North­east Mu­si­cal Mecca Makes Way for Den­tist’s Of­fice

The Washington Post - - District - From Page 1 See Page 13

stand­ing room plus, like rush hour at the cross­roads, pro­vok­ing a sec­ond, smaller but equally spir­ited jam out on the street. “What are they gonna do, evict us?” some­one asked as the late af­ter­noon chill in­spired some up-tempo, heat­gen­er­at­ing play. Inside, the mu­sic and good spir­its didn’t fade away un­til, ap­pro­pri­ately, the mid­night hour.

A re­cent gath­er­ing fea­tured nine gui­tars, three man­dolins, a wash­tub bass, as­sorted har­mon­i­cas, wooden rhythm bones and an up­right pi­ano, all play­ing a tune around the room. Some­one would kick things off, then pass along the melody to be picked, plucked, blown or tapped — even whis­tled — un­til it came back full cir­cle to the start­ing line. No au­di­ence here, just par­tic­i­pants, even it if was just tap­ping a foot in rhythm.

“If you can’t have fun, why do it?” asked Warner Wil­liams, one of sev­eral vet­eran blues­men who have been long­time cit­i­zens of the blues cir­cle.

That Archie’s Bar­ber­shop was clos­ing caught no one by sur­prise. The last snips of hair fell to the floor in 1998, and the bar­ber­shop opened only for the Satur­day jams (it also served as head­quar­ters for the non­profit Ar- chie Ed­wards Blues Her­itage Foun­da­tion). It got by on do­na­tions, ben­e­fit con­certs and, in re­cent years, CDs fea­tur­ing Archie’s reg­u­lars. A third an­thol­ogy, “Don’t You Weep and Moan,” was re­cently re­leased, with a pic­ture of the now-shut­tered bar­ber­shop on its cover.

None of it added up to enough, and ef­forts to buy the prop­erty were un­suc­cess­ful. The space will be gut­ted and con­verted into a den­tist’s of­fice.

Blues artist Eleanor El­lis, who played with Ed­wards in the 1980s and co-founded the Blues Her­itage Foun­da­tion in 1998, finds that ironic, given that the foun­da­tion was started “be­cause only a few mu­si­cians would come to the bar­ber­shop af­ter Archie died, and we just didn’t want to see it gone, or turned into a den­tist’s of­fice. We wanted to keep it open just be­cause of Archie’s pres­ence.”

Un­til re­cently, that meant a jum­ble of still­sharp scis­sors, shav­ing mugs and hair tonic bot­tles, an an­cient cash reg­is­ter, a rack of old sin­gles and news­pa­per clips, con­cert posters and framed lyrics, a small bar­ber pole in the win­dow that lighted up but no longer spun. Also vin­tage pho­tos of Ed­wards, the shop’s mu­si­cal and ton­so­rial pa­trons, and leg­endary blues­men such as Mis­sis­sippi John Hurt, who lived in Wash­ing­ton for three years af­ter be­ing re­dis­cov­ered in the early 1960s.

Hurt, Ed­wards’s big­gest in­flu­ence, of­ten stopped by for a shave and hair­cut, good con­ver­sa­tion and blues jams late into the night. He’s the one who in­sisted Ed­wards keep the Pied­mont tra­di­tions alive, al­though he was un­able to do so full time un­til re­tir­ing from the gov­ern­ment in 1981 at age 63. (The bar­ber­shop was his side job.) Ed­wards recorded two al­bums, the first when he was 63. He toured here and abroad, but most of his play­ing was done re­gion­ally, with the bar­ber­shop the most likely place to hear him, par­tic­u­larly af­ter he re­tired. Then it might be Ed­wards play­ing alone, or with a friend or two, or the visit­ing blues devo- tee. It was loose, as in­for­mal as any bar­ber­shop con­ver­sa­tion: tunes ex­changed, lit­tle lessons learned, noth­ing like the ca­cophonous com­mu­nity jams of re­cent years.

“There’s a ton of his­tory in that place,” said Miles Spicer, gui­tarist and as­sis­tant trea­surer of the Blues Her­itage Foun­da­tion, not­ing that “for 50 years peo­ple knew ex­actly where to go.” Spicer en­coun­tered Ed­wards 10 years ago, when Spicer was a Univer­sity of Mary­land stu­dent. “I had a gui­tar and didn’t

Pied­mont blues­man Archie Ed­wards recorded two al­bums, the first when he was 63. He died in 1998 at age 79.

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