Friday, June 5, 2009

Jackie Washington

On Wednesday night McMaster University celebrated the life and music of Jackie Washington. Months of preparation had gone into this evening, and it paid off because a spledid time was had by all.
Jackie received an honorary doctorate from "Mac", and has donated his archives to the University. Those archives include copies of all his albums, an old 45rpm vinyl record which features King Biscuit Boy on harp, the infamous Jackie Washington songbooks (which are essentially a storehouse of the popular music of the last century). Over 1200 songs, lyrics and guitar chords, all the songs Jack has sung over the last eight and a half decades. That's right...he's been performing since he was FIVE years old! His mother bought a guitar from Eatons for his brother to play so the boys would sound more like the Mills Brothers, but it was Jackie who took to the fretboard (he also plays piano) like a duck to water. Oh, and there's, posters, diaries (with some very interesting entries), and some delicate pen and ink drawings of trains. Jackie loves trains, he worked as a porter for Canadian Pacific back in the day.
The night began with a bit of a scare. Mose Scarlett and Ken Whiteley were tuning up, when a phone call came in. Jennie was driving Jack to the event and she was worried...the man of the hour was having trouble breathing. Should she drive him to Emergency? I ran downstairs to meet the car, and found a very wheezy Jack, and a pretty nervous Jannie. But Jack started breathing a bit better and agreed to go ahead with the night. By the time he got upstairs, and he was surrounded by well-wishers, he was beaming, and he just got better as the night went on.
Chief Librarian Jeff Trzeciak welcomed all the guests and introduced the event, President Peter George (who six years ago had presented Jackie with his Doctorate) spoke about Jack's achievements, and then yours truly Rylander Dave himself got to speak. I talked a bit about the importance of music and the active scene that has existed in Hamilton for as long as I could remember, and then introduced Ken and Mose for a set of good old fashioned toe-tappin' music. They played songs they've been playing with Jackie for the past 20 years, and finally invited the guest of honour to join them. Jack had said he wasn't going to sing, but he loves an auidience and couldn't resist. He sang along with a couple, and then did a risque recital of a Woody Herman tune and thanked everyone for such a great night. And it was a great night. Tom Wilson, Brent & Liam Titcomb, Eve Goldberg, Marg Stowe, Michelle Josef, Festival of Friends founder Bill Powell, members of the Friends of Jackie Washington Committee, McMaster's Provost, Donors, folkies, rockers, little kids, they all came to pay tribute to Jack.
Thanks to everyone who played a part in this event. Thanks especially to Anne (you know who you are) for all your hard work. Thanks Doctor Jackie! For the healing power of music...and love!

No comments: