Boysie’s Horn Is a Jazzy Look at Wilmington’s Past

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Want to learn about the history of jazz in Wilmington? This book by local radio host Steven Leech tells all there is to know.

When it comes to influential cities in jazz culture, Wilmington may not be the first place that comes to mind. But some nationally recognized jazz legends were taught how to play music right here in the First State. Some Delawareans, including Steven Leech, argue that it is our responsibility to ensure these names are not forgotten with the passage of time.

Leech wrote Boysie’s Horn to highlight the influence of one of America’s greatest jazz educators, Boysie Lowrey. Lowery not only educated some legendary musicians — including Lem Winchester, Clifford Brown and Betty Roché — but also made Wilmington a launchpad for these national jazz performers.

Leech is no stranger to the history and culture of Wilmington. He serves as host and producer of Bop Time, for which he was cited in WVUD’s Wall of Fame for his “unmatched . . . ability to provide background information and a historical context for the selections that he chooses.” He has been selected twice as an arts fellow by the Delaware Division of the Arts, is on the board of the Delaware Rock & Roll Society and is the long-time executive editor of Dreamstreets, a literary magazine featuring Delaware authors.

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He calls Boysie’s Horn a “result of the community in which he lives,” and much of the contents were derived from interviews with people he considers his close friends—including Maurice Sims, a man in his 90s who Leech calls “a gem.” He was the second Black DJ in the state of Delaware, and offered significant insight on Wilmington’s music and entertainment culture throughout the book.

While Boysie’s Horn was a product of Leech’s community, the original project was adopted from his late friend Scott Davidson, who had compiled research before he died with the intention of writing a book about Lem Winchester. Upon a request from a mutual friend, Leech organized this research before supplementing it with his own interviews, an afterward by Wilmington jazz legend Larry Williams and a deeper dive into events that, in his words, “changed the trajectory of the story of jazz in Wilmington.”

When asked what the major takeaways of Boysie’s Horn are, Leech says, “My basic takeaway is a deeper appreciation of the environment. These people filled the streets with music before any of those who do the same today. They are names that were well-known and celebrated and they gave a lot to our culture. We should remember them.” Now, thanks to Steven Leech, Scott Davidson and everyone who contributed to Boysie’s Horn, we can do just that.

Leech also urges readers of the book to seek out recordings from the artists and, as Duke Ellington once said, “Just listen.”

Wilmington Brew Works will host a jam session on May 6, during which Steven Leech will be signing copies of his recently published book, Boysie’s Horn: The History of Jazz in Wilmington in the 20th Century. The jam session will feature Jeff Knoettner on keys and Jackie Brown on drums.

Boysie’s Horn is published by Broken Turtle Books, which specializes in works by Delaware authors. You can get your own copy here.

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