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From Charles Kuralt's America
G.P. Putnams Sons, NY
Copyright 1995 by Charles Kuralt
Some of the street performers are precocious
beginnersSome are old pros, like David Leonard and Roselyn Lionhart.
She plays guitar, mandolin, and several African instruments"kalimba,
morimbula, and the like"he plays guitar, cornet, and harmonica.
They both sing. They are
very good, and their open guitar case fills quickly with cash
whenever a crowd gathers.
Here is Roselyn explaining New Orleans jazz
funerals to a knot of tourists: "You,re not supposed to
cry at a funeral. Did you know that? You are supposed to rejoice
that another poor soul has escaped this vale of tears, at the
very least you can be glad it wasn't you!"
At that point, the two of them launch into
a fine, swinging "Saints Go Marching In." Since the
audience never tires of the song, neither do they. When the weather
gets too hot in New Orleans, David and Roselyn said, they go
off to play in the streets of Paris or Perugia. The French Quarter
street scene offers livelier sounds than most of its indoor music
clubs these days.
From "Passing The Hat: Street
Performers In America"
by Patricia J. Campbell
Delacorte Press, NY Copyright 1981 by Patricia J. Campbell
The musical team of Roselyn Lionhart and David
Leonard is of long duration, twenty-one years. note
1 "Seems like yesterday," said David. "Seems
like forever," said Roselyn. They have four children: two
college age daughters, three year old Autumn Rose and a son born
in Febuary 1980 and named David Stormborn in memory of the rainy
circumstances of his birth. They are both accomplished musicians
and singers, but together they are an interesting complement
and contrast. David, with his flowing hair and genial eyes, is
warm and relaxed; Roselyn, with her hair braided in beaded cornrows
or tied up in a scarf, is a dormant volcano. Her earthy power
is apparent in performance; on the street their delivery is so
casual as to seem almost offhand, yet they quickly draw a crowd.
Roselyn's blues singing has been compared to Bessie Smith's.
She has a big gutsy voice when she lets it full out, and David
has a sure, pleasant baritone. They harmonize with the empathy
of twenty-one years behind them. Their repertoire is folk jazz,
a description that includes country blues, Afro rhythms, Arkansas
party riddles, Georgia Sea Island chants, spirituals, and their
own compositions. Usually David plays the guitar and harmonica
and Roselyn strums the mandolin or her own guitar, but once in
a while she will lay those instruments aside and pick up the
rhumba box, a Haitian folk instrument, for a twanging, thumping
percussion break. note 2
In the early days of the civil rights struggle,
when an interracial marriage was a strange and dangerous thing,
David and Roselyn were deeply involved in voter registration
drives in the South. They have lived in the ghettos of Detroit
and have even played on the street in that city. Their first
streetsinging experience came out of desperation, when on the
way to Miami their bus broke down in Louisiana and stranded them
with no money for repairs. Since then they've "put in the
hours," and their easeful confidence on the street comes
from years of experience with all kinds of situations. Their
year is divided between New Orleans and Los Angeles, and they
earn most of their living on the street, playing only occasional
nightclub or coffeehouse dates. "Why should we pay a big
percentage to a manager and an agent and a club owner? asks David.
Note 1: Married December 31, 1959.
Note 2: All the African Diaspora Caribbean nations use variations
of the rhumba box or morumbuti. My original one was from Jamaica.
Note 3: That was then, now we make more doing fairs, festivals,
schools, libraries etc. and we don't mind paying agent's fees
if they are getting us gigs that pay enough! - Roselyn