Thursday, February 10, 2000

Kathy Wade tour guide to the big 'hood

The Cincinnati Enquirer

        To get where I needed to be, I just followed the music.

        Kathy Wade was doing a sound check Wednesday morning on the stage at Roger Bacon High School in St. Bernard. Holding the mike in one hand and a plastic cup of orange juice in the other, she was wearing glasses and singing to just a few of us who'd sneaked in early. No matter.

        Her voice was Carnegie-Hall-full-house rich, lapping into every corner of the old auditorium.

        She does not do things halfway, even if there is no audience at all.

No really free concert
        “Celebrate Diversity” it said on the multicolored banner behind her. We did. She calls it “learning through art.” And we did that too.

        To Kathy's right was Charles Miller, percussionist for Drums for Peace, whose impressive rust-colored goatee extended halfway down his dashiki. Maurice Crutcher in a Bengals T-shirt was on keyboard. Roger Bacon's principal, the Rev. Roger Bosse, wore his customary brown friar's robe, belted in white rope.

        The kids filed in, wearing jeans and sneakers and polite smiles. She will make them laugh. And sing. It won't take long. She has had plenty of practice.

        Since she began her “Black Anthology of Music” program 19 years ago, Kathy has performed before more than a quarter-million students. She has taken her sound throughout the United States and in Europe, Russia, the Caribbean, and Africa.

        This summer Kathy Wade will again bring her concert series, “The 'Hood Is Bigger Thank You Think,” to neighborhoods all over the city. “The 'hood,” she explains to the Roger Bacon crowd, “is short for neighborhood.” Which the kids probably know. But they do not roll their eyes in the time-honored teen-age signal.

        They like her already, are listening intently.

        Mezzo soprano she call her voice, but at this time of the morning it's on the contralto cusp. She begins with an African folk tale, teaching them a response. In Swahili. They repeat it on demand. She does not have to ask twice.

        She sings. She raps. Then Charles and Maurice break into an instrumental version of scatting with rattles, piano, bird whistles. This is something the audience has never heard before. Nor, in truth, have Maurice and Charles. They are improvising.

        Kathy sticks to the script. Respect. Common bonds. This applies, she says, “to all living things on earth and throughout the universe.” She lets them digest this while she sings a song she wrote with her brother, Bruce Wade.

        It ain't automatic, you gotta earn it,

        But send out respect and people return it.

        The program on this morning is part of her In-School Touring Educational Program. She is there, Father Bosse says, as part of “our message from Jesus to love one another as God loves us.”

        The kids recognize the opening notes of “Lean on Me.” They clap and sing along.

        You just call on me, brother,

        when you need a hand.

        Later, I accuse Kathy of renting this audience for my benefit. They are just about perfect. Joining her in song, laughing when they're supposed to. Next to me, Katie Ryan, a senior from Forest Park, smiles and pounds her hands together. She likes poetry, she says, and now wants to read one of Nikki Giovanni's books.

        Respect is the link.

        The 'hood is bigger than you think.

        And if you get lost, just follow the music.

        Email Laura Pulfer at or call (513) 768-8393. Her column appears in the Enquirer on Sundays, Tuesdays and Thursdays. She can be heard Monday mornings on WVXU radio (91.7 FM), and as a regular commentator on National Public Radio's Morning Edition.