boston.com News your connection to The Boston Globe

James H. Bey, 91, jazz percussionist

NEW YORK -- James Hawthorne Bey, a jazz percussionist and African folklorist who recorded with such artists as Art Blakey and Herbie Mann, died Thursday at his home in Brooklyn. He was 91.

The cause was stomach cancer, said Garland Roberts, a cousin.

Known to his students and on recordings as Chief Bey, he was born James Hawthorne in Yamassee, S.C., in 1913. As a boy, he moved with his family to the Brownsville section of Brooklyn and then to Harlem, where he began playing drums and singing in church choirs.

He served in the Navy during the invasion of Pearl Harbor and later attended cosmetology school. He took the name Bey after joining the Moorish Science Temple, a Muslim sect.

In the 1950s, he performed in an international tour of "Porgy and Bess" starring Leontyne Price and Cab Calloway. He also began a busy recording career, appearing on Mann's "At the Village Gate" (1961) and Blakey's "The African Beat" (1962), as well as on albums by Harry Belafonte, Pharoah Saunders, and others.

He made several theatrical and film appearances, performing as an African drummer in the Broadway musical "Raisin," which ran from 1973 to 1975, and as a Brooklyn resident in the 1995 films "Smoke" and "Blue in the Face."

In his 80s, Mr. Bey taught the shekere, a West African percussion instrument, at the Griot Institute at Intermediate School 246 in Brooklyn. "These are my babies," he said of the instrument in an interview with The Associated Press in 1998. "I love them."

Mr. Bey continued drumming in public as recently as October, when he performed at a drum symposium at New York University.

A funeral service will be held today in Friendship Baptist Church in Brooklyn, Roberts said.

SEARCH THE ARCHIVES
 
Today (free)
Yesterday (free)
Past 30 days
Last 12 months
 Advanced search / Historic Archives