Sunday, May 31, 2015

MARCUS BELGRAVE'S LIFE CELEBRATED

Marcus Belgrave
Trumpeter Marcus Belgrave was known as a music educator, a mentor, and a jazz giant. Saturday, afternoon his family, friends, former students and jazz musicians from Detroit and across the nation packed Greater Grace Temple on Detroit’s Westside to celebrate his life.
   
Belgrave, 78, died of congestive heart failure May 24th at Glacier Hill, a continuing care facility in Ann Arbor, Mi. For years, Belgrave battle chronic obstructive pulmonary disease yet never allowed it to hinder his passion for teaching and performing jazz globally.
  
He was a native of Pennsylvania. Five decades ago, he established roots in Detroit. Largely, a self-taught musician, his extended musical education took place is bands run by Ray Charles, Charles Mingus, and one on one sessions with the great trumpeter Clifford Brown.
   
Weeks could be spent running down Belgrave’s accomplishments as a bandleader and music educator. His discography includes gems like “Gemini,” “Live at Kerrytown Concert House,” “Working Together,” and Marcus Charlie & Joan Once Again…”.
   
Belgrave's funeral was more of a celebratory jazz festival. After people lined up to express their condolences to the Belgrave family, the celebration began with a processional dirge fronted by the Gabriel Brass Band, followed by a lot of good jazz music interspersed with remarks about Belgrave’s infectious humanity. The Poet Melba Boyd, who knew Belgrave for decades, touched on how incandescent Belgrave was.
   
“Marcus was a happy person. I don’t ever remember seeing him without a smile on his face,” Boyd said. Then she read a poem about Belgrave titled “Blow Marcus Blow”.
   
The collective sadness was lifted after the Motown Legends of Gospel Choir, led by vocalist Hazelette Crosby, performed “Bridge Over Troubled Water”. 

Pianist Geri Allen fought back tears as she talked about meeting Belgrave in 1970 at Cass Technical High School. At his Jazz Development Workshop, Belgrave exposed Allen and other budding musicians to the nut and bolts of jazz.
   
Bassist Robert Hurst another of Belgrave’s protégés almost woke Belgrave up soloing on “Number Three”. Saxophonist James Carter received the first ovation after closing out the ballad “Tenderly” with one of his trademark cadenzas.
   
The most heartrending moment came when Belgrave’s wife, Joan, was escorted on stage. Before she sung “Crazy He Calls Me,” which felt like a final love letter to her beloved husband, she thanked the musicians who played with Belgrave while he was in Glacier Hill. “Thanks for helping Marcus keep his chops up,” she said.    

Before Rev. Daniel Aldridge’s eulogy, there was a trumpet salute with trumpeter Rayse Biggs, Dwight Adams, John Douglas, and Allan Denard. Aldridge’s eulogy was humorous and anecdotal. People applauded when Aldridge said a statue of Belgrave should be erected in Detroit. 

He also talked about how joyful Belgrave was and how he could play damn near every genre of music jazz, the blues, free jazz, funk, and reggae. Aldridge joked that he once saw Belgrave performing in a circus band.

“I couldn’t have that much joy at gunpoint,” Aldridge said. The overwhelming sentiment throughout the celebration was Belgrave spent the better part of his life giving. 


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