Capital Spotlight: “Gerald Winegrad is ‘Searching for the Soul of Annapolis'”

Capital Gazette: April 4, 2019

By: E.B. Ferguson III, Capital Gazette reporter

Former State Sen. Gerald Winegrad grew up around his father’s hotel and bar on West Street on the edge of the old Fourth Ward, the core of the African American community in Annapolis.

And by the time he was old enough to start paying attention to music he was hooked on soul.

For many the music of the time is tied to the memory of social upheaval and the fight against racial segregation, for Winegrad, it was no different.

On Saturday he’ll give an encore presentation of “Searching for the Soul of Annapolis”, which he gave last summer at 49 West, at the Bates Legacy Center, 1101 Smithville Street at 2 p.m.

The talk is about his recollections about race in Annapolis, entwined with the soul music that stirs his memories, good and bad.

In our interview, Winegrad set the historic framework of his subject matter right away.

“The whole state was built on slavery and tobacco. They (earliest colonists) learned early about growing tobacco, and subsequently Maryland became a huge slave state, and Anne Arundel too. The sweat and blood of slaves really built the economy from the ground up.”

Spotlight: What are some of you earliest memories growing up in Annapolis?

Winegrad: “We moved to Annapolis when I was two. My father ran Wally’s Hotel on West Street at the corner of what is now City Gate Lane, next to Asbury United Methodist Church. It was Larkin Street then, named after a black landowner.

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It was mostly black families, but there was Greeks, Blacks, Jews all in the neighborhood. All around us was diversity. It’s just how I grew up.

We would play ball on the empty lot behind our place, now its a city parking lot.

I remember arabbers coming up Larkin Street selling watermelons, ‘Annarunnel’ tomatoes, they sometimes had skinned muskrats hanging on the carts.

All these black kids were my first friends. And it was all nicknames, Plooky, Tankhead, Whitehead. We had a club and it cost a dime to join.

The Browns, some of them founded The Van Dykes (the premier soul band in the area) they lived there too.

We all played ball on that back lot on long, hot summer days.”

Spotlight: And your first music memories?

Winegrad: We would sit out back in the summer and Asbury Church would have its windows open, no air conditioning then and the gospel music came pouring out.

The music was just so compelling. I would sneak into the church, sure I was the only white kid in there. And the choir was rocking, in those white robes, and singing. And I am into it. Then they’d strike up the organ and it was time for the collection. I didn’t have any money. So I ran across to my father’s bar and grabbed a handful of dimes and threw that in the plate.

I don’t know if that was what lit the flame or not.

But by the time I was in junior high I was into soul music. And by high school James Brown was my favorite, still is.

And WANN radio played all soul all the time. Morris Blum owned it and Hoppy Adams was the main deejay.

I listened to WANN along with other stations in Baltimore and D.C. WSID, WEBB

That’s how I got to meet James Brown. Hoppy Adams did a live show from Carr’s Beach on Sundays, ‘Bandstand on the Beach”

All the top black performers came to Carr’s Beach, Otis Redding, Etta James, Dinah Washington, Ella Fitzgerald, Fats Domino. It was the only beach available to blacks because of segregation, that and Sparrows Beach next door. People would come from Virginia, New Jersey, Pennsylvania.

My dad and Hoppy were friends. I was 16 and James Brown was the favorite. When James Brown was coming he made arrangements. We got to meet him in between shows. Hoppy took us back and there he was. James Brown. His hair was up in curlers and he was sipping champagne.

There’s a picture of Hoppy warming up the crowd for the show and I am in it. The only white kid on the left side of the picture.”

Image: Gerald Winegrad in 1965 at his college dorm room at then Western Maryland College in front of Carr’s Beach James Brown poster. This appeared with him in his college yearbook as he booked many bands appearing on and off campus for fraternity and open parties.

Winegrad took to booking bands for dances and parties late in high school, while attending Western Maryland College in Westminster, and elsewhere. He booked the Van Dykes, The Avalons, Little Royal and the Swingmasters and more.

Spotlight: You grew up in a segregated city and must have been aware of those barriers. What are those memories?

Winegrad: Early on, at school, there were blacks in my class (at St. Mary’s) before public schools desegregated. I never saw or heard discrimination but I know there had to have been. I did not see it because there would have been trouble. These were my friends.

I grew up with these people, I grew up with the music. I grew up with them playing sports. I grew up in an area that was still segregated but I was oblivious to it until I got a little older.

I remember there was a gas station at City Dock it used to have white only bathrooms.

I must have been 13 or 14, Antoinette’s Diner in the first block of West Street.. I remember the guy who ran the place in my father’s bar bragging how blacks came into his place and he would not serve them. He told them he was not open, though he clearly was. He told then if they didn’t leave he would hose them down. And he turned the hose on them.

[Contemporary news reports and historical accounts say the hosing incident was up the street at Henkel’s Restaurant and that the owner of Antoinette’s pulled a knife on African Americans seeking service. Winegrad said that Antoinette’s was his memory but did not dispute the other record]

When I heard and saw that it hit me big time in my head. It was the first time I realized what was going on, what the attitudes really were. It hit me hard…I did not have the gumption talk to my father about it, I kept it inside of me.

How can you be aware of it when you are playing with Tankhead, and Whitehead, and all these kids. My friends and my earliest friends I remember having.

I was unaware until the Antionette’s incident and it hit me like a two-by-four.

Some of the things I saw were not good and I am still upset about them until this day.”

Spotlight: What about the current atmosphere on racial matters?

Winegrad: Today. With all that’s going on in the world today. With the skinheads, neo-Nazis, white supremacy and all the extremism over immigration – it is the most dangerous time in America since I was born. This is the most dangerous time.

And we must speak out when we witness anything. We must.”

Winegrad’s presentation, “Searching for the SOUL of Annapolis” is at the Bates Legacy Center, 1101 Smithville St., at 2 p.m., Saturday. Free.

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