Dec 05, 2012 Russ Tarby Uncategorized
When it came to kids with broken musical instruments, Brownie was a soft touch.
As an amazingly versatile musician and a repairman par excellence, Brownie knew the joy that a person derives from playing a well-tuned instrument. Everyone knew that he’d often repair instruments for children at no cost simply to encourage their love of music.
Richard “Brownie” Brown passed away on Nov. 15 at Sunnyside Nursing Home in Kirkville. He was 88.
Known throughout Central New York as a man who could fix everything from French horns to violins, Brown was also a respected professional musician. Over the years, he played tuba, double bass, Sousaphone and trombone with a variety of regional ensembles.
“He played all the instruments, and he knew how to repair them all,” remembered bandleader Mario DeSantis. “He was a great repairman!”
Brown played bass for the Mario DeSantis Orchestra in the early 1950s and also worked regularly as a member of the Pompeian Players pit bands. He preferred swing and standards to rock’n’roll.
“Once rock and roll came in and we added some of those tunes to our repertoire,” DeSantis remembered, “Brownie left the orchestra.”
More recently, he’d lent his talents to the Liverpool Community Concert Band which rehearsed every Monday at American Legion Post 188, where he was a member. He also played upright bass for The Rhythm-Airs, a big band which got its start at the local legion hall.
Born in Fulton, Brownie moved to Liverpool with his family when he was a young child. He lived in the lakeside village for more than 75 years. During World War II, he served in the U.S. Marine Corps. For more than six decades he owned and operated Richard C. Brown Musical Instrument Repair on Cypress Street and also did repair work for DeSantis & Son Music Co.
“He was wonderful,” DeSantis said, “a gentleman of first order. He worked hard all his life, and when he worked for us he was as valuable an employee as anybody could be. You know, it’s not enough just to sell musical instruments, you also have to be able to provide that service, to repair them when they needed it. We did a lot of repair work on school instruments, and Brownie was a big part of that work.”
In September Mimi Osmun brought a few dogs from Heid’s out to Brownie at Sunnyside. Osmun plays piano and sings for the Rhythm-Airs. “What a great guy,” she said. “We’re sure going to miss Brownie!”
A 2006 inductee into the Liverpool High School Fine Arts Hall of Fame, Brown was a member of American Federation of Musicians Union Local 78. He was predeceased by his wife, Mary Jane Brown, in 2003 and is survived by six children.
Contributions in Brown’s memory may be made to the Liverpool Central School District’s music department, 4338 Wetzel Road, Liverpool, NY 13090.
Diamond Someday, a lively local bluegrass band fronted by guitarist-singer Shirley Stevens, who lives in Liverpool, often opens its shows with a line from “Old Chunk of Coal,” the Billy Joe Shaver song which explains the band’s name: “I’m just an old chunk of coal, but I’ll be a diamond someday.”
Then the group soars on a familiar gospel tune such as “I’ll Fly Away.”
On Sunday, Dec. 9, when Diamond Someday performs at the Central New York Bluegrass Association’s annual Christmas party, however, the quintet will also pick a heart handful of holiday tunes such as “Away in a Manger” and “Silver Bells.”
The CNYBA Christmas bash begins with a jam session at 11 a.m. Sunday, Dec. 9, at American Legion Post 297, at 13 E. Main St. in Marcellus. Following a pot-luck ham dinner at 1 p.m., Diamond Someday will showcase original Shirley Stevens tunes such as “Lady in Red.” But the fivesome will also perform festive fare like “Silent Night,” “O Christmas Tree” and “Go Tell it on the Mountain.”
Less familiar but no less entertaining Christmas songs will include “Shotgun Shells on the Christmas Tree” by Robin and Linda Williams and “Christmas Bells,” a silly seasonal ditty also known as “Snoopy and the Red Baron.”
Diamond Someday features guitarist Shirley Stevens, Dobro player Dick DeNeve (another Liverpool native), mandolinist Ed Van Cott, banjo player Sean King and bassist Karen Campolieto. Admission is free Sunday, but donations will be accepted; 572-2247; cnyba.com.