Tuesday, July 17, 2001

Harmony takes a lot of practice

For the guys, I suppose, the music is the thing. They'll sing at 7:45 p.m. Saturday at Cinergy Field. The WIZ Coors Light Riverfront Jazz Festival presents Aretha Franklin, the Four Tops, Brian McKnight. And Debonair.

        Up until now, this group's biggest crowd was at a Bearcats game when they sang the national anthem. They've performed at places where the four of them shared two microphones and shrugged into their suits in a bathroom behind the stage.

        Ron Brown, Andre Edwards, David Annett and Marcus Headlam met at school. Sands Montessori for a couple of them. Then they all went to Walnut Hills High School. Andre, the oldest, graduated in 1994 and went off to Morehouse College. Ron joined Andre in Atlanta a year later. Then the following year, Marcus left for Ohio University, David for Wittenberg University.

        Still, they hung together. More singing. Forming a group. Men of Harmony? Nah. They settled on the name Debonair. And settled very firmly on each other.

Segregated unity

        “At first, we were just guys who loved to sing,” Andre says. “But now we are brothers. Seriously.”

        You, um, you know, don't look like brothers. He laughs. The group, like the schools where they met, is racially diverse.

Know someone who has successfully bridged the racial divide? Tell us about it.
        I thought of Debonair on Monday when I went to Fountain Square for Unity Day. Before the entertainment and speeches began, people mostly milled around, trying not to trip over the television cables. A few greetings. A little conversation. These days, we let the T-shirts do the talking. “Unity and Love can Stop the Violence” and “Changing Hearts and Minds.”

        Groups of black and white people surrounded the stage. By this, I mean, there were groups of white people. And groups of black people. Now and then, somebody would walk over to greet somebody in another group. Awkwardly. It was like a junior high school dance.

        Cincinnati Mayor Charlie Luken was booed. By a noisy few. “Do not listen to the loudest voices,” the mayor said. “Listen to the voices of goodness and respect that abound in Cincinnati.”

Noisy progress?

        A woman muttered that she came here from Little Rock, Ark., where it is “quiet and peaceful.” Another woman turned to her and observed that “change can be a little noisy.” Courtis Fuller, mayoral candidate, noted that he would be in favor of peace, harmony, justice and economic progress.

        Unity Day didn't seem very unified, and obviously we need more than just one day. But you have to start somewhere. I just wish we'd started sooner. Marcus and David and Andre and Ron are way ahead of most of us.

        They have been part of each other's lives for more than a decade, in and out of each other's kitchens and family rooms. I am not qualified to review their music — rhythm and blues, soul, pop.

        But I have seen enough to know that Men of Harmony would not have been a bad explanation of who they are and what they do. They are on each other's speed dial. They know each other's parents and siblings.

        Their relationship is not theoretical, philosophical or political. It is personal. But Saturday night, Ron, David, Marcus and Andre won't be thinking about race and brotherhood. They settled these matters many years ago. They will just be standing up on that stage Saturday night and making music together.

        E-mail lpulfer@enquirer.com. Past columns at Enquirer.com/columns/pulfer.


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