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“Wild About Harry”

(Harry P. Guy's Grave Site Now Marked)

by Nan Bostick

Sacramento Ragtime Society Newsletter - October, 2003

Harry P Guy
Harry P. Guy
Courtesy Nan Bostick and the E. Azalia Hackley Collection, Detroit Public Library
Harry P. Guy's head stone
It took 53 years and the dedication of ragtime scholars and the Detroit community, particularly jazz professor Kenneth Cox and his wife Barbara, of The Societé of the Culturally Concerned, to get a marker for Harry P. Guy's grave site. Guy lived to be 80 years old, outliving most the musicians and song writers he had influenced and helped along the way (including Charles N. Daniels, Richard A. Whiting, Sophie Tucker, Bert Williams, Buddy De Sylva, Eddie Cantor, and Al Jolsson). He died penniless of cancer in 1950.
Placing Harry P. Guy's head stone
Barbara and Kenneth Cox, of the Societé for the Culturally Concerned, at the unveiling of Harry P. Guy's new gravestone on Oct. 11, 2003 at the Elmwood Cemetery, Detroit, Michigan.
Gabriel's Band
Charlie Gabriel's Traditional New Orleans Jazz Band led the process through Detroit's Elmwood Cemetery to the Oct. 11, 2003 dedication of a memorial headstone for the grave of composer Harry P. Guy (1870-1950).

Saturday, Oct. 11, 2003 Detroit glistened with brilliant fall colors under a bright blue sky and rays of warm sunlight as the city's cultural community paraded through Elmwood Cemetery to the slow-gaited music of Charlie Gabriel's Traditional New Orleans Jazz Band to witness the blessing and unveiling of a memorial headstone for composer Harry P. Guy's unmarked grave. It was a magical day and a fitting culmination of a seven year campaign to ensure that the creator of such marvelous tunes as Pearl of the Harem and Echoes from the Snowball Club will be remembered by his city as an honored "master musician." From now on, Harry P. Guy's grave will be easy to spot and we are assured that it will be frequently visited by people taking the Elmwood Cemetery's "Black History Tour." And his name, followed by host of "where as's," is now on record on special proclamations presented that day by representatives of the United States House of Representatives, the State of Michigan, and the City of Detroit. All original proclamations and program materials are to be donated to the Azalia Hackley Collection, a special black music archives at the Detroit Public Library.

Jazz professor, musician, and composer Kenneth Cox, his wife Barbara, and their Societé for the Culturally Concerned organized the Harry P. Guy grave stone campaign (crediting me with much nudging). Both had long been intrigued by Harry P. Guy's connection to their church, St. Matthew's Episcopal, where Guy served as organist for many years and organized and directed the church's first Boy's Choir. The Cox's were captivated by Guy's ability to bridge both sides of the secular-sacred musical divide. "After church, he'd go out and work the riverboats," Barbara exclaimed. "That's what grabbed me," Kenn added, "the dichotomy!" (a dichotomy, by the way, that Kenn himself experiences).

The Societé's head stone campaign started and stalled for several years until one night Barbara claims that Harry P. Guy visited her in a dream saying: "This is it: You're gonna put a stone on my grave." The events that followed were filled with amazing serendipity. A long lost Harry P. Guy relative, now living in Flint, showed up at the ceremony after reading about the dedication in the Detroit Free Press. Nora (Guy) Newman and her husband were completely blown away by their ancestors' music and the scholars and musicians involved in preserving Guy's memory. Following the unveiling dedication and recessional, the Societé hosted a celebration luncheon at Bert's on Broadway. Neither Barbara or Kenn realized that Bert's is located directly across the parking lot from the building (now an historical landmark) where Harry P. Guy was employed as a chief arranger for music publisher Jerome H. Remick. When I pointed this out, Kenn laughed in amazement and said: "Today Harry's a happy guy!"

Music historian Mike Montgomery (Detroit's piano roll guru) opened the afternoon at Bert's with a rip-roaring piano medley of early Detroit ragtime tunes, including Fred. S. Stone's Bos'n Rag and Ma Ragtime Baby and Guy's Pearl of the Harem. You could have heard a pin drop when I played Echoes from the Snowball Club. Everyone agreed that Guy deserved a grave marker for that one composition alone. Then Detroit pianist Taslimah Bey and her Ragtime Outlaws inspired cake-walkers, conga line dancing, and a tap dancer (who came in off the street) with their exhilarating arrangements of Harry P. Guy's Cleaning Up in Georgia, Walkin' and Talkin' and Heebie Jeebie Blues not to mention some really wonderful Jelly Roll Morton and Scott Joplin pieces. This was the first I'd ever heard an all-Black ensemble play ragtime and it cooked. Taslimah's band includes the brilliant Charlie Gabriel (clarinet and sax)–a 5th generation musician from a New Orleans musical family and just tops; a fabulous Detroit drummer named Djallo (pronounced Jollo) Djakate; and Marian Hayden (yes, female) on string bass. Folks, we have just got to get this band out to California. They're truly special and a delight to know.

Tax-deductible contributions to the Harry P. Guy head stone fund will be graciously accepted. Checks should be made payable to: The Societé of the Culturally Concerned and mailed to: 500 River Place Dr., Suite 5347, Detroit, MI 48207

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