More than 80 local musicians joined friends and family of blues singer Leroy Wofford at the James Street Gastropub to celebrate his life and to raise funds to help with his funeral expenses.
Wofford was shot by two men at his home Sept. 8 and died the following day at UPMC Presbyterian. Pittsburgh police are still investigating.
|SOULFUL SENDOFF—Nelson Harrison, James Johnson, J.D. Donaldson, and Myron “Bama” Johnson perform during the benefit concert for the family of their friend, slain blues singer Leroy Wofford. (Photos by J.L. Martello)
The Sept. 12 fundraiser was organized by James Street co-owner Adam Johnston and Dr. Nelson Harrison when they learned the family needed financial help. And help they got.
“Everyone helping get my father put to rest, and your condolences, I really appreciate it,” said daughter Charmaine Kelly. “My father was a good man and didn’t deserve this.”
But he did deserve the send off he received from Pittsburgh’s jazz and blues artists. Just some of those who either stopped by to donate or perform, or both, included Etta Cox, Al Dowe, Kenny Blake, Antone DeFade, Dr. James Johnson, Eric Johnson, Michelle Benson, Fred Pugh, Brian Edmonds, Keith Thornhill, Nick Nichols, Spider Rondinelli, Barbara Ray, Flo Wilson and Kenny Blake.”
James Street co-owners Mark and Lisa Saftner were humbled by the turnout. As Mark went from table to table collecting donations, Lisa said she was amazed to see all these artists.
“I’ve never seen this many musicians in one place at one time. I mean, Kenny Blake—just sitting there, look at him,” she said. “I just saw Leroy Friday night. He wanted me to change my electrical supplier—I’m trying to move tables for a wedding. So we’re joking and laughing. And eight hours later he’s shot. I was shocked and mortified. I hope they catch whoever did this.”
Worfford’s brother William Duck Sr. thanked everyone for the wonderful show of appreciation and for the financial assistance and urged anyone who knows anything about the shooting to contact the police.
“Please help us find who did this. My brother never hurt anyone. All he wanted to do was entertain,” said Duck. “And you can see by the turnout, he was a very good entertainer. “
Kenny Blake called Wofford a true original.
“In terms of what we do, he was a 95-mile-per-hour fastball pitcher. Not always in the strike zone, but that goes with the territory,” he said.
“We were playing on the steps of the Homewood Library, and he’s got a wireless mike, and he walks out into the street and stops a city bus. He stands in front of it and sings and entire chorus of the blues, with the drive just exasperated. I didn’t know anyone else that would do that, but he did. He was the one.”
Harrison said the same, wherever he was, Wofford was always “on.”
“I was with Count Basie’s band in ’78, out in Hollywood and here comes Leroy walking down Vine Street,” Harrison recalled. “He said he was hanging out, doing rough carpentry and hanging with Flip Wilson and some other cats at night. It didn’t matter to him where he was. He could step up to the plate and perform. He wasn’t shy. He’d take your space and mine too, if you let him. He was a great entertainer and, you see, everybody, loved him.”
Though the benefit raised more than $2,000, the family is still requesting donations be sent to Spriggs-Watson Funeral Home, 720 N. Lang Ave., Pittsburgh 15208.
(Editor's Note: A memorial wake will be held on Thursday, Sept. 20 from 3 to 8 p.m. at Spriggs-Watson Funeral Home, 720 N. Lang Ave. Pittsburgh, PA 15208. The funeral will be at Spriggs & Watson on Friday, Sept. 21 at 11 a.m. Donations for LeRoy K.Wofford can be made directly to: Spriggs-Watson Funeral Home, INC.Funeral Director is Donald Jones, Phone # 412-243-8080)