Atlanta Home Cumming on November 7 brings together family and friends who have been making music for over half a century.
We all grew up in the same Atlanta area, attending the same high school, playing in the band, then forming and joining bands of our own.
Our musical roots go deeper than that. We also played together in a unique elementary school band, composed of students from dozens of schools, conducted by a woman named Mrs. Evelyn Sisk, who launched the Northside Highlander Band to give 9 to 12 year olds with musical ability a chance to excel. The Highlander Band had several concerts during the year, and sounded better than most public high school bands, because of the intense discipline of practice and rehearsing that Mrs. Sisk provided. Several members later became members of the Atlanta Symphony.
Those of us who were in the Highlander Band, and then attended North Fulton High School, became a special fraternity, staying in touch over the next fifty years. Three families are still in touch with each other from those early days: the Hibberts, the Deans, and the Cummings.
Jonny Hibbert has been like a brother to the Cumming family, often joining us for family singalong. In this typical scene from the Preston living room, it's Jonny, me, brother Walter and sister Anne, probably playing a Beatles song.
The Cumming family had the extra advantage of being a home-based Dixieland band in addition to our formal Highlander Band training. But we didn’t pursue rock’n’roll the way the Deans did. Or the Hibberts.
HIGH SCHOOL PARTIES
In a naive imitation of modern politics, high school candidates for class president would throw parties as part of their campaign. For one such party, the Deans had a great local band, "The IV of IX," (a painfully clever musical pun as their title,) members of which later became the Hampton Grease Band, playing in their backyard.
Anyone who lived through the “hippie” era in Atlanta remembers the Great Speckled Bird, The Twelth Gate, and 14th Street, “the strip.” The Allman Brothers played for free at Piedmont Park, and crazy local bands emerged like Thermos Greenwood and The Colored People.
That was the notoriously creative Dean brother Tommy, who describes that scene in vivid detail here: http://www.thermosgreenwood.com/CPorigin.htm
Britt Dean, the oldest of the Dean children, played trumpet. Britt was also a fine singer, singing for many years for the choir at St. Phillip's (the church three blocks from our house where my parents were married,) wearing a purple robe with ruffled white collar, which provided a colorful contrast to his otherwise rambunctious teenage lifestyle. In later years, he co-owned and managed a local music venue called The Point, where his brother Tommy performed, perfecting his jazzy blues stage persona, which became legendary around Atlanta.
My own musical adventures took me beyond Atlanta in ’73, so I only heard indirectly about Jonny Hibbert forming his own label, HibTone, which in ’81 released the initial single by the Athens based R.E.M. That band soon went on to a major label and greater fame, but my old high school buddy had been there at the inception.
I always had family to see in Atlanta. Another family that was close to us Cummings was the Emersons. The dad Bill Emerson was a lifelong friend and colleague of my father Joe Cumming, having hired for him for the Newsweek job that defined Daddy as a journalist. The Emerson children were our age, so we naturally spent time with them. They were indirect cousins of ours, their mom being the sister of the uncle who married my mother’s sister, and we always felt like family.
Bo is the Emerson who became inspired to learn to play trumpet, and took it further than any of us, attending Harvard where he played in the marching band and met Dizzy Gillespie. Bo became a journalist like his father, but has always played music as something he enjoys. He plays many instruments, sings almost any part, remembers all the words, and loves to perform, so he’s a great asset to any musical group.
Here's Bo and me rehearsing for version of Handel's Water Music which he arranged for the wedding ceremony for my nephew Alston Cumming and his bride Julie, in August 2016. That band included my brothers Doug and Walter.
The Chosewood piece of the puzzle came about a few years ago as the Deans were looking at property, and discovered that the abandoned church building for sale was also being investigated by Clay Preston, who happened to be married to my sister Anne. It became a business partnership with ties to the long musical history that connected so many of us.
I learned through Clay about Chosewood, and all the work that he and the Deans undertook to refurbish and modernize the place. Now it’s up and running, and a beautiful place for music.
And The WannaBeatles, planning a trip from nashville to Florida, needing a place to play along that route, became the idea of playing in Atlanta. And starting with family and friends as the basis for something happening there. And now that we’ve got it planned, we’re making it as much of a celebration of all the music all of us have made, and been inspired by, as possible, with Jonny Hibbert, Bo Emerson, David Hibbert, Birtt Dean, and special appearances by my sister Anne and her daughter Helen, on stage with us Wednesday Nov. 7.
My brothers Doug and Walter would be perfect guests, and I invited them, but they are both unavailable for this particular edition of the Home Cumming. Maybe next year.
It’s an amazing collection of people, songs, memories, and the pure joy of music, in a beautiful new facility, containing the story of Atlanta’s growth as it also contains its history.
Bloggin’ Bryan 29Oct18