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VOL. 125 | NO. 204 | Wednesday, October 20, 2010

Center Stage

Calvary Episcopal continues annual music series

By Tom Wilemon

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World-renowned opera singer Kallen Esperian performs for a crowd during the Calvary & the Arts Concert Series at Calvary Episcopal Church Downtown. (Photos: Lance Murphey)

Last week Kallen Esperian sent her world-renowned operatic soprano soaring through Calvary Episcopal Church.

The week before Ruby Wilson proved once again that she’s the Queen of Beale by beling out bluesy renditions at the historic church.

No matter who is performing at Calvary & the Arts, a concert series held annually at the Downtown church in memory of Dottie Jones, the artist and the venue complement each other.

Nine local artists are featured during the free concert, which occurs during the noon hour on Wednesdays from early October to early December, except for the week of Thanksgiving.

This Wednesday the annual series features Herman Green, a musician who has been around since B.B. King arrived on Beale Street, Marilyn Monroe sang for the troops and jazz artists went avant-garde.

This is the 32nd season for the concert series. Each, year the series features an eclectic mix of music that typically ends with Christmas classics.

The free Calvary performances are sponsored by John Paul Jones, The Tudor Group of Greenwich, Conn., The Daily News Publishing Co. Inc. and Calvary Episcopal Church.

The performances, which last 40 to 45 minutes, are followed by a $7 lunch at the church for those who would like to dine. Calvary is at 102 N. Second St.

The other performers on this year’s line up are Toni Green on Oct. 27, Memphis Jazz Orchestra on Nov. 3, Reba Russell on Nov. 10, Rhodes Singers on Nov. 17, Memphis BoyChoir on Dec. 1 and Christmas POPS on Dec. 8.

The son of a man who played with W.C. Handy, Green went from Memphis to play on stages in New York, Las Vegas and San Francisco before returning home to mentor to new generations of homegrown musicians.

Green, a master of blues, jazz and musical fusions, serves as leader of the longtime Memphis band FreeWorld.

“We just play and when we see which way the crowd is accepting, we might switch,” he said. “With the first tune, we play, we’ll know what they get into.”

The audience applauds a song by world-renowned opera singer Kallen Esperian during the Calvary & the Arts Concert Series on Wednesday at Calvary Episcopal Church Downtown.

Green, who is 80, was born Herman Washington Jr. He was named after his biological father.

But after his father was murdered and his mother succumbed to tuberculosis, he was reared by the Rev. Tigner Green, who was married to a cousin. His grandmother, Emma Lee, taught him classical piano.

He grew up on Texas Street in South Memphis. The house was originally a six-room structure that Rev. Green had added onto to accommodate members of the Church of God in Christ when they came to Memphis for the annual convocation.

But the hospitality did not end with church members. The family hosted B.B. King at the dinner table in 1947 when Green was 17 and still in high school.

Rev. Green, who had adopted his young cousin, was not one of those religious leaders who automatically equated the blues with the devil’s music.

“Daddy said all music belongs to God,” Green said. “It’s how you live your life what makes it between God and the devil.”

Green was allowed to play with B.B. King. He would later back up Rufus Thomas on his 1953 recording “Bearcat.”

After Green graduated high school, he joined the military where his musical talents were quickly recognized. Green performed in a military band and toured with Marilyn Monroe, Frank Sinatra and Sammy Davis Jr.

After his military service, he led the house band at Blackhawk and Box City in San Francisco. He has played with other jazz greats such as John Coltrane, Miles

Davis, Dinah Washington and Dave Brubeck.

He got the attention of Lionel Hampton, who brought him to New York and took him on tours.

“I had the pleasures of playing with Louis Armstrong when I was with Lionel Hampton out in Las Vegas,” Green said.

He returned to Memphis to head the jazz studies program at LeMoyne-Owen College, and he presided over the rebirth of Beale Street.

“Memphis is my music,” said Green, one of the few artists to have a Beale Street Brass Note on the Walk of Fame. “I’ve taught so many people in this city.”

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