- Faith & Family
During the 1940s and well into the 1960s, it was common to see Black men standing on street corners in cities like Chicago, New York and even Compton – but they weren’t there to kill time or to participate in criminal actions. Rather, they were putting together nonsense syllables with a solid beat and intricate four-part harmonies to create a sound that quickly dominated the music scene. Today, that unique style has been given new life due in part to the talents, efforts and dedication of five men collectively known as Street Corner Renaissance. They are following a tradition of Black artists that include The Ink Spots, The Mills Brothers, The Chiffons and Little Anthony & the Imperials.
Group founder Maurice Kitchen hails from Chicago, the city where the historical Black newspaper The Chicago Defender is reported to have first printed the term “doo-wop” in 1961.
“I was a 53-year-old insurance agent and woke up one day with the realization that the clock was running out for me and that I still hadn’t done what I really wanted to do with my life,” Kitchen said. “Like the other members of the group, we all loved doo-wop and had kept the music in our hearts. Some of us were already doing things like music theater and some singing but I doubt we ever believed that we could make a living by doing what we loved the most. It’s amazing that now we are actually living our dreams.”
Seizing the moment pays off
Street Corner Renaissance, whose members’ ages range from 50 to 72, recently released their second CD, “Life Could Be a Dream.” Their members, besides Kitchen, include: Kwame Alexander, Charles “Sonny” Banks, Anthony “Tony” Snead and Torre Brannon Reese. They have opened for everyone from Chuck Berry and Kool and The Gang to Stevie Wonder and Take Six. And they’re fresh off an impressive appearance at the Seabreeze Jazz Festival in Panama City, Florida.
“We’ve set ourselves apart from others that inspired us like The Soul Stirrers or The Five Blind Boys of Mississippi because we have a continuous bass movement — the bass is our foundation,” they said. “And we try to be more entertaining — we want to create an experience for our audience.”
Ironically, the group got its start after being asked to perform doo-wop music during a weekend African market event. Soon after, the phones started ringing and they realized that they might be on to something. Since then they have traveled the globe, bringing their unique spin on songs by artists that range from Michael Jackson and the Beatles to of course, the more traditional doo-wop groups of yesterday.”
Elder statesman Banks, 72, said singing doo-wop is “like breathing.”
Alexander says he hopes their success will remind others to never give up on their dreams.
“If we can do it, anyone can as long as they remain hopeful,” he said.
For more about the group, go to www.streetrenaissance.com.
By D. Kevin McNeir