Living Legend Walter Delbridge Returns to Jazz Fest 8/23
On Friday, August 23 Akron poet Walter Delbridge returns to the stage at BluJazz to open the 4th Annual Rubber City Jazz and Blues Festival at 8pm. Delbridge made his debut at Jazz Fest in 2017 and earlier this year appeared at Greystone Hall, as the featured guest for Community Support Services 2019 Art of Recovery. Valedictorian and President of Garfield High’s class of 65, Delbridge (then Dancy), went on to study at Harvard, Yale and Morehouse College. He had just earned one of the first scholarships for African Americans to study at the esteemed Sorbonne in France when he was diagnosed with paranoid schizophrenia. Instead of going to Paris, he was sent back to Akron to be institutionalized at Fallsview Psychiatric.
He has been, in his words “in the system ever since.” In spite of this, Delbridge has used his mind, his art and his great appreciation for jazz music to “steel himself” against his illness and the heavy medications that would cloud his expansive creative vision. He finished his Bachelors of Arts at University of Akron, going on to teach graduate level courses in the seventies, and ultimately returning to a reclusive life of writing and study.
In 1979, Delbridge created his best work, Isolation and Intellect, a cycle of 122 poems written in a 24-hour period while listening to Charles Mingus. In 2017, Oxford University Press published two of these poems in its internationally-recognized psychiatric journal, Schizophrenia Bulletin.
“It was a wonderful privilege to be able to have Walter perform his poetry at the festival [in 2017],” says Theron Brown, director of Rubber City Jazz and Blues Fest. “His story is one that speaks to the positive effects jazz music can have on someone’s spirit and creativity. We are happy to highlight his incredible poetry and the extent to which music has shaped his life.”
Delbridge’s story was brought to the attention of RCJBF’s organizers by Kate Tucker, a songwriter and artist also from Akron. Tucker is currently at work on a documentary about Delbridge titled, Comeback Evolution, which aims to illuminate “a gifted artist and his relationship to the world” and “how in grappling with schizophrenia, he himself became his great life work.”
“There is so much that I hope for when I think of people encountering Walter and his work.” Tucker says. “Everybody needs to meet Walter. He is a national treasure.”
According to Tucker, Delbridge’s first reading at Jazz Fest was also an exceptional occasion to witness, as he hadn’t been out at night amongst the Akron community since he was 23 years old; he is now 73.
“The crowd was warm and welcoming, the room full of energy, the band kind and gracious,” says Tucker. “It was because of Theron Brown's willingness to engage with a member of the community who was not your average festival attendee or jazz musician, but rather someone whose voice we'd miss if we didn't listen for it.”
Furthermore, Tucker said Delbridge had a great presence and strength of spirit as he rose to the momentous occasion, later declaring the opportunity “the best day of his life.”
“Mostly, I hope that anyone who encounters Walter’s work will get to do so by hearing his voice and in hearing, will be inspired to go on her own artistic journey and ‘steel’ her mind as he has, against anything that would rob her of her joy,” said Tucker.
For more information on Walter’s story, visit comebackevolution.com