Gerald Wilson News Story
Shelby community wishes jazz legend a very happy birthday

Gerald Wilson
Wilson received a poster of the 18th Annual Mississippi Jazz & Heritage Festival, which honored him as well as
other jazz musicians. His daughters Geraldine and Nancy, along with his wife Josephina, were able to accompany him.

By Courtney Stevens
September 7, 2013
The Bolivar Commercial

Gerald Wilson had a very happy 95th birthday on Wednesday after he returned home to Shelby.

Wilson is a legendary jazz trumpet and piano player, as well as a composer.

"I couldn't tell you of another feeling I have ever had in my life that is like the feeling I have when I'm right in Shelby, Mississippi," said Wilson during a celebration Wednesday evening at the Shelby Library.

Earlier in the afternoon, Wilson had a birthday party at the library where all of his family and friends enjoyed cake and sang happy birthday.

It was during this party that Wilson was given the key to the city and the mayor proclaimed it Gerald Wilson Day.

"It makes me feel good to see the way America is changing and being like what is says it is," said Wilson as people from all over the Delta gathered.

Wilson said he first learned to play the piano from his mother, who was a schoolteacher in Shelby.

"She played piano and she could read music so she started all of my family on the piano. We all started on piano about the age of four," said Wilson.

"There used to be a band that came from Piney Woods, Mississippi. And this was a school where poor black kids could go and learn how to play," said Wilson.

It was after he saw the school’s band marching through the town as a fundraiser that he became interested in the trumpet.

"They used to go through Shelby and I saw these kids with horns and although I started on the piano I said I wanted to play a horn like the kids. They could march, come in, and they would play their concert," said Wilson.

Wilson attended Cass Tech in Detroit, a school that has seen artists like the Tempations.

When asked about his favorite musical artist, Wilson replied, "You know I just have so many. My whole family plays music."

Wilson has worked with many of the greats such as Ray Charles, Duke Ellington, and was neighbors with Ella Fitzgerald.

Wilson's oldest daughter, Geraldine Wilson, remembers coming downstairs when she was in second grade to ask her father and the well-known quartet Four Tops "please stop playing, I need to get up and to go school."

"He's an eight time Grammy nominee. He is part of the National Endowment to the Arts Jazz Masters, which is America's highest honor that they give to somebody in music in jazz—my dad is one of those guys. He has all these years from Jimmie Lunceford to Tony Bennett and coming home for him was a big deal," said Wilson.

Gerald Wilson is the father of four children, Geraldine, Anthony, Nancy, and the late Lillian Wilson.

Both Geraldine and Nancy were able to accompany Wilson back home for his birthday.

"I'm real proud and to be able to find out so many things, especially about my grandmother and how she was a loved citizen of this town," said Nancy.

"He was a teacher too, at UCLA for the last 17 years," said Geradline.

"He's having such a great time, he has a lot of memories and he's been talking about things that have happened in the town," said Nancy.

"It's a nice birthday package with a nice ribbon on top," said Geraldine.

Before Wilson left for the evening he was able to enjoy jazz music performed by Rev. Ronald V. Myers Sr., where Wilson tapped his feet and seemed to truly enjoy a great birthday.

Wilson still plays and composes and is currently working on an album to be released with Mack Avenue Records sometime next year.


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