PORTSMOUTH—The nostalgic sounds of the big band era will soon echo through Portsmouth once again.
The Vern Riffe Center for the Arts will welcome a concert tribute to Portsmouth native and famed big bandleader Clyde McCoy this Saturday, May 14, at 7:30 p.m. Dr. Stanley Workman Jr., artistic director of the VRCFA, is eager to bring this historic and sentimental tribute to McCoy’s hometown.
McCoy, whose ancestors famously feuded with the Hatfield clan, discovered his musical inclination shortly after his family settled in Portsmouth.
“McCoy’s family moved here when he was nine, and he lived here until he went off to make his career. So I like to think he was here at a pretty formative time,” Workman explained.
Fame found McCoy, but not without a few sour notes along the way. After some false starts in New York City and California, McCoy and his band rocketed to fame after performing his signature “Sugar Blues” in Chicago.
Despite the success that followed, McCoy never forgot his roots.
“He came back to Portsmouth many times with his bands and performed here, as late as the 50s and 60s. He definitely never forgot Portsmouth and where he came from, and I think that’s something that the Portsmouth area needs to be proud of and embrace. This is one of our own,” Workman said.
Though many may not realize today, McCoy’s level of popularity in his heyday was unmatched. According to Workman, if there was a Mount Rushmore of big band leaders, McCoy’s face would be carved on it.
“He developed a very unique style of trumpet playing, and it’s one of my favorite things.” Workman said before switching on some music and McCoy’s “Sugar Blues” filled the lobby. McCoy’s tinny, boisterous playing style is immediately recognizable to anyone even vaguely familiar with big band or jazz music.
“And to think that our boy made that?” Workman exclaimed, gesturing proudly to the speaker. “In terms of what he was in the big band/jazz/swing era, he really was a rock star. You think of Mick Jagger or Bruce Springsteen—he really was on that level of popularity.”
Workman was contacted by Joseph Rubin, who knew that a tribute to McCoy needed to come home to Portsmouth. Rubin specializes in “living history” concerts, which recreate American music from 1890 to 1949 in a historically accurate way.
Rubin and his 15-piece orchestra are eager to bring some of the most popular selections from the 40s to life, including those from McCoy’s career, which in total spanned nearly six decades. While Workman knows that patrons from an older generation will be delighted at the show, he also feels that younger concertgoers will appreciate the experience.
“I think even young people will have to admit that the music is pretty snazzy. It might be a hard sell for the under 25 crowds, but I’m sure that they would come away, especially if they were interested in music in a general way, edified. They would definitely come away having learned something,” Workman said.
Workman is excited that the clouds from the pandemic appear to be lifting enough for folks to fill the seats at the VRCFA again. He wants patrons to know that recently, the VRCFA’s mask requirement was lifted and that he is ready to see their smiling faces in the house.
“It seems like people are content to stay home and watch television, and television is a great thing, but we lose socialization. We lose people. We aren’t together. Sometimes you have to drag yourselves up by your bootstraps and say, ‘I’m going to that concert.’”
Tickets for “A Tribute to Clyde McCoy” are $35, with discounts available for SSU students/staff, seniors and children. They are available for purchase at the McKinley Box Office in-person, over the phone or online. Visit the Vern Riffe Center for the Arts on the web at vrcfa.com.
Reach Kasie McCreary at (740) 353-3101 ext. 1931, or by email at [email protected]
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