African-American culture in southeast Michigan recently took a hit, losing three stalwart warriors with strong connections to the local scene. Edsel Reid, Martha Harris and Sam Sanders all died in recent weeks.
Edsel Reid was not an artist himself, but much of the local scene owes its existence to the efforts of Reid and his wife, artist Shirley Woodson.
“He was rare,” said Dell Pryor, owner of the eponymous art gallery in the Corktown area of Detroit. “I feel as though Edsel impacted on all of our lives in the art world. The kind of spirit that he had for the arts is something that will go on for some time.”
Born in Ann Arbor and raised in Detroit, Reid dedicated himself to African-American art while in college during the early 1960s. After a stint in New York, Reid returned to Detroit. He worked for Detroit Public Schools and threw himself heart and soul into promoting black arts.
“What was really so amazing was his passion for the arts in all forms,” said Pryor. “One time I’ll never forget. I did a show on the art of jazz. Edsel took it upon himself to do a six-page essay on jazz and the interweaving of the visual and musical art forms. … He had such a passion that we delighted in hearing from him. … I appreciated him doing this for me and recognizing what I was trying to do.”
Martha Harris, wife of musician Teddy Harris, worked hard to make dreams come through for those around her.
“She was energetic, probably the consummate promoter for her husband,” said friend Barbara Cox, who recalls Martha Harris saying often, “‘That’s my job, I work for Teddy.’”
Harris worked for a lot of people. She founded the Triangle Society, a group of Cass Tech alumni who gave financial assistance to the Detroit high school’s needy students. She was also a member of the Ballantine Belles (a service organization for students founded by singer Dinah Washington) and the Legends of Jazz. Harris was politically active in Highland Park during Mayor Robert Blackwell’s administration. Nobody was too big or small for her attention.
“We are losing those little arts people who do the small productions that keep a lot of activity going,” said Cox. “It’s people like Martha who actually keep things going in the city — that’s what makes the city.”
Saxophonist Sam Sanders passed away in Senegal where he lived most of the past two decades, but there’s a generation of reed players who were educated by him at Detroit’s Metropolitan Arts Complex and at Oakland University.
“He was very insistent on individuality, never had you copy solos,” said former student Christopher Pitts. “Of all of Sam’s students nobody sounds alike or sounds like him for that matter.”
Sanders was born in Alabama in 1937 and attended Northeastern High School in Detroit. He wrote hundreds of compositions and was known for the demanding daily rehearsals of his groups.
A Senegalese government official became enamored of Sanders’ music and helped the saxophonist settle there during the 1980s. His wife of 20 years, Viola, described Sanders “passing at lunchtime in a chair overlooking the land, surrounded by many of his friends.”The Hot & the Bothered was written by Larry Gabriel and Alisa Gordaneer, and edited by George Tysh. E-mail him at [email protected]