JO ANN BREWSTER-CHEATHAM: CULTURAL RENAISSANCE WOMAN PASSES

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The life of Jo Ann Brewster-Cheatham was celebrated at Bedford-Stuyvesant’s Restoration Corporation before a standing room only gathering of family, friends and colleagues.   Jo Ann passed away on January 2, 2016 at age 73.

Many accomplished jazz musicians were on hand to pay their respects.  To name just a few, world-renowned pianist Randy Weston spoke at length of his close friendship with Jo Ann.  He said that Jo Ann knew the importance of our music, and implored us to claim and support what belongs to us – our music with footsteps stemming from Africa, now found all over the world.

Jo Ann’s crowning achievement is her concept for a jazz magazine, which came to fruition in the form of “Pure Jazz Magazine." 

A long-time jazz enthusiast, Jo Ann felt her calling was to preserve jazz as the American classical music – which it is.  “Pure Jazz Magazine” features stories covering great jazz masters, as well as new comers (referred to as “young lions”).  She spotlighted the history of record labels and drew attention to jazz women, whose contributions to the art form were often omitted.  Jo Ann covered every aspect of jazz through this publication.

Baba Lawo Priest, Neil Clarke, opened the home going ceremony with a spirited libation ritual and remarked that “Jo Ann championed our culture.”

Sabor and Owosu Slater served as drummers as well as ushers, seating everyone for a memorable farewell.

The Master of Ceremony for the latter half of the home going was Sharif Abdus-Salaam, radio host and producer at WKCR-FM.

Notables in the audience were vocalist Rome Neil, pianists Danny Mixon and Rafik Williamson, Kiane Zawadi, Eric Frazier, Angela Weusi of “For My Sweet," Viola Plummer of “Sista’s Place," Robin Bell-Stevens of “Jazz Mobile," and many more.  

Jeff King on Tenor Sax, Stanley Banks on bass, Ed Stoute piano, and George Gray on drums performed “Giant Steps” and “Blue Bossa."  What a fitting and masterful tribute to this great lady of jazz this was.

Runner-ups in television’s "America's Got Talent," ACTE II Music (Ashley Renee Watkins and Olanna Goudeau) joined in the celebration and sung “This Little Light of Mine” a tribute to this cultural warrior.

Her journey began in 1986, at age 44, when she became the Administrative Assistant to Joan Maynard, founder of the Society for the Preservation of Weeksville and Bedford-Stuyvesant. 

This experience propelled Jo Ann’s quest to preserve and promote the history and contributions of the African Diaspora.  She also worked with writer, producer, actress, Vy Higginson, as the circulation manager for Unique New York Magazine.

Jo Ann will be remembered for many contributions to promote African culture, mainly artistic endeavors.  Our hard-working cultural sister was a member of numerous organizations.  She was a founding member of the Central Brooklyn Jazz Consortium (“CBJC”), an organization dedicated to preserving and promoting jazz and related art forms throughout Brooklyn.  Bessie Edwards, Imani Parker (reading a poem written by CBJC member Harold Valle dedicated to Jo Ann), and Walter Mosley spoke of her contributions to CBJC.

At the National Association of Business and Professional Women Inc. Kings County Club, Jo Ann served as the club’s archivist in Brooklyn.  Here, Jo Ann’s mentorship consciousness was awaken.   We see the scope of her involvement with mentoring.  Jo Ann and members of this organization went into the prisons to help female inmates and children with counseling and other assistance.  Long-time friend, Margaret Nolson, spoke about this period of Jo Ann’s journey.

It was said that Jo Ann led a vibrant secular life, but many Sundays found her seated in the pews of Abyssinian Baptist Church.  Jo Ann was a member of the Archive Committee at Abyssinian in Harlem.  An Abyssinian Archive member, Sandra (“Sandy”) McNeil, said, “Jo Ann shared many gifts with the world.”  Ms. McNeil shared other fond memories of Jo Ann.

Jo Ann volunteered regularly at BRIC (formerly known as BCAT).  She was extremely proud of her 16-year involvement with the “Black Men Screaming” series.  Denice Sutton and Maurice Carver spoke on Jo Ann’s contribution to the program.

“Shutter Bug” is the name of a program Jo Ann started for disadvantaged children.  Shortly after its success, Jo Ann joined the NYC public school system.  She was then able to influence school children through the art of photography.

A Renaissance woman, mother, daughter, friend, lover of Black culture, Jo Ann was all of these and so much more.  Her quiet demeanor and at times biting sarcasm only proved to endear her to all who knew her.

To keep Jo Ann’s legacy alive through the continued production of her “Pure Jazz Magazine," please send donations to the Brewster Family, c/o Central Brooklyn Jazz Consortium, 1958 Fulton Street, Suite 30A, Brooklyn, New York 11223.  

 

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