LESTER BOWIE MURAL/ UNVEILING DECEMBER 5, 2020 FREDERICK, MD
I couldn’t hold back the tears when I heard the plans of FAC to commission a Mural honoring Lester Bowie. This is an unexpected honor bestowed on my late brother Lester, his family and descendants. I am the last remaining from our immediate family. Our parents and Brother Byron are smiling and reveling with joy and happiness over this development.
Lester was the eldest of three sons of W. Lester Bowie, Sr. (Father) and Earxie L. Bowie (Mother). The middle son, Byron Bowie and myself were born in St. Louis, MO. Lester, Jr. was however born in Frederick, Maryland October 11, 1941. Lester grew up in St. Louis and attended Lincoln University as well as North Texas State University. My Mother affectionately nicknamed him “Little Lester”. He served in the Air Force and was a Military Police. Lester was 12 years my senior and was already out of the house when I was five years old. My Father was a music teacher and cornet player. I suppose that’s the reason Lester took up trumpet. The cornet is a close relative in the trumpet family. He loved all types of music and was especially interested in Jazz. However his interest in Jazz did not diminish his love for all musical genres, especially Rhythm & blues and Pop music. From a young age Lester studied the forms, learned the songs becoming a highly proficient player in all his musical exploits. Lester played the blues with the likes of Albert King and traveled throughout the USA with “The Royal American Carnival”. Though he spent his life expanding and exploring the parameters of Jazz, he gained formidable experience in R&B as bandleader with his first wife and mother of four children, Fontella Bass. He later married Deborah Bowie becoming Father to Sukari and Zola Bowie. He joined the creative force of the “Association for the Advancement of Creative Musicians” (AACM in 1967). He came to New York City in the mid seventies and cemented his name and unique character in the New York Jazz scene for eternity. Appearing with his premier group “The Art Ensemble of Chicago” he went further to developing his own group offerings. “Brass Fantasy’, “The New York Organ Ensemble”, “The Sho-Nuff’ Orchestra” and performed with the greatest musicians in New York”. Lester was special! He wrote and played the opening theme song for the TV series “The Bill Cosby Show. He was daring and fearless. He was never afraid to push the limits of presentation. He recorded with the rap group “Digable Planet”. He was a Father figure to many musicians young and old. Lester always told me, “We are World Citizens” not just local musicians. Our character is vital. He developed projects and recorded with musicians worldwide. He made countless recordings with bands in Norway, Poland, Italy, Germany, Holland the U.K and Jamaica.
Lester’s music history is immense but I need to mention his desire to integrate with the entirety of humanity. He believed Music was the healing force of the universe and considered himself a Scientist and Surgeon of music. He often would discuss with me the importance of music in our lives whether we are musicians or not. He understood the importance of music in education and pointed out to me how music and mathematics originate in the same area of the brain. Students that study music do better in all areas of study. He didn’t believe music was only entertainment but essential nourishment for our minds and souls. He said “we as musicians are disciples or minstrels of truth and it is our responsibility to deliver information/news and truth to the people. In earlier times minstrels traveled from town to town-sharing culture, entertainment and world awareness. His dream was to create a Musical Circus under the Big Top to travel worldwide expressing the music and ideals of world culture.
Lester often reminded me that this path is not easy! There would be tough times and at times difficult to survive. You must be confident, assertive and fearless, but also compassionate and loving. Respect all people. Lester spent more than half a year with Nigerian Afro-Beat legend “Fela Kuti.” Everywhere Lester went he blended in and was loved by all. He shared and learned from the experiences and catalogued it in his encyclopedia of personal musical adventures. He used to talk to me about making a decision regarding the meaning of your life. You can choose for “Profit or commercial success or a prolific artist”. When you devote yourself to your art, with money and fame secondary you will be free to create magic and ultimately remembered eternally.
I want to thank Alice B. Ford (cousin Bev) for asking me to write a few words on behalf of Lester from his younger brother’s perspective. I especially want to thank the Bowie-Thomas Family for life long love and support. Lester loved FAMILY, family re-union and eating crabs from Jug Bridge. I urge all who are not familiar with Lester’s legacy to get behind your computers go to “YouTube” and search: Lester Bowie, The Art Ensemble of Chicago, Brass Fantasy. He was a true visionary artist of whom we see less and less of today. We love you Lester Bowie…Joe Bowie