We had a 20 minute layover in Chicago, so Leroy Pinkerton (who easily looked 30 years old), hopped off the bus and brought back a bottle of Don Q 151.

Now the trip was official. We felt deserving after working so hard to prepare for our journey to Milwaukee. The Northwestern High School Symphonic Wind Ensemble had been invited to perform at the National Music Educators Conference. I never was one of the best musicians and felt lucky to be able to play with these people. My instrument was the clarinet because father was a huge Pete Fountain fan. I wasn’t really into it, but he pretty much insisted.

We took sips of the Don Q passed by the fellas in the back. Ron Elliot, the coolest and first chair clarinet, led in the singing of the Temptations catalogue. Ron Sumling made out with one of my exes. She was my ex because I wouldn’t/couldn’t do the nasty yet. They were exactly in the middle of the bus with a blanket as their only cover. It didn’t bother me as my liaison with the Don had me “astreemlee mellow.”

I remember the feeling of walking through the streets of Milwaukee, dressed in tux and tails, and hat. We had survived a night of bus riding and were ready to do our thing. We looked good! We felt big time, getting out into the country. Young Black folk, keeping our heads to the sky.

Our performance at the conference was recorded and became an album. It was exhilarating to hear the response. I was surprised it was so strong, I didn’t think we sounded that great. I think now the audience’s response was the result of seeing a wonderful sight on stage—a stage full of young, Black talented musicians.

Our antics at the hotel room that night didn’t exceed being in the wrong room after curfew. One of the adult chaperones, Mr. Dalton, (Miriam’s Dad and my typing teacher) gave us a lecture about the “the right thing” and “representing your school.” He caught a few of us fellas hanging out in Penny’s room. I remember using my hiding place of choice, under the bed.

That trip solidified what already was a powerful connection. Our combined love for music, youth and being Black, remains a life force, carrying us through and all up into the 40’s.

William Stephenson

You may also like