Minnesota Now with Cathy Wurzer

A sneak peak at Rondo’s Juneteenth

A street sign reads rondo
A sign reading “Old Rondo Ave 1865 to 1999” outside the Rondo Center of Diverse Expression in St. Paul on April 30.
Kerem Yücel | MPR News

Wednesday is Juneteenth, a holiday to recognize and remember the abolition of slavery in the United States.

Minnesotans across the state are observing the holiday, including the Rondo community in Saint Paul. Its fourth annual Juneteenth celebration will be held at the Rondo Commemorative Plaza on Wednesday from 12 p.m. to 5 p.m.

The Rondo Center of Diverse Expressions is hosting the event and its president, Marvin Anderson, joined Minnesota Now to share more about upcoming celebrations.

Use the audio player above to listen to the full conversation.

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Audio transcript

CATHY WURZER: Tomorrow's Juneteenth. That's a holiday to recognize and remember the abolition of slavery in this country. Minnesotans across the state are observing the holiday, including the Rondo community in Saint Paul. Their fourth annual Juneteenth celebration will be held at the Rondo Commemorative Plaza tomorrow from 12 until 5.

The Rondo Center of Diverse Expressions is hosting the event. Its president, Marvin Anderson, joins us right now to share what's in store for tomorrow's celebrations. Mr. Anderson, it's always great to hear your voice. How have you been?

MARVIN ANDERSON: Hello, Cathy. It's always good to hear your voice as well. Been fine. Yourself?

CATHY WURZER: So far so good. Thank you. See, I hear you chose the theme, The Music of Rondo. Tell me about that.

MARVIN ANDERSON: The Music of Rondo, yes. This year, we are having a Spirit of Rondo award, which is our annual awards to people, organizations, or events that really reflect the old Rondo community. And the Rondo community was full of music. And this year, we're going to give an award to the Walker West Music Academy.

And Walker West has been providing music in Rondo by teaching, by performing, by instructing, and offering exhilarating musical services and instructions to hundreds, if not thousands of kids. We're going to be presenting the music of Rondo. They're going to have their faculty, their staff, and their students perform the music of Rondo, and selecting songs that reflect the Rondo community, be it jazz, be it rhythm and blues, be it gospel.

So we're really looking forward for this wonderful concert that's going to be provided by the Walker West Music Academy. It's free. It starts about 3;30 for an hour, maybe a 90-minute concert, and it's outdoors at the Rondo Commemorative Plaza. We are really excited about this music of Rondo. Walker West has been doing this for 36 years. They've had a couple of locations, and they'll soon be moving to their new location in the old Wilder Complex on Marshall, not too far from Dale Street.

CATHY WURZER: That's right. Say, as a son of Rondo, when you say there was a lot of music back in the day, paint me a picture. What was going on? Where did you go-- who did you listen to?

MARVIN ANDERSON: Well, we've always had a lot of music in Rondo. There used to be right there on the corner of Rondo and Dale, there was this wonderful record store by Morris's record store that you could go in there and they had a couple of booths that you could go into. And Morris was this incredibly knowledgeable person about music.

And I was there when I was about 12 years old and he said, do you like rhythm? Do you like rhythm and blues? Well, I knew rhythm and blues, but I really didn't know it's name. And so he said, listen to this one. And I went into the booth and he started playing this particular record, and it filled the room with so much music.

And I knew right then that rhythm and blues, the type of rhythm and blues that had a touch of soul from the south, a little bit of gospel, a little bit of New York and Chicago beat, heavy drums and a nice saxophone, That was the music that I sought out in Rondo, and that's the music that you could hear in the dance halls. You could hear it at the dance halls, at all of the formal dance parties.

Prince's dad-- Prince's dad had a band that would play at all of the great affairs. Prince has this wonderful music background because his father and his stepmother, they had this wonderful band, and it reminded everybody of a guy like Billy Eckstine. They were blue suits and white shirts. And they were so professional when they played and they had an array of music.

And so they would start off with a slow music that kind get people up out of their chairs. And the way they had this crescendo, Cathy, you could almost tell it. People would start coming in, a few people would start dancing slow. The next record or the next selection would be a little bit faster, then a little bit faster, and then finally they would just let loose and people would dance. They would dance.

And then he would just take you down to a slow record. And then she would start singing. She had a beautiful voice. We compared her to our Ella Fitzgerald or Sarah Vaughan. And every band that would perform in public in Rondo and the Twin cities, because Twin city bands would kind of revolve around each other, they all had this same sort of presentation, slow, a little bit faster, and up tempo one.

All the guys taking a solo, come down. The young lady, a young woman would sing a beautiful thing. One or two more fast ones, and then slow crescendo out the door. A really great time.

CATHY WURZER: Well, I am hoping that Walker West Music Academy kind of plays a little bit of that kind of music. I need to ask you before we go here. You're going to be recognizing-- I'm glad you're going to do this-- Saint Paul Fire Department captain Brittany Baker, is she from the Rondo area?

MARVIN ANDERSON: Absolutely, yes. She calls herself a Rondo baby. She's from Rondo community. She's been just an excellent, wonderful fire captain. We're really proud of Brittany. We're also going to honor the two founders of the Walker West Music Academy, Reverend Carl Walker and Grant West. Those were the two gentlemen 36 years ago, started this Walker West Music Academy, and laid out what they're doing right now.

Braxton Haulcy and the rest of the crew have carried on this. And they're going to be taking over this space, this Wilder space. And we're going to have 36, if not more years, of the music of Rondo provided by Walker West and their students and their faculty. We invite everybody to come. There's food, there's entertainment. We have some wonderful-- the governor hopefully will be there. Some of our other political leaders will be there.

And other than the music of Rondo this year, our other theme, Cathy, which we think is very, very important, is when was the first time that you voted, what did it mean for you to vote, and why is the voting in this year so important? So music and voting are hand in hand for the fourth annual Juneteenth celebration at the Rondo Commemorative Plaza, 820 Rondo Avenue. We got our name back, Cathy, in April 30.

CATHY WURZER: You did. I saw that. I saw that. I thought about you, too. That's from 12 until 5. I wish you a good Juneteenth. Thank you for joining us. I always appreciate talking to you, Marvin Anderson, thank you.

MARVIN ANDERSON: I feel exactly the same. Thank you for the moment.

CATHY WURZER: Bye-bye. Marvin Anderson is the president of the Rondo Center of Diverse Expressions.

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