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Saturday, 25 June 2016

‘I was Maya Angelou’s bongo-player’ – or, I’d Forgotten All About the New Christy Minstrels….


 
The River Inn Resort, Brownville Nebraska
People are so kind. On Wednesday I happened upon the River Inn Resort in Brownville (pop 143, give or take a few). It’s an old river-boat – a barge, I guess - fitted out as a floating hotel and tethered to the bank of the Missouri river about half a mile from the town. Upstream you have a view of the iron bridge that connects Nebraska with Missouri. Downstream you just watch the quiet water slide down south with its cargo of mud and driftwood. I chatted with the owners, who also have the Lyceum bookstore and restaurant in town, and told them my story. Within half an hour we had agreed that a reading might be a good idea when I come through next year for the Sandoz Conference up at Chadron. And, since I was in town, why not accept the offer of a room for the night? Oh, and join them and a few friends for dinner?

Among the friends was 82-year-old Randy Sparks, founder of the New Christy Minstrels. He had some great stories to tell over a few beers. My favourite was the one that began with the wonderful opening line, ‘I was Maya Angelou’s bongo-player.’ This was back in the late 1950s, down in California,  when they were on the same bill at some night-club - he as a singer, she as a dancer (to calypso music). She told him that for her act she could do with a bongo-player. Nobody in his band could play them so he spent four days practising and went to it.

 


Today, Saturday, I'm in Red Cloud for my reading at the Willa Cather Memorial. More on that tomorrow, or when I get home.