Friends, family bid farewell to Marcus Belgrave

Ursula Watson and Susan Whitall
The Detroit News

Family, friends and fans who gathered on Saturday to say farewell to Detroit jazz icon Marcus Belgrave remembered him as a good guy with a " phenomenal ability" as a musician.

The public paid their respects during family hour before the funeral service at Greater Grace Temple on W. Seven Mile

Beverly Williams said she saw Belgrave — famous for his copper trumpet — at a small venue in Detroit 15 years ago. She said he was a beautiful man with a great sense of humor.

"I asked him to play "Round Midnight,'" said Williams. "He said he didn't know how to play it but said, 'I'm gonna try.' I have been following him ever since."

Soon his family led by his wife Joan Belgrave, walked into Greater Grace Temple's sanctuary, as bible passages including Psalm 23:4 were recited. Mourners lined up to offer condolences, hugs and tears to the family.

Belgrave died May 23. He was 78. He had suffered from heart and pulmonary issues for some time, and had been hospitalized at the University of Michigan in late April, suffering from pneumonia.

A jazz icon in Detroit and an international jazz treasure, he mentored Regina Carter, Kenny Garrett, Robert Hurst and many others but also played with Charles Mingus, Horace Tapscott and even sat in with the Tonight Show Band."

During the funeral Grammy-winning trumpeter Wynton Marsalis was slated to perform "Tenderly" along with bassist Rodney Whitaker, drummer Randy Gelispie and pianist Buddy Budson.

Belgrave's wife, a vocalist, was to perform the jazz standard, "Crazy He Calls Me."

Over the years Belgrave performed with Marsalis, Dizzy Gillespie, McCoy Tyner and Aretha Franklin.

Belgrave, a native Pennsylvanian chose the Motor City as his home when he came off the road with Ray Charles' band in 1963.

He was attracted to the steady work in Motown's hit factory on W. Grand Boulevard., but Detroit's tightly-knit jazz community was also part of the draw.

He soon bonded with Detroit jazz great Harold McKinney, who was active as an educator and mentor, apart from his own music. Detroit's jazz musicians thrived during the Motown years, when many were employed playing sessions on W. Grand Blvd. But in the '70s, when the label had moved west, it fell to elders such as McKinney and Belgrave to help keep the music alive.

Born June 12, 1936, he was one of 12 children in a musically gifted family, the son of a steel mill worker in Chester, Pennsylvania. Belgrave received his first trumpet at age 5, and thrived at school, studying classical music both at school and in private lessons. He was always first chair or soloist in Chester High School's band and orchestra.

The family hour before Belgrave's funeral turned into a reunion for many who greeted each other warmly andreminisced about the jazz great.

"What I remember most was his phenomenal ability to sight-read anything," said Carolee Malitz, a violinist, who performed with Belgrave many years ago. "He could take the most complicated rhythms and make them sound so easy."

Malitz traveled from her home in of Sarasota, Fla., to attend the funeral.

"He was so special," she said of Belgrave. "There was only one guy like him in the whole entire world."

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