SECTION ONE

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COLUMN 105, MAY 1, 2004
(Copyright 2004 The Blacklisted Journalist)

AT THE BOWERY POETRY CLUB
MAY 27 MULTICULTURAL MUSIC JAM SESSION AND BOOKSIGNING PARTY

PAGE SIX


WENDY OXENHORN

Wendy Oxenhorn was born in Brooklyn and raised in Westchester. At age ten, when her mother broke the news to her that in fact, little Wendy's dream of becoming a Raylette, would at this moment in history, never be possible, with a broken heart, she decided to become a ballerina and traveled daily to Manhattan to dance with New York City Ballet and their School. At 14, she moved here on her own for this purpose, living in Greenwich Village, subletting Holly Woodlawn's apartment on West 10th Street. At her peak, she suffered a devastating knee injury and her career was finished, causing her to telephone a suicide hotline in a deep state of depression. Fortunately, the suicide hotline counselor was more depressed the she was, and she ended up counseling the counselor, which began a long road of service in the non-profit world, mostly helping the homeless and children of homeless families.

Until recently, Wendy was best known for her part in co-founding STREET NEWS, the newspaper that employed the homeless in New York City. At its peak STREET NEWS employed 2,000 homeless and jobless men and women and had a circulation of a quarter of a million. STREET NEWS gave birth to 150 homeless-sold newspapers around the world.

Four years ago, tragedy struck again in the form of a tragic love affair with an Italian composer. This dealt Wendy a tremendous blow, but instead of picking up the phone to call a suicide hotline, she picked up the Italian composer's harmonica and began to play. She practiced every chance she got. This was the first time in her life that she found something to replace the feeling she had gotten from dance.

One day, waiting on a train at Penn Station, she heard the one and only underground sound of Floyd Lee, the last of the real deal blues men from Mississippi, who at age 73, still plays the stations. She began playing with him, earning her blues dues for over a year by passing the tip bucket and getting him recorded so they could sell a CD.  They did very well. In fact, they became family. This was better than becoming a Raylette. She was now a train station blues man.

Their musical partnership came to an end when Floyd got himself a young Jamaican woman in her fifties who refused to let a "girl? be in the band. Wendy understood, and left the band, but she was now more broken hearted than even after the tragic love affair with the Italian Composer. Thinking there would never be another real deal blues man in the train stations of NYC who she could play with and knowing there would never be another Floyd Lee, she gave up the underground life and began to play with a young blues guitarist at a dive bar in the Village. This was quite a change from playing with Floyd. In the train stations, where she was used to making $150 at rush hour and still getting home in time to cook dinner for her two kids. The late-night club scene would require babysitters and there was no money in coming to a club and "just sitting in." Then, as luck would have it, the new band leader got married and his new wife did not want Wendy to play with them anymore.

A higher purpose had to be in order. How was it possible that she was robbed of being a Raylette, a ballerina, and her romance with the Italian composer (who looked and sang exactly like Jacques Brel), and now,  not being able to play and be part of the two blues families she had found?

But as we all know by now, something always comes along to show you why it had to change. Two weeks later, a friend told her that there was a need for an Executive Director at the Jazz Foundation of America. With her extensive non-profit background and her having just become a musician, she was given the job.

Wendy now runs the Jazz Foundation of America and in a few years, the organization has gone from helping 35 musicians a year to now approximately 300.  She has raised over a million dollars for the organization through her annual benefit concerts at the Apollo, A GREAT NIGHT IN HARLEM. This year, Wendy received an award at the Grammy Luncheon in L.A for her work helping musicians across the country. The award was presented by Dick Parsons of AOL/Time Warner, one of her new supporters.  She has also been working on the dream of building the first Player's Residence so some of the elderly musicians will not have to be homeless ever again.

Wendy has since found another real deal guitarist from Chicago to play with, Ladell McLin,whom for the past two years, she has managed and promoted. Their story is in a four-page feature article by MTV writer, Kara Manning, in JAZZIZ Magazine and can be read at http://www.jazziz.com/pages/current_issue/feature/v20n08feature.asp

Wendy has played with Sugar Blue, James Blood Ulmer, Billy Cox, Sweet Georgia Brown, Junior Mance, Charles Davis, Benny Powell, Doc Pittman, Zeke Mullins, Bob Cranshaw, Joe Lee Wilson, Danny Moore, Harold Mabern, Melvin Sparks, Pete Cosey, J.T. Lewis, Gary Bartz, John Stubblefield and Bernard Purdy, among others---in venuesthat include Chicago Blues, The Bamboo Room, A & M Roadhouse, Showman's in Harlem, the Apollo Theater and BB King's---she was the first female harp player to open the club in its first two weeks,.  While visiting an ex-husband in Paris, she couldn't resist the chance to play underground in the Metro. However, no one threw her any money.  

She still maintains that the greatest place anyone can ever play---where there's no sound check, no waiting for club owners to pay measly sums of money at the end of a long night, no need for babysitters, and the acoustics are incredible---these are the place she misses the most: the train stations of New York City.  ##

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