my mom was her singing. Her range, mezzo soprano held a strong, educated vocal presence. When I was ten years old, she bought me a piano and then went through a search for the right piano teacher. Within a week I was playing…As time went on, I would accompany my mother as she sang. I spent most of my time practicing, writing and imagining, in the 60s, how I could possibly bring everything I heard in my mind to fruition with full production value. I don’t think if I even had a vision through a crystal ball that I could imagine, where music would go and how the technologies transcribing it in a listening form would change.

What I most remember was that my mother had a favorite song. It was the song that she requested be played for her memorial. I made sure that all of her end of life requests were met and especially her favorite song. I listened as the gentleman played and sang my mother’s favorite song… And the entire time I listened; I was wondering why everyone sang the song like it was a song of sadness. It isn’t…It is really a song of joy…It was then that I decided that I would commit myself to do an arrangement of the song that connected to the spirit of doing for others.

Alma Bazel Androzzo

My mother’s life song was written by pianist-songwriter and lyricist Alma Bazel Androzzo (1912-2001) in 1945. “If I Can Help Somebody” was written in Pittsburgh where the Tennessee born songwriter was raised. It is considered a great gospel anthem and has been covered inumerable times since it was first published from Tennessee Ernie Ford to Patti LaBelle.

Many Real Schoolers have said that this song was a favorite of their parents. Martin Luther King, Jr. first heard the song and was so inspired by it, that he encouraged his close friend to record it. That was the infamous recording that most of us grew up with released by The Queen of Gospel, Mahalia Jackson in 1963.

Exactly two months to the day before he was assassinated, King gave a sermon called, “The Drum Major Instinct.”. In a chilling self-proclaimed eulogy, he quoted the lyrics to Androzzo’s song at the conclusion of his sermon. 

It is odd that not much is written about Alma Bazel Androzzo, a writer whose most popular song has impacted so many worldwide. Music is our saving grace in trying times. 

Now, several months shy of what will be her 100th birthday in 2021, I celebrate my mother with thanks and love. Her buying me a piano and those piano lessons gave me an outlet to creativity. And now, I am able to accompany her soul with the arrangement of her favorite song.  I feel my mother smiling...

Click here to listen

So how did this wonderful group of people come together? We all had someone in common.  I know that had it not been for Tommy Thomas who was a brilliant gospel writer, I may never have connected to any of the people who are part of this effort. So here I am connecting the dots: I met Tommy Thomas (Tommy T) about 1979, Tommy had just come back from touring with Nils Lofgren. Wornell Jones also was part of the touring band. When Tommy returned to the states from the tour he created a gospel group called Tommy T and company. Both Wornell and I became part of the group...Little did any of us know that we would throughout the years become a family. To our family came a very young singer named....

LaVan Davis

Many years ago, back in the day, there was this kid barely out of his teens who had a powerful voice,  goals and dreams, and an infectious sincere spirit. That spirit has lasted to this day. I adopted him as my baby brother from another mother. Most people know him in his work with Tyler Perry, but the creative talent that he is has been long in the making. He was a singer before he was anything else with impeccable range. After Tommy T & Company joined the LA Mass Choir  in the late 80s. But few know that he received classical training where he met the other singer on this project, Debbie Dey.

He knows how to tell a story through his vocal work. LaVan expressed the core spirit of what the lyrics Alma Bazel Androzzo's lyrics really mean. He and Mo Beeks start a conversation as the song begins: each in his own way.


Mo Beeks

This guy from Chicago right here is one of the best vocalists to ever hit a stage! He is an unbelievable talent. I met him back in the day at a studio session almost 40 years ago. We have done many holiday and get-together hangouts enjoying conversations, food and just basic chill sessions.

What he has given to this project is not only his voice as the headliner with LaVan Davis, but  laid back key board chops that give balance: an underlying theme gives ground to a  contemporary jazz feel to a timeless classic gospel anthem.   He was initially a drummer but transitioned to keyboards. And he's been playing keyboards ever since. I call him the busiest guy in the business... 
He tells me he "hates the way his voice sounds." I'm incredulous-- are you kidding me?! Evidently, everybody agrees with me. He was nominated for a Grammy in 2015 with the group Blind Dog Smokin'. As a founding member of the group Himalaya in Los Angeles with guitarist Keith Andrew,  the group had a great run on the contemporary jazz circuit and built up quite a reputation, touring nationally in New York, Washington D.C., Memphis and San Diego and appearing at the Santa Barbara Jazz Festival.


Debbie Day

When I hear my friend Debbie Dey's beautiful mezzo-soprano voice, I hear my mother's voice. It really floors me every time I hear her sing. She sounds so much like her, I was moved when I heard her singing O, Holy Night...It were as if they had the same vocal fingerprint...Hearing her voice I knew that having her as part of the project would bring my mother's voice back to life. The contrast of classic vocals against a contemporary backdrop made time stand still for me. 

She is singing the line in the song that I most remember my mother singing. It is this part of the lyric which seems to define the conviction in Androzzo's lyric.

Debbie started her career as an Apprentice Artist with Opera Pacific where she sang the role of the Valkyrie in Wagner‘s Die Walkure. She also sang Valkryie at the Hollywood Bowl with John Mauceri directing the Hollywood Bowl Orchestra. Singing as a resident artist with Repertory Opera Company based in Pomona she has appeared in many leading opera roles...

When I met Debbie it was as a colleague in the fitness industry. When she told me of her vocal career, I was captivated and have been a fan ever since. 


Lucius Parr

Talk about someone who's got it like that. I met him at the late musician Rich Cason's (Dyke & the Blazers) studio and we've been friends ever since...I had heard mention of him years earlier, like in the late 60s... Lucius is an awesome guitarist, who hails from Yoakum Texas. His style is everything that's earthy and grounded. His dad gave him a guitar when he was 10 years old and he's been playing ever since. I like to describe Lucius' guitar style as warm, sweet, country, blues and soulful...It's always a pleasure to work with him. 

Usually this time of the year, Lucius is playing as guest guitarist with Charlie Daniels and has been since 1997.  They've shared some great moments on stage ever since. Sadly, Charlie passed away on July 6th. 


Bobby Watson

Evidently there are a lot of people with the name Bobby Watson! The only one I know is the Grammy award winning bass player with the group Rufus who loves my cooking! He's played with everyone, had his own band and is a current member of The Cookies...It's always a pleasure to talk to Bobby and have him over for the hang outs...

Ten years ago I met him, through Wornell Jones when he came to the states for Tommy T's memorial.  Bobby asked if he could get his bass out and play on the track when it was in its infancy...It was a wet chilly evening in November, but a "gathering evening" with good energies always changes the climate.

Bobby is a down to earth guy who brought his Memphis Tenn roots with him on the song...Now that things have somewhat changed with our hangouts, we may have to have to do a virtual hangout before we have our live one with all the gang. 

Back in the day in 1975, this video is what the real school is all about. The musicianship back in the day was extraordinary. It was a great time for music...The RSPs of yesterday are still doing it today. 

Wornell Jones 

Sometimes when I'm canvassing Youtube, I see comments from listeners asking about what ever happened to Wornell Jones? Nothing happened! He's still around doing music and just released his EP Faster Forward a few months ago.  So if anyone asks me why I had two bass players on the song, the answer is ---because they were both there. In fact, they were the only two people in my studio who performed or played the same day...

Born in D.C., Wornell was a member of the group The Young Senators, the "it" group back in the day in the Nation's Capital. The Senators aka The Emperors of Go-Go were the back up band for Eddie Kendricks on his second album, People Hold On. 

Wornell released his self-titled album in 1979 and it is still going strong! We never knew we were both from DC until  a conversation years later. Then in the 80s he relocated, making Japan his home. He's writes, produces and has a successful music school: T.A.S.I (The Art of Singing Institute)

Wornell in 1979 on tour with Nils Lofgren. Tommy T on keyboards. 

Chey Renay 

My mother could have never imagined that one day her oldest
granddaughter would be one of the vocalists singing in tribute to her. 

Chey lends her voice to the project and definitely nails it, 
yet another layer from the voice of a whole new generation. 

She is a singer songwriter as well as a business professional with her successful online site for custom jewelry designs: 12th Summer


Me and my mom...

A lot of things I didn't understand then, I understand now. Our beginnings together were awkward. We grew in love. My mother had a daring sense of independence and gave me every skill that I would ever need to survive... "You are no less than anybody in this world" she would tell me..That will always stay with me...

I really thought my mother would be here forever, but as she has become an ancestor, her spirit lives in her grandchildren and great grandchildren and those moving forward who will come to know about her by the visuals left behind...We don't get to pick our parents. They are given to us by destiny...I feel the fortune in that destiny. 
To all the wonderful people who were part of this project, I cannot thank you enough...
My mom's favorite song...

Thanks for sharing the journey...


Friday, May 1, 2020


Several years ago, Obie Jessie asked me to write his bio. We met back in 1978 on Sunset Boulevard. He was one of the people I greeted in passing as I was continuing my commitment to walk the full stretch of Sunset as a newcomer to Los Angeles. He was outside of an office building where he had had a meeting with Otis Blackwell. Yes...The Otis Blackwell also penned as John Davenport who wrote "Great Balls of Fire", "Fever", "Don't Be Cruel" and "All Shook Up."

The Atlanta Jazz Festival with Eddie Davis on trumpet.
Back in the day I met a lot of people. There was no Google even though there was internet closed to the public. It wasn't until Google that I discovered great legacies being created by many of my friends/colleagues. I started talking with them about the possibility of a newsletter about our generation of musicians and artists, performers and the people of our generation that were no longer the focus for the advertisers.

Concert in Japan

Our generation, as our parents' generation, was becoming lost and there was still so much to contribute. We grew up with icons from our parents' generation. Technology was changing, the world wide web was growing. 

When I talked to Obie about it, he said, " Puddin', you are way ahead of your time." I knew it was something I had to do and I launched Real School People in November 2007. It was Obie Jessie who told me, "Attach your name to it. People need to know you and what you do."

In writing, his bio back in 2007, I began to see what an amazing legacy Obie Jessie had forged through his work. His tenacity and role as mentor can not be unrecognized. He was a griot of music history. And yes, his legacy includes some amazing genealogy.

I remember once when he came to visit, we checked iTunes to find the numerous covers of many of his songs. He would visit and he would listen to projects I was working on. I can honestly say that he was very instrumental in many of the things I learned about mixing music and audio. He knew a lot about sound, audio and mastering. Back then, there was real fidelity that wasn't destined to be compromised through a compressed MP3. 

I worked on projects with him and would be in the studio all night. It would take hours before the mix was "right" coupled with that unforgettable sound: the "whir" of the audio tape either in rewind or fast forward. Those are memories that really can't be explained, but remembered. There are many of us who do.

So, in sharing the bio I originally wrote for the incomparable Obie Jessie, you will see the amazing trivia created in his life as a producer, writer, vocalist and musician and entrepreneur. Looking back: it was a true honor to be asked to write about him. I remember when he brought over a huge package of photos, memories and articles. Looking forward: the honor is a treasure.


If there were a list of the most interestingly, notable, intriguing individuals on the planet, Obie Jessie would be the first on the list. His is a story that celebrates talent, resolve, longevity and knowledge; all enduring graciously throughout the more than 50 years that he has been writing, performing and producing.

He’s toured Europe, Japan and the United States. Using his experience in the industry, he shares knowledge through workshops and seminars on blues, jazz and rock and roll.

Looking at the new model of “career” with which current young artists define success, we realize that their concept of developing a career is thin in comparison to that of Young Jessie. Obie Jessie: who transformed himself from age 15, when the music business was a newer frontier, through 6 decades, commandeering the growth path his career would take.

Blind Lemon Jefferson

To write his story, one must begin before he was born, where the blues runs deep in Obie’s genealogy. It begins with cousin and legendary gospel blues icon in the 1920s, "Blind" Lemon Jefferson who in 1927 wrote “Black Snake Moan” and recorded it on Okeh Records. The sullen, blues song resurfaced in 2007 when Samuel L. Jackson’s character, Lazarus, a broken blues singer performed the song in the film of the same title.

Obie recalls the family accounts of “Blind” Lemon, who died penniless in Chicago seven years before he, Obediah Donnell Jessie was born on December 28, 1936 in the small black suburb of Lincoln Manor, just south of Dallas, Texas.

James Jesse
His father, James Jessie, made his living as a cook, while his mother, Melinda, nicknamed "Plunky", was a homemaker. She played piano in church, and taught Obie how to play ukulele and piano, introducing him to the genres of blues, hillbilly, and the most popular music of the times: jazz.

It was mentor, cousin and trumpet player, Pete Cooley, who inspired Obie as a young child to become a musician. While his first performance was in church, Obie’s first paying gig was playing sax with Shorty Clemons, famous bandleader and notable sax player and who lived in their neighborhood.

By 1946, the Jessie family relocated to Los Angeles. They lived in the South Central section of LA: where the first jazz venues opened in the western United States.

Obie’s mother exposed him to the greatest talents of the day by taking him to concerts along celebrated Central Avenue. These musicians of color, among them, Cab Calloway, Count Basie, Duke Ellington, Lionel Hampton, The Sweethearts of Rhythm, all created a fabulous ambiance of music and independence within the black community. In the 40s practically every area of the country had a "Black Broadway" due to segregation. 

Obie attended the 49th Street Elementary School and befriended drummer Billy Higgins, also a student. The two best friends performed together at school functions and upon graduation, both received certificates for “the most likely to succeed in music”. They followed each other’s careers until Billy’s passing in 2001.

Obie’s junior high school years were spent at Carver. The summer following graduation from junior high, Obie’s grandmother became ill and he and his mother returned to Texas.

His first semester of high school was spent at Lincoln where he began his study of music and joined the school’s band. It was a year later that his younger brother, Dewayne was born.
Obie with his brother Dewayne

Dewayne as Otis Day
As an adult, Dewayne would portray, Otis Day of Otis Day and the Nights, in the 1978 movie Animal House. Dwayne modeled his character after Obie, enjoying more than a cult following. Otis Day and the Nights evolved into a successful touring music group on the road since 1982.
Obie and DeWayne at the NAACP Awards
Obie returned to LA to complete school at Manual Arts, but transferred to Jefferson where he began his longtime friendship with Johnny “Guitar” Watson. Both young men studied piano and sax with the school’s music director.

It was in the halls of Jefferson High School where the short-lived doo-wop vocal group, The Debonairs was born. Jessie sang baritone along with Arthur Lee Maye (tenor), Thomas “Pete” Fox, (2nd tenor) and A.V. Odum (bass). Amid personnel changes, (A.V. and Arthur left), The Debonairs ceased to exist and became a group with no name, with two additional members: tenor Cornell Gunther, and bass Richard Berry. All attended Jefferson High School, except tenor Beverley Thompson who attended Fremont.

Still a group with no name, but with all personnel in place, they auditioned for Dolphins of Hollywood, a south central label owned by independent record producer John Dolphin and recorded their first single in 1953, I Had A Love, written by Jessie. The group became known as The Hollywood Blue Jays, (not to be confused with another group of older singers with the same name who recorded Cloudy and Raining.)

Despite the rawness of the record, I Had A Love picked up some momentum. At that point the group sought out another label, ditched school for a day and auditioned with Modern Records run by The Bihari Brothers. Under the Modern label they re-recorded I Had A Love and renamed themselves The Flairs, after seeing the name used for one of Modern’s unreleased subsidiary country labels.

The Flairs 1953

She Wants to Rock was on the flip side of their first release and produced by the prolific songwriting team Lieber and Stoller. (Hot Dog, Jailhouse Rock, and King Creole as well as all The Coasters' hits.)

The Flairs debuted at The Gene Norman Jazz Concert at the Shrine Auditorium and their performances were electric. They gained success, performing throughout LA, Texas, Colorado and Oregon. They recorded, You Should Care For Me, Love Me Girl, This Is The Night For Love, and Lonesome Dessert. To add to their history, The Flairs were on the cover of the first TV Guide ever printed in Los Angeles.

Lieber and Stoller
were instrumental in starting several careers, including, Big Mama Thornton, Etta James as well as Obie Jessie’s solo interests.

They commissioned Jessie to sing vocals on their songs demoed for Elvis Presley, including the songs Don’t and Hound Dog. Elvis wrote to L & S and commented on the polish with which Obie performed the demos.

By late 1954, Obie left The Flairs and focused on his solo career and identity. Because this very mature male voice, came from this young 15 year-old, he debuted as Young Jessie, with I Smell A Rat (1953). Obie explains,’ “Because I sounded like I was forty…I had this deep baritone voice. I could have called myself Obie Jessie, but I didn’t want people to think I was old.”

The Flairs continued to thrive throughout the 60s and disbanded when Cornelius Gunther left the group to join The Coasters.

The day after leaving The Flairs, Obie wrote his most definitive blues hit: “Mary Lou”.

He was now an Atco/Atlantic recording artist with a hit, star power and writing talent. Despite efforts from the Coasters’ manager to forfeit his successful solo career to join the group, Young Jessie did record with the Coasters on their sessions from February-December 1957; but was adamant with regards to not appearing publicly as a member of the group.

During 1958, Jessie reunited with Shorty Rogers, one of the fathers of West Coast Jazz. Obie sang lead jazz vocals, sharing the bill with Shorty and his group The Giants in the LA area. These opportunities with Shorty kept Obie grounded with respect to where his heart was vocally: jazz.

When Modern Records closed its doors in 1957, Obie began working exclusively with Lieber and Stoller who produced the two singles, Shuffle In The Gravel and Margie.

The young 50s teen star worked the Apollo Theatre and toured the country, sometimes sharing the bill with BB King, The Platters, Little Willie John and Bobby Blue Bland, The Coasters as well as friend, Johnny “Guitar” Watson. Young Jessie had releases on Capitol, Vanessa, Bit and Mercury Records.

By 1959, Obie discarded the "Young Jessie" image. He admitted that this most pivotal, career altering decision came while living in New York and meeting Duke Ellington. One can just imagine the rush and excitement in Obie’s soul while speaking with such a legend; and from that brief experience in time, Obie changed from the genre of doo-wop to jazz. Although he had personally emerged from Young Jessie to Obie Jessie, he was still billed with his original moniker.

It takes an artist of perceptive wit to understand the necessity for change, and for one so young to realize the concept, shows a depth of maturity far beyond the age of 19. For him to exit the doo-wop train before the wheels fell off was a deeply intuitive move. It’s no surprise, however, as his mother, Melinda had inducted him into the world of jazz as a young boy.

Obie recorded his first jazz work for Capitol, The Wrong Door. During the early 60s, Jessie was writing and recording on Mercury Records with Quincy Jones. Obie comfortably transitioned as a jazz vocalist and pianist and settled into his niche, in which he was brilliant. In 1962 he cut Be Bop Country Boy and My Country Cousin backed by Bumps Blackwell’s orchestra in the 50s.

He briefly attended Los Angeles City College but left to tour when Mary Lou hit the charts. He later resumed his music education under the renowned jazz pianist, Dolo Coker and further enhanced his professional training through Dick Grove’s School of Music.

From 1964 to 1991 Obie Jessie became a familiar face to the supper club venue with his Obie Jessie Trio and was music director for Esther Phillips from 1976-1981.

He recorded the album Whatever Happened To Jr? with musicians Oscar Brashear, Doug Carn, John Heard, Billie Higgins and Bennie Maupin.

His second CD, “Here’s To Life” is jazz gold, and his unforgettable creation, Trane Home, marked by the positive alliance he had with the late artist, John Coltrane, touches everyone’s soul. The story behind this song starts back in 1957 when Obie had a blues band: Young Jessie and the Deacons, a 6-piece band of jazz musicians. They were due to leave for San Francisco, but one of the horn players was late and missed the gig. Once in San Francisco, sax player Walter Benton introduced his friend John Coltrane at the sound check and Obie hired him for the gig that night.

It’s stories and memories of this texture that makes us long to hear

more about Jessie and it was even more endearing hearing them in his own words.

Obie Jessie has written over 200 songs, among them. Don’t Happen No More, recorded by Pat Benatar, Pie In The Sky and The Man Ain’t Ready by  Esther Phillips. It’s not unusual these days to find much of his work online, covered by numerous blues groups making their mark. His hit Mary Lou has been covered by an innumerable number of blues and pop artists including Ronnie Hawkins, Bob Seeger, Steve Miller and Frank Zappa.

Don't Happen No More-Pat Benetar

The Man Ain't Ready-Esther Phillips

Obie’s fans are truly blessed by the focused sharing of his experience through his vocal deliverance. It’s all there: every high note and low note, a testament to the integrity and drive it takes to continue to ride the wave in the music business. 

We come into the world as descendants and leave as ancestors. Obediah Donnell Jessie, Young Jessie, Obie Jessie, leaves his descendants a rich legacy of works that are immortal. Many with backstories to be shared for generations to come. His contributions to the entertainment industry are deeply embedded in the early landscape of the entertainment industry. 

It was an honor to work with him and to know him, to share ideas and listen to his wisdom. He mentored many and gave of himself and to his fans tirelessly. 

Thank you for sharing the journey...

Photo for the first issue of Real School People® 

Sunday, October 14, 2018


Real School People® reached its 8 year anniversary in 2015. This is the edition that I waited to publish.  I started it to honor the 90th birthday of Emerson Terry. This issue is in honor of the celebration of his 93rd birthday: October 14, 2018. Happy Birthday, Emerson!

The dictionary has defined it as: the expression or application of human creative skill and imagination, typically in a visual form such as painting or sculpture, producing works to be appreciated primarily for their beauty or emotional power.

What is the definition of art? I would say it's the result of something that emanates from the soul. It begins before any study. It has to be inside the soul. It has a special unique place, art. 

I believe there is art in everyone. Who remembers finger painting back in the day back in grade school? It was a window into self expression and creativity.

I remember when we did Batik in grade school. We would draw with crayons on white paper and cover the paper with black paint. The wax from the color would emerge in striking contrast to the black paint where there was no wax.

One of my paintings from back in the day. 

Back in the day, my goal was to be an art major, but music intervened and so did writing music, poetry and short stories. I was selling my paintings in 9th grade and there are some that I kept.  Here is two of them. ---->

Another one of my paintings.

One day, I just stopped painting. I don't know why. Had I fulfilled whatever there was inside of me that needed to satisfy my need for expression in that way? I can't really explain. 

I thought about getting back into painting again. I would love to paint portraits of my grandboos. I leave the possibility open. 
The wonderful thing about art is, it doesn't leave you. 

Myra Elias

I started art classes in middle school at GDS. I had an excellent instructor, Myra Elias, who headed the art department. She was an inspiration to me: instrumental in guiding me toward my personal creativity as an artist. 

She taught me to see the art in everything. It's funny, looking back. We, in youth, see our teachers as who they are when they come into our lives, sometimes not considering who they were before they became part of our learning experience. I had no idea of the scope of her work. She was an artist who shared her broad spectrum of knowledge and experience with her students.
Myra with a portrait by her son Max K.

Her curriculum included study of the different genres of art and the artists who employed them: Vincent Van Gogh, Paul Gauguin, Pablo Picasso, Paul Cézanne, Henri Matisse, Georges Seurat, Marc Chagall, Paul Klee, Mary Cassatt, to name a few.
Persistence of Memory by Salvador Dali in 1931

Of the many artists I studied,  I became attached to the  surrealistic art and  work of Salvador Dali. His surrealist work defied anything that I'd ever seen. My favorite was his work in 1931, "Persistence of Memory".  

Myra passed away in 1998 at the age of 80, but she will always have a special place in memory for me. In thinking back on my studies in art, I searched and found a website to find out more about her work. I connected with her daughter Alix.

Myra Elias painting: Roman Ruins in France
Roman Ruins in France
Myra Elias painting: Salzburg--Mountain View with Church
Salzburg Mountain View with Church
Myra Elias painting: Paris aka Brandenburg Gate

                Paris aka Brandenburg Gate


Myra's son, Max K. Elias, taught science at GDS for over 40 years, and was also an artist and sculptor. I never knew the extent of his work either.

All the GDS alums reading this may remember that large sculpture of a grasshopper in the the lobby at the McArthur Blvd. address at the lower school back in the day which eventually became the school's mascot. I just learned that it was Max's sculpture that trademarked the school.

One of Max's grasshoppers for GDS


E  M  E  R  S  O  N       T  E  R  R  Y


"I am an artist, who made my living in advertising as a commercial Illustrator; from 1954 through 2002. I am an artist who used my paint, brushes, and canvases to call for social, political, economic change. I paint and document African American history specifically; the Civil Rights Marches of the 1960’s, individuals and groups like the Tuskegee Air Men, Black folks in the Old West.

I started with documentary paintings of student marches of the Civil Rights era. The series includes 14 paintings depicting acts of social-political engagement; protest marches, sit-ins from Washington D.C., to Los Angeles..."

I can’t tell you how excited I am to write about our cover personality, the awesome, Emerson Terry: artist, family man, mentor, pioneer and historian. It was more than an honor to celebrate his 90th birthday in October 2015 at his Art Exhibit/Birthday Celebration. Being the art director that he is, I became part of the crew, helping with setting up his work as he directed where he wanted everything to be placed. That in itself was an honor!

He is a fascinating individual and in terms of history and the telling of it through his work, he is well ahead of his time. He always knew how important history is. 

Emerson Terry's 90th Birthday Celebration & Art Show 2015

If we want to talk “coolest of the cool”, Emerson Terry is it. He is an innovator,  true visionary and historian.  He’s that person who had a vision, set his goal and went for it, regardless of what the odds may have been some 70 years ago. 

What Emerson and I share is our love of history. Mine spurred by being told in school that black people had no history; his in the history of the black cowboy, that many assumed didn't exist.

"In the early 1970’s one of my daughters wrote a report about Black Cowboys. Her teacher said there was no such thing as a Black Cowboy. That was the beginning of a series of paintings on the Old West where 1 of 3 cowboys (and women, i.e. Stagecoach Mary Field) were African American, Latino, or Native American. There are 12 paintings in my African Cowboy series. The series led to a show at the California Museum of Science and Industry in Los Angeles."

Emerson Terry's paintings of  African Cowboys. To see a larger photo, go to his site and click on thumbnails to get detailed information. 
Emerson  was one of the first black students to attend Art Center School in Los Angeles. (what is now Art Center College of Design in Pasadena)  His work sets him in the honorary, well earned moniker as  “artist griot”, telling stories of history from his pallet.

Interview by Pasadena Black Pages w/ Dennis Hayward

Reginald Dorsey

A special acknowledgement from actor, director and cowboy, Reginald Dorsey gave Emerson's milestone birthday even more of a special meaning. 

 Alumnus Emerson Terry Broke Down Doors, He Just Didn’t Realize It

by  February 15th, 2012
It wasn’t the end of World War II, new job opportunities in the defense industry or the region’s cultural awakening that drew him to Los Angeles in the mid-1940s. It was the weather. “After I was discharged from the Navy, I went home to Ohio and then on to Detroit to work on the assembly line,” 86-year old Pasadena resident and Art Center alumnus Emerson Terry (ILLU ’53) recalls. “It was cold in Detroit, so my brother and I decided to move to Los Angeles.

“We arrived in Pasadena on New Year’s Eve in 1946. It was something, driving down the boulevard with people lined up along the street and banners flying in the air. Neither of us had heard of the Rose Parade before and we felt that spirit of celebration.” [ed. note: Art Center didn’t move to Pasadena until 1976.]

In 1948, when Terry was taking art classes at Los Angeles City College, a former classmate told him he had enrolled at the Art Center School (as the College was then known) and invited him to visit. “I was blown away by the quality of the students’ work,” Terry says of visiting the school’s Third Street campus in the Hancock Park neighborhood of Los Angeles. “I realized that type of artwork was what I really wanted to do, and I wasn’t going to learn it at City College.”

Having been admitted under the strength of his portfolio and the G.I. Bill, Terry began taking classes. “The Art Center experience was unlike anything being offered by other colleges or universities at the time. It really was a school where the instructors were all industry professionals. That in itself made the learning very concise. And I dare say, it was a different experience than learning from people who had only gone to school, matriculated and started teaching.

Terry was among the first African-American students to attend Art Center. In fact, one of his fellow classmates, Bill Moffit, was both a friend from his earliest days in Los Angeles and also the first-ever African-American student admitted to the school. But according to Terry, the dearth of African-Americans on campus didn’t affect his experience. “I made new friends at Art Center and didn’t feel out of place. I was able to compare my abilities to other people’s abilities. That’s where we acknowledged each other’s differences: the quality of our work.”

While Art Center prided itself on providing its students a professional working environment, the real world was a bit different. “It was one thing to get into school with government money and a decent portfolio,” Terry stated. “But when it came time to take my portfolio and knock on the doors of studios and agencies—that’s when segregation and racism reared its ugly head. This was before the Civil Rights movement of the ‘60s. It was before Martin Luther King and sit-ins and fighting for inclusion.

“By the time I finished Art Center I felt I was a very capable artist. And while my instructors said I would do quite well, they failed to realize what circumstances I would face. It was very difficult for me to see my Caucasian friends walk right into job openings that I knew I was qualified for.”

Despite the challenges of the time, Terry went on to work with a number of prominent companies. His first full-time job was with aerospace firm Douglas Aircraft Company. “I used a lot of what I learned in Hamilton Quick’s perspective drawing class on that first job,” Terry recalls.

Other companies Terry worked for throughout his illustrious career include: Revell, a leader in plastic model kits; defense industry contractor General Dynamics; The Film Designers Division, and NBC’s print media department. He also served a stint as Treasurer of the Society of Illustrators, during which he created significant work for the United States Air Force Art Program.

The Happy Happy He, a character Terry designed for a book written by Redd Foxx
Terry also worked at some of the top agencies of the ‘50s and ‘60s, including Stephens Biondi deCicco, Diener/Hauser/Bates, and Group West Studios alongside top-notch illustrators Ren Wicks and Art Center instructor Joe Henninger.

In part, it was his Art Center network that provided him jobs. 

“...There have always been some people that have never had that racial bias or that racial hostility. They accepted people for who they were. When they got into positions at studios or companies, they gave me the work I wouldn’t get otherwise.”

At the same time, Terry started what would become a successful freelance career. “I was freelancing all the time,” he said. “Technical illustrations, exploded drawings, production design, book covers, small paintings. When you’re out there hustling, you take what you can get and you make the best of it. Eventually, through my freelance work, I was able to get better employment opportunities. When I look back, I did a lot of extraordinary things.”...


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Display case for musician Nolan Shaheed's CD. Designed by Emerson Terry.

Emerson Terry is an extraordinary entrepreneur who's experience and work ethic spans over 60 years. His amazing drive throughout his life is a stellar blueprint to the artists and entrepreneurs of the future. He is the definition of the word entrepreneurship and should be celebrated each and every day.

Bachelor of professional Arts Degree, Art Center College of Design,
Pasadena, California

U.C.L.A. Graduate school of Film Making, Los Angeles, California

California Institute of the Arts Chiounard, Los Angeles, California
Los Angeles City College, Los Angeles, California.

Documentary Painter of African and African American Historical
Macintosh Computer Experience In Design, Illustrator, Photoshop
Falcon Cable Television      Family Savings & Loan
Americola Beverages Co.    Amazing Horizon Films
Quiet Majesty Productions   KJLA Radio Station
Seiniger Advertising Inc.     Harridsleff/Amerman Adv...
20th Century Fox Adv..       CBS Print Media Dept.
Diener Hauser Bates Inc.,   Continental Graphics
Hanna Barbara (Display Division)
Cornerstone Display Group

Art Director, Designer producing conceptual
designs for net work prime time shows and Movie of the Week ads
printed in TV Guide, National Newspaper, Magazines, and
On Air Promos.

 Art Direction, Designer, and Conceptual Sketch Artist. 
Producing Feature film Advertising
Campaigns, for Trade journals, Newspapers, T V Guide
and Story boards for CBS Trailers. 

Some of the clients were:
Paramount Pictures Dennis Davidson & Assoc.
Paramount TV Universal Studios
CBS Movies of the Week Irwin Yablans
A.P.I. Corellco


R  I  E  A     O  W  E  N  S

I became friends with Emerson's daughter Riea shortly after I started working in advertising in the early 80s. 

She invited and my kids to hang out at their family tradition called "Friday Night Fights". It was such a casual, warm and wonderful way to spend a Friday evening. The kids were all little and running afoot with lots of room for them to play for an endless kick back family night.

When I went to Riea’s second show, which she did with our friend Gail Oliver in April of 2015, I went up to Emerson Terry and said “Look what you started!” With a big grin and a chuckle, you could see his pride. For me, it was like a family reunion. Seeing her family at her first art showing, and now the second, remembering the Friday Night gatherings.
Gail and Riea's Art show Nolan Shaheed was among the guests.

#DrawSomething2 #dance #dancer #braids #movement
Riea's Art

The artist community is a warm, inviting arena. Whenever I see an artist’s work, I feel like their soul is speaking directly to me, from the depths of the core of their creativity. They are communicating and revealing a part of themselves that they may believe you won't understand. It's more of that old saying, "I can show you better than I can tell you."

There is no right or wrong in the world of the artist. It is what it is: the freedom to let your eyes and soul express what they conclude at first glance. There are no limits as to how we receive it.

Artists are the subliminal soldiers of change. They give us their truths and allow us to explore our responses on every level.

Riea’s work makes an incredible statement: she grew up surrounded by magnificent art pieces authored by her dad, Emerson Terry. 
Daddy helping me with my painting.
Riea's dad helps with one of her paintings.

My first thought when Riea told me about her first show in 2015 was "What took you so long?!" 

As realschoolers, we are living our lives to reach an inexplicable pinnacle of choice: that is to tell the world who we are with a lot of living wisdom to back it up. This is something that the younger generation will learn only with time.

#hatstory #fashionista #fashion #hat #feathers

Riea started in advertising at Sears, then she went on to work for the recruitment division of J.Walter Thomspon (where I met her) and was a Graphic Designer Paramount Pictures, as well as Senior Art Director for the WB and E! Television Networks.

Currently, she is curator at Alkebu-lan Cultural Center in Pasadena, where her father is one of the co-founders. Under her direction, she has passionately fueled the center into a showcasing mecca for seasoned artists as well as creating buzz and optimal exposure to new artists on the rise. 
Alkebu-lan Cultural Center in Pasadena
Riea captures life from every angle through her work. And while they say there will be no wine before it's time, she broke out the wine glasses with her first art show in 2015. Her work is a rainbow of diversity: watercolors, acrylics and oils, capturing moments in life and giving them new life on canvas.

Riea's recent showing in Ontario California at the Dia de los Muertas exhibit was well received with awe and praise. She celebrates the legacies of her ancestors with this piece entitled, "Because of Them, I Can". This is unique self-portraiture showing the artist honoring her personal family history. Riea meticulously wrote the names of the ancestors on the edge of the canvas.

Even the process of putting this work together is breathtaking. The faces of her ancestors speak even as a work in progress. It is stunning.


Wornell Jones with his favorite Riea Ownes painting

When I showed Riea's work to my friend and colleague, musician Wornell Jones, he fell in love with one painting in particular and it was a must have for him. In a recent visit to the states from Japan, he got to meet Riea in person.


Thomas James Cassells 1814-1876
     T R I V I A

    Frances Lucy Woodson 1814-1899

It wouldn't be until almost 37 years later that we would realize what a small world it really was when we recently had a conversation about genealogy last year at a gathering in my home. 

We compared notes and made an amazing discovery! Our genealogy connection would be with my oldest daughter's paternal 3rd great grandfather, Thomas Cassells who married Riea's ancestor Frances Woodson of Woodson/Hemmings ancestry. Both were born in Virginia and migrated to Ohio.

And did I mention that she's a black belt?
Image may contain: 1 person


G A I L    O L I V E R 

"My love of photography started in 1976 and ever since, I am rarely ever seen without my camera hanging from my neck."

I've written about the very groovy, visual artist Gail Oliver with her stellar sense of humor and upbeat perspective on life and the world.

"After working as a graphic designer for years, I am grateful to be actualizing my dream! Creating groovy stuff to share…

Well, she's still groovy and now, she's doing the dishes! That's right. She has designed gorgeous salad and dinner plates. These make great gifts!

Gail also puts her artistry into custom life event poster prints. She has taken the traditional wedding, birth, anniversary and other life moments announcements and made them into extraordinary art to personalize your special events and milestones!


P E T E R   B O U R D E L L E

Peter with his grandfather's sculpture, Herakles-The Archer on display at the Los Angeles County Museum of  Art

Peter and his Dad

I think that art is in your genes. One way or the other. It is a lifeblood of sorts that continues to grow, transform and engage. 

What do you say when someone tells you their grandfather's work is at the LA County Museum of Art? It’s extraordinary to hear, when someone you meet shares a little about their family tree. This is the fascinating thing about meeting people. Peter Bourdelle is one of those fascinating people I met a few years ago.

Emile-Antoine Bourdelle 

Now whenever, I go to the museum in, I'll think of his grandfather, Emile-Antoine Bourdelle, born in 1861. His ggrandfather Emilie Reille. was a cabinet maker who put his art into sculpting his furniture designs.

By 13, Emile-Antoine took art classes while also apprenticing in his father's studio. Emile's work is celebrated internationally.

Peter's father Pierre has work some of which is displayed in on the exterior of the Centennial Building at Fair Park in Texas. 
Peter stands outside of the Centennial Building  in Dallas where his father's mural is displayed.
Peter's work
Peter's wife Sandy's portrait of Peter
Peter in 1970

The painting on the right is Peter's as he keeps the tradition of art moving forward. Not only is he an artist, but his lovely wife, Sandy creates art as well. She created the art on the left of Peter.

Meeting Peter Bourdelle is an amazing experience. As amazing an experience as his genealogy and personality. He is truly a peace loving spirit of an individual, with a wonderful sense of humor and a warm heart.


Thanks for sharing the journey!