Aug 13, 2008 Russ Tarby Uncategorized
Born in South Carolina and raised in Philadelphia, Pa., Carolyn “Dessie” Kelly arrived in Syracuse in 1968.
Having sung gospel solos at the Surprise Baptist Church in South Carolina, Kelly had built a solid foundation for singing the blues. In Syracuse, she performed with guitarist Roosevelt Dean and the Soul Doctors for three short years.
Then her life’s journey drew her away from music.
In 1999 she began work as a certified nursing assistant at Loretto’s Heritage Apartments which specialize in caring for older adults with Alzheimer’s disease or dementia. Kelly is lovingly known by residents and staff alike as “Dessie” — her childhood nickname.
‘Excited to be back’
In 2006, three and a half decades after leaving Dean’s band, Kelly returned to the studio where she performed three tracks on his CD, “Don’t Leave Me.” The session work led to live performances at places such as Meacham Park, Party in the Plaza and the Dinosaur Bar-B-Que.
“I was scared and nervous, but excited to be back on stage,” Kelly recalled. “I felt like I was out of the scene for too long, but the pleased response from the crowd gave me back my confidence.”
Dessie has long dreamed of sharing her talent with the residents, families and staff at Loretto’s Heritage Apartments.
On Monday, Aug. 18, Dessie’s dream will come true. That day she and the Roosevelt Dean Band will team up for a private performance to benefit construction of an employee lounge for her co-workers at the Courtyard of the Heritage Apartments, 750 E. Brighton Ave., in Syracuse, on Loretto’s main campus. Tickets for this concert for Loretto residents, families and staff cost $10 each and are available at the Heritage Apartments at 492-1329 and other Loretto locations.
Kelly’s vocal gift first came to Loretto’s attention in May when she sang for the facility’s Older Americans Month celebration in the Heritage Apartments chapel.
‘Slow Cooking on Hot’
Last year, Kelly released her first solo CD, “Keep All My Secrets” and in 2008 she and the Roosevelt Dean Band were nominated by the Syracuse Area Music Awards (Sammys) for Best Blues Recording.
Her newest CD, “Slow Cooking on Hot,” was recently released on Z-K Records.
The disc features Kelly, Dean and Steve Watson on guitar, Himer Morgan on keyboards, Jim Pavente on bass and John Boylan on drums. Post-Standard pop critic Mark Bialczak praised Kelly’s vocals for their blend of “sass and southern silk.”
“Slow Cooking” tunes include Dean’s composition “If You’re Gonna Leave Me” and B.T. Lexing’s “Don’t Make Me Do Something Bad.” But it also pays homage to Kelly’s gospel roots with an artfully arranged version of “Jordan River.”
“My music is real blues,” Kelly said. “I can feel my own experiences in life with the blues. And if my voice can reach someone, touch somebody and make them happy, then it’s all worth it.”
‘One More River to Cross’
Gary Comins, a blues fan from Liverpool, caught Roosevelt Dean and Carolyn “Dessie” Kelly at TK-99’s Blues, Brew and BBQ festival May 25 at the State Fairgrounds.
“The duet between Kelly and Dean, ‘One More River to Cross,’ was outstanding,” Comins reported. “It would fall in one of my top three songs of the day.”
In reviewing Kelly’s 2006 recorded work, The Post-Standard’s Mark Bialczak wrote, “Syracuse bluesman Roosevelt Dean and his newfound vocal partner Carolyn Kelly sound right at home trading broken-hearted love verses on the title cut of ‘Don’t Leave Me.’ Dean’s grit and Kelly’s soul work side-by-side like ribs and barbecued beans on this 14-song collection from the blues veteran.”
Kelly lists among her influences Bessie Smith, Koko Taylor and Denise LaSalle, but she’s managed to forge a sound all her own.
“There ain’t a better voice around,” said local songwriter Dusty Pascal.