By Jennifer L. Warren
POUGHKEEPSIE – Don Arnold remembers reading a quote as a teenager that has stuck with him for over 30 years.
The passionate music lover, who diligently studied about a variety of popular, talented musicians in the 1980’s, developed an unmatched interest in one in particular after a friend steered him toward some resonating words:
“Louis Armstrong was the best thing that ever happened to music.”
Those 11 words were all it took, and Arnold became immersed in this icon’s life, spending countless hours emulating his movements, trumpet skills and powerful, unique vocals. The result of all that hard work could be seen last Monday at Poughkeepsie’s Nubian Directions’ Fourteenth Annual Black History Celebration, where Arnold, along with Marena Oates-Clunie on piano and drummer, David Etienne, paid tribute to the legend Armstrong. For over an hour the trio entertained and mesmerized a room full of guests, including many youth involved in the Nubian Directions’ program, with such tunes as “West End Blues,” the Spiritual: “Dear Old Southland,” as well as classics: “What a Wonderful World” and “Moon Rises.” For Arnold, it’s a true honor each time he has the opportunity to expose others to the beauty of Armstrong’s music, while informing them about the even more magnificent qualities he possessed as a human being.
“Louis Armstrong appealed to everyone; he was truly all about love, anyone who knew him saw this right away,” explained Arnold, a former history teacher, who sprinkled in between numbers intriguing, lesser-known historical details that surrounded Armstrong’s time period.
“Pops,” as he was referred to by many, had the most amazing ear for music, able to so quickly learn pieces once hearing them, and although he was really known as a trumpet player, his singing skills were incredible.”
It’s for all those reasons, and so many more, that Rachel Cabral, Transitions/Jobs Specialist at Nubian Directions, selected Armstrong as the person to pay tribute to at the Annual Black History Month Celebration.
“This was an opportunity for the community to get to know someone who is not typical-mainstream of a focus for Black History Month; it’s usually someone more political, social-minded,” said Cabral following the show. “However, Louis Armstrong strikes interest in the youth because they are very interested in music and where the music they listen to came from.”
That motivating hook was glaringly apparent at one segment in the program when Arnold was relaying pivotal pieces of information about the power of “swing,” why it’s so necessary to have in any musician, and more so any effective dancer. Several youth in the back of the room nodded in assent, recognizing a name connected to it; some even joined in on some lively dancing as Arnold and company played some “swing” tunes, bringing energetic clapping, smiles and an overall sense of fun to the crowd.
In addition to the adult guest performers, two Nubian Directions students, Cassidy and Carissa Douglas, provided tributes of their own to Armstrong: oratorical presentations.
Cassidy sang Armstrong’s “Let My People Go,” while Carissa, playing the keyboards, provided a rendition of “What a Wonderful World.” Both beautiful performances were warmly welcomed. In fact, yet another Douglas family member, five year old, Michael, entertained guests with an over five minute, nearly flawlessly memorized poem, stunning guests, while bringing them to their feet with loud applause.
Nubian Directions is a young adult program, aimed at ages 16-24, whose chief goal is to prepare them for the work force with such initiatives as; technology training, work readiness skills and educational support services. In addition to this mission, the organization also periodically provides programs, such as the Black History Month Celebration, when these young people can be exposed to important topics and people as well as showcase their talents while being directly involved with their community. The results of these happenings can be priceless.
“Last night went very well; it really engaged our youth in a way they aren’t usually engaged,” said Cabral. “They really enjoyed it and learned something new as well as got to see something different, so many positives.”