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Interview with Grenoldo Frazier, March 6, 2006 | UNCW Archives and Special Collections Online Database

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Title:
Interview with Grenoldo Frazier, March 6, 2006
Date:
March 6, 2006
Description:
A Wilmington native, Grenoldo Frazier was born on April 2, 1953, at Community Hospital. From a young age, he became interested in music--even as young as seven months. He would touch the slats on a chair, just like one would press the key of a piano, and hum to himself. Frazier attended New Hanover High School and UNC Chapel Hill, eventually leaving to audition for theater in Washington and New York. After moving to New York, he performed in many productions, both off and on Broadway, for instance Hello Dolly. Here, he talks extensively about composing music for Mama, I Want to Sing and directing such shows as Don't Bother Me, I Can't Cope. Frazier has since returned to the Wilmington area and continues to sing and play piano.
Phys. Desc:

Interviewee: Frazier, Grenoldo Interviewer: Hayes, Sherman Date of Interview: 3/6/2006 Series: Southeast North Carolina Length 92 minutes

Hayes: Greetings. Today Sherman Hayes, university librarian at UNCW Randall Library, is interviewing Grenoldo Frazier. Did I say that right?

Grenoldo Frazier: Grenoldo. That was close though, very close, uh..—

Hayes: Grenoldo Frazier, who is a noted musician in Wilmington and the area and Grenoldo why don't you tell us when you were born and where?

Grenoldo Frazier: I was born April 2nd, 1953, in Wilmington, North Carolina at Community Hospital.

Hayes: I was struggling with that name. Is there some story behind that name—

Grenoldo Frazier: Well, the story is my godmother, she was Mrs. Sadie Merrick, and she and her husband, Winslow Merrick, they were property owners in this town for many years, African Americans, and my mother was their housekeeper and their nurse for many years and she decided she would help my mother pick the name. And so they looked through a Reader's Digest and these books and they found Grenoldo so the name became Grenoldo Ricardo Grant Frazier.

Hayes: You say it almost with a Spanish flair. Is that what—

Grenoldo Frazier: Well, hey, hey, you know, it could be that or it could be something else, you know.

Hayes: Just call me in time for supper—

Grenoldo Frazier: That's all, in time, you know, I just figured I'd throw the accent in just for a little personality.

Hayes: This has been your professional name your whole career?

Grenoldo Frazier: Yeah, this is it. This is what I was born with, Grenoldo, yeah.

Hayes: Some people—

Grenoldo Frazier: Change their-- Nah- Nah. I always wanted to be John William Smith. I always thought that was a great name- I always thought that was a great name and in school, you know, you'd say Grenoldo on the first day and everybody laughs, you know, for about five minutes 'til the teacher calms them down especially in 19- the '50s in North Carolina, you know.

Hayes: Before we get on with the success that you've had as a musician and perhaps other things that I don't know about, give us a little sense of what it was like growing up in Wilmington. Did you stay through high school?

Grenoldo Frazier: I stayed through high school here. Growing up in Wilmington I was very lucky to have a lot of people around me. I called them the uhm.. Reconstructionists, those people who were born during Reconstruction and most of them- most of them, my mother's friends or I should say my grandmother who adopted me, Sally Frazier, and she adopted me when I was like 2 years old and I was her daughter's child and uh.. these people were much older than she was, most of 'em born in 1875 or so. So I got the last of that group, what they talk about the ancestors, so I got to meet the ancestors, my godparents, the Merricks, uhm.. there were the Hayneses, Viola Haynes and her uh.. husband, James Haynes, and he was born in 1875, she was born in 1880, something like that. And so I was generally the last little child that most of these people came across and so they gave me everything, you name it, the information they gave me, the times they talked about. So I'm almost like a Victorian child living in the t- [laughs] 20th, now 21st century.

Hayes: You're kind of a walking history—

Grenoldo Frazier: A walking history book.

Hayes: Do you feel some obligation to—

Grenoldo Frazier: Yes- Yes, I do- I do. I believe that, you know, they're not here so, you know, as much information as they gave me I try to put out there to people and eh.. it's more I think also a feeling of what that must have been like 'cause they were really strivers and struggling people. Like the Merricks, they were free from the 1750s I think. I don't know their-- He was a uhm.. barber in downtown Wilmington. He was the black barber and that was a profession a lot of blacks were in, you know, coming out of slavery and him- all his clients were white clients, there were no black clients. He was where the Cotton Exchange is right now. The little entrance into the Cotton Exchange, that was his barber shop.

Hayes: What was his full name?

Grenoldo Frazier: Uh.. Winslow Merrick- Winslow Merrick and he was the first person I knew of. He had investments in all of the uh.. major things, General Motors and everything like that because of his clients and he was—

Hayes: They gave him tips—

Grenoldo Frazier: They gave him great tips on stuff like that so he lived very well. In fact, he owned most of the property now around Ogden and before that he owned property at Second and Walnut, all downtown, and those were- And Mrs. Merrick, her uh.. married name was Norwood. Her mother was Fannie Norwood, who the home- the black uh.. nursing home is named for and she owned property- she and her husband owned lots of property downtown.

Hayes: The homestead that you grew up in is your grandmothers? Is that where you stayed—

Grenoldo Frazier: Right. It was on Seventh—

Hayes: Was that downtown or—

Grenoldo Frazier: Yep. 712 Red Cross is where she lived for many years. She passed in January, January 15th, eh.. just this past uh.. January. In fact, I moved back to Wilmington to take care of her so it feels like the job completed, you know.

Hayes: I hope that doesn't mean you'll leave—

Grenoldo Frazier: Uh.. I don't know. We'll see- We'll see if Wilmington can su-, you know, uh.. kinda sustain me but I'm booked through January 1st of uhm.. 0- '07 so I'm here for a while- I'm here for a while.

Hayes: The schools that you would go to then—

Grenoldo Frazier: I went to uhm.. Miss Perkins' kindergarten. Miss Perkins was a very erect, brown-skinned lady who ran a kindergarten at Sixth and Red Cross Street. I stayed at 712 Red Cross so I just had to cross the street. She was- She was truly from the old school because Miss Perkins when- I was 4 I think when I started going there. She had to be in her 80s then and like I said most of the people- the- I got the last of that crowd, you know. They were old people by then. She played-- Every time I listen to myself play piano I think I got a lot of that from her because she had a piano upstairs. The kindergarten was downstairs. It was right at the corner of Sixth and Red Cross and she was- diction was important to her 'cause people say you don't have a North Carolina accent. Well, she taught you how to have various-, you know, how to-, you know, diction and that sort of thing.

Hayes: Do you go into a North Carolina accent?

Grenoldo Frazier: Sometimes.

Hayes: If you need to.

Grenoldo Frazier: If I need to [laughs] and it varies. [laughs] Sometimes it gets real hard. [laughs] If I'm with people I've known for a long time, it strings itself out, and out and out. [laughs]

Hayes: Was there ever a point where in your travels through the musical world having that accent was useful—

Grenoldo Frazier: North Carolina?

Hayes: Yeah.

Grenoldo Frazier: No. [laughs] It never really was useful, you know, it never wa- wasn't never useful ever uhm.. and my m- my- my grandmother, my mother, was k- sometimes they'll say grandmother and sometimes mother, it's like Chinatown.

Hayes: They're the same—

Grenoldo Frazier: Uh huh, they're the same- they're the same with me. Uhm.. I used to listen to her when she had an account at Belks, Belk Berry it used to be called, downtown- when it was downtown and uh.. her speaking voice would change depending on what she was talking about and who she was talking to. When she was doing business it was Mrs. Sally Frazier of 712 Red Cross Street, had to have all of that sound to it, you know, and then otherwise it w- she sounded like grand- gr-- Uh.. What's her name, from Clampett from the Beverly Hillbillies? She was a cross between that and somethin' else. She had a very Southern, very rural sound 'cause she never really got to attend much school. She-- Uh.. I think she went up to the third grade and sh- from Columbus County and because they had to work in the fields, that was their primary thing. They-- You know, they couldn't go to school. Uh.. School—

Hayes: How did she make her living through most of her life—

Grenoldo Frazier: Uhm.. She was a housekeeper for uh.. Dr. Eaton, uh.. for Dr.- Dr. Eaton's father-in-law who was Tom-- [claps hands] Uhm.. What is his name? Tom Burnett- Tom Burnett who was one of the founders of uh.. c- Community Hospital the- that eventually became New Hanover mixed in. Community Hospital was the black hospital and he formed that in like 1928. She was his housekeeper for many years and nurse, uhm.. for uhm.. the Merricks, uh.. for uhm.. Mrs. Taylor, who was the sister of uh.. the architect Taylor, black architect who uh.. designed Tuskegee and some other places.

Hayes: Just a sidebar to this, your grandmother was a housekeeper then for middle and wealthy black citizens.

Grenoldo Frazier: Yes and then—

Hayes: No sense of shouldn't have a housekeeper. If you had enough money, then you needed help. Right?

Grenoldo Frazier: You needed help- You needed help and she was that perfect-- She was more like Hazel, you know. Remember the '50s- 1950s television show Hazel. She was a busybody. [laughs] My mother was a very busy body. She was all up in their business and everything else and they loved her for it because she was very funny. My personality comes from her, it completely comes from her and Mr. Haynes- Mr Haynes who was born in 1875. I was telling you about Vi- uh.. uhm.. Viola Haynes and her husband, yes, who ray-- Eh.. They-- My mother also was a nurse so she traveled sometimes out of town and she took care of the Merrick sister, uh.. Mrs. Dunston, whose husband was one of the early doctors in North Carolina, black doctors. And during the two years she was out of town with them I uh.. stayed with the Hayneses and they were just the- I- as I said early on the tape, they really gave me the best of everything 'cause I was the last little child that they had and Mr. Haynes born in 1875, he was very humorous, dressed pretty much like I dress. I dressed in his honor today, always with a little vest, always with a coat. You know, that was the time, gentlemen- gentlemen wore those coats and very just hilarious. And certain thoughts pop into my mind now and I realize 'cause he would sit me on his knee and tell me the whole world. You could ask him about anything and I was uh.. pretty much like I'm talking now I talked but I was 2 years old, like what is it, why is the sky blue, why is the d- d--

And then at the airport there were uh.. dirigibles uhm.. yeah, that was— It was still anchored here from World War II. Wilmington was always behind the times so we held on to everything. And they would fly over sometimes and I was so afraid. It was like oh, my God, what are those things? And he explained the war.

Hayes: The big balloons—

Grenoldo Frazier: Yeah, the big balloons like the Goodyear Blimp and they were b- here. They traveled over Wilmington. I don't know where they were going or where they were coming from but uhm.. certain thoughts pop into my mind and it's because of him and his humor.

Hayes: Now, the elementary school. No, you didn't—

Grenoldo Frazier: I- I didn't finish.

Hayes: --the story about-- Was she a player—

Grenoldo Frazier: Yes, she was a piano player- she was a piano player too as- uh.. as well as a piano- I mean as a uhm.. teacher and we would go up. She'd have to heat a stove upstairs because upstairs was her living quarters and downstairs was the school, so she'd have to heat the school and it was in the front and she would bang on the piano playing "Ain't She Sweet" and all the songs that I play today that are really the foundation of, you know, my playing.

Hayes: --almost an 1890s—

Grenoldo Frazier: 1890s r- uh.. ragtime, [sings] "Daisy, Daisy, give me your answer true."

Hayes: I don't think people realize at that time the sheet music was so popular. People bought that by the thousands.

Grenoldo Frazier: They really did- They really did. And Mrs. Merrick was also a pianist. She used to play Claire de Lune 'til you were sick of it. Yeah, but she had one of those old grand pianos that had the claws and the eagles on them, great furniture, really great, and she used to play a lot of piano and sh-. In fact, Mrs. Merrick is the r- is one of the reasons that I play as well as I do or eh.. as sometimes I do and sometimes I don't but uh.. She took me to a piano teacher and I had to write down, uh.. Miss Carrie Williams who lived on Campbell Street. And Miss Carrie Williams stayed in the 800 block of Campbell and she was- a big Victorian house. She was my idea later on of those ladies, the very Tennessee Williams sort of characters dressed a lot in white, lots of flowing things, very Southern accent, always called you Mister, "oh, Mr. Frazier, you're just so wonderful, you're just so magnificent on the piano," even when you were horrible, you know, as a kid, 'cause, you know, playing, you know, [sings]--

Hayes: These were formal lessons.

Grenoldo Frazier: These were formal lessons.

Hayes: Your mother/grandmother paid for it?

Grenoldo Frazier: Yeah- Yeah. Miss Merrick paid for the first lessons and then my mother paid for and eventually got me an old player piano that they'd take- taken the pedals and player out of and I kept that for many years but s- Miss uh..—

Hayes: Was your piano teacher black—

Grenoldo Frazier: Yes, she was, yeah.

Hayes: I always have the context down. She had a large number of students—

Grenoldo Frazier: She had a large number of students.

Hayes: A middle-class setting.

Grenoldo Frazier: Yeah, a middle-class setting.

Hayes: Students taking piano.

Grenoldo Frazier: Taking piano because that was what people did, you know, as I was- I got the last of that. Everybody had a piano in the parlor and that sort of thing. That was a sign of culture.

Hayes: When I was coming up in some of that same time period the guitar was comin' in, the accordion. Were you seeing that too or was it still mainly piano?

Grenoldo Frazier: Mainly piano in the neighborhood.

Hayes: There was such a great tradition of singing.

Grenoldo Frazier: Yes, there was. There was a lot of great tradition of singing, especially in the churches and uhm.. uh.. what do you- eh.. formal activities or, you know, uh.. f- I won't say soirees but salons- salons, recitals, that sort of thing, because people would open their homes and you'd go on a Sunday afternoon or a Saturday afternoon and somebody would be in town singing, you know, the ladies with the corsage and the- in their hats and the long eh..—

Hayes: First they went to church. Right?

Grenoldo Frazier: Yeah. Uh.. A lot of times they went to church.

Hayes: For a long time—

Grenoldo Frazier: For a long time. Now our church was pretty good. Our church was a very-- You know, you have the high churches and you have the- the other churches.

Hayes: Tell us about your church.

Grenoldo Frazier: Now uh.. har- uh.. our church was Shiloh Missionary Baptist Church. They became Missionary lear- years later, but they were a branch of First Baptist Church, uh.. the black f- eh.. First Baptist Church which was the first Baptist churches in town and, you know, the splinter congregation, they formed. I think they just celebrated their 175th anniversary and they're at Walnut and McCrae Streets.

Hayes: Still active then.

Grenoldo Frazier: Still active, still there, and they had a very formal service. My mother sang on the gospel choir and their gospel was not the gospel that you'd think of today. It was very pat your foot. No clapping, no amen kind of gospel at all. It was just very regimented 'cause they didn't want to be known as a holiness church 'cause the holiness people and the Pentecostals, they were considered low class. [laughs] They were-- They really were considered low class, but in my studies in all of my things that I've done, like at the university I just finished doing a uhm.. piece about gospel, because of the Pentecostal we have rock and roll and that beat and rhythm and blues and all of that. Without them we wouldn't have had that 'cause the other churches didn't hold on to that.

Hayes: I think there's no question that within any church hierarchy there's money flow to different levels so people congregated together of similar life or—

Grenoldo Frazier: Right, similar life or people who were striving to move up.

Hayes: If yours was one of the upper middle class, was there one even—

Grenoldo Frazier: First Baptist eh..—

Hayes: --higher?

Grenoldo Frazier: First Baptist was uh.. and also St. Stephen's. St. Stephen's is still considered the- the highest [laughs] of the churches now, yeah, very v- a more formal sort of--. Yeah, more, because and they- they had more money so they were-, you know, they were doing their thing.

Hayes: As you started playing, how soon did you start and—

Grenoldo Frazier: Well, my mother says that I- when I started to walk. I think-- I walked at 7 months I think 'cause I just read- I was going through her things and it says he walked at 7 months. Uh.. She said I used to pull myself up, and there were all wooden chairs that my great-grandmother owned that had little slats on them and on those chairs. I would pull myself up on the chair and then press each slat and hum while I pressed those slats. And so Miss Merrick said that she always told me that I was reincarnated because of the things that I did. You know, I wouldn't have known how to do that normally. There would have been no reason to do that. And so I would hum and press those things and I remember getting the little toy pianos you get from the store and because I couldn't play really I would take them and turn them around, turn those keys and put the hammers out and press the hammers and play my tunes on it 'cause I couldn't take the idea of not being able to play my tune regularly. [laughs] Yeah, so—

Hayes: I'm personally married to a musician. She's a church musician in the Presbyterian church and has formal training, much more classical than you are. We're gonna talk about that later. But she remembers her sister's play piano and she wanted to play piano, and at 3 years old she was playin' piano and at 7 she was out on the road and I think some people, music, art, sometimes they have it, right—

Grenoldo Frazier: Yeah, I think so- I think so.

Hayes: Did you fight against that or—

Grenoldo Frazier: No, never did. Well, my mother was a very- she held me so close to her because she had lost a child earlier uh.. and- uhm.. stillborn and so she always wanted uh.. uh.. a male because her- her daughter, my mother, was a- a female of course [laughs] and so uh.. I couldn't really go a lot of places or go out and play with certain kids 'cause they were bad kids according to her or she wanted to have--. So I could only read. I could go to the library. There was a colored library on Sixth and Red Cross Street and the librarian was Mrs. Shober, S-h-o-b-e-r, and her father was the first documented black uh.. doctor in North Carolina, I mean who had gone to medical school, and uhm.. She stayed right across the street and she was the librarian and so I- I read a lot and I played piano. So those were my two joys in life.

Hayes: In elementary school—

Grenoldo Frazier: Elementary school was uh.. Peabody. It's still there.

Hayes: Did they encourage music? Did they have—

Grenoldo Frazier: Oh, yeah. There was music. The Sajwar sisters were around there, Felice Sajwar, and uhm.. one of Mrs. Sajwar's sisters married Manley, who was the editor of the paper from the 1898 riots, that was one of her sisters 'cause she had a lot of sisters. So she taught music in the schools uhm.. and—

Hayes: The church reinforced it.

Grenoldo Frazier: And the church reinforced it.

Hayes: Do you have memories of [if] you were the feature performer at one of these recitals—

Grenoldo Frazier: Uhm.. Not really. No, I wasn't that-, you know, that guy. Uh.. Mu-- Uh.. Music for me was an escape because I knew there was something bigger than what I knew around me. And through my reading and through Miss Merrick and through the Hayneses they told me, they instructed there's a world out there, do not think that Wilmington, North Carolina, or the United States are the only places, there are worlds out there. So music was my escape through that and reading. So I- I did play in- uhm.. at s- church in the uhm.. Sunday school but I- I just plunked. They were kind to me, they were very kind. Miss Carrie Artist, who's still living today, she's in a nursing home, the Fannie Norwood Nursing Home, she's the first one who said, "Oh, let him play- let him play." So I would just kind of plunk through whatever it was.

Hayes: Isn't that interesting though how adults sometimes don't realize that just an act of kindness or acceptance can change the way—

Grenoldo Frazier: Can really—

Hayes: What if they would have said—

Grenoldo Frazier: No! [laughs] Get off that piano, you're horrible. Probably scarred me for life. I don't know what I would have done. I probably gone into journalism, journal- journalism 'cause that was- that was my major when I left college and I worked for the Star News for two summers as an intern, yeah.

Hayes: So, middle school was—

Grenoldo Frazier: Middle school was the Dudley School on Sixth Street that just got torn down, unfortunately. I don't know how they allowed that to be torn down. That was a historic school 'cause that had originally been the first Hemingway School, yeah, Sixth and Harnett, somethin' like that, eh..—

Hayes: Did you sing in chorus—

Grenoldo Frazier: Yes. The-- Everyone had to sing. Yeah- Yeah. In-- Uh.. In grade school everyone- there was no separate chorus and in uh.. middle school there was no separate chorus at all. Everyone had to sing. Each class had to put on something. You go in and you rehearse and you do your thing and then you put everybody together and then you'd have separate things. And then there was also shows. I remember doing in middle school in Dudley- which was about f- fifth grade I would think, uh.. because Peabody went to fourth and then you picked up fifth, sixth, and seventh at uh.. Dudley, doing uhm.. uh.. uh.. one of- one of the English- the English guys with the patter songs, uh.. Sullivan, the- Gilbert and Sullivan. I remember doing Gilbert and Sullivan because I d- I- I hadn't memorized whatever I was supposed to memorize and I had kind of crammed for it at the last minute and surprisingly I remembered it, and I remember my first show-business [laughs] experience. They hadn't told us we had to go around to come around to do whatever the second section was and so we got to that part and nobody knew what to do and I don't know, maybe this is again something uh.. instinctually, I said, "Hey, we got to go around the other side, we got to come in that stage left side," and so I-, you know, we did it and I remember that. I don't remember-- I- I think it was uhm.. The Mikado for some reason 'cause I remember that [sings] three little maids singing-- So somethin' about that I remember. Yeah.

Hayes: What would you say was, at this time you were starting in middle school and high school to be influenced by popular music. What was, what do you look back and feel—

Grenoldo Frazier: [laughs] The- The pro-- The problem with me was- and I uh.. then-- Uh.. There is a fellow in town now who used to own Channel 3. I can't think of his name right now but he always tells the story about me that I came down to play for a talent contest when I was maybe about 11 or 12, something like that, and he said he told me uh.. that no rock and roll and I said, "I don't know any rock and roll." [laughs] I didn't know anything. We didn't have-- Our radio in our house would- only on Sunday morning would it come on to listen to the obituaries and tha- and that music that played Sunday morning before church. Otherwise I didn't hear anything popular at all, didn't have—

Hayes: You were playing then those 1890s—

Grenoldo Frazier: Playing all of that old sheet music, all of that stuff, all of that kind of music. There was nothing-- In fact, I did a show uhm.. about 15 years ago and they said, "Do you know that James Brown song?" and I was like, "N- no, I don't know that James Brown song," and I had- and then I- I realized I had to really just educate myself on all the music and stuff. It wasn't until high school, you know, that I started listening to I think Supremes, James Brown, a few things like that, but I was playing catch up. And then you had WMFD, which played more classical kind of easy listening, and WGNI and they played a combination of everything. Those are the two radio stations I remember. So you only got bits and pieces of music then.

Hayes: There were some great-- White piano was a big deal then, Ferrante and Teicher and—

Grenoldo Frazier: Yeah, yep, I had- uh.. I had their--

Hayes: Roger Williams.

Grenoldo Frazier: I had those, yes. I had all those albums.

Hayes: Because piano, that kind of—

Grenoldo Frazier: Yeah- Yeah, that was. That was- That was- That was- That was the major thing but I didn't have a record player, didn't have any of that. That only came later in line- high school and by then the music had changed. We had the Beatles and we had, you know—

Hayes: High school was Williston High School? Was that—

Grenoldo Frazier: No. I-- After Dudley, fifth, six, seventh I think, or it might have been fifth and sixth, then I went to Virgo the first year that Virgo opened and uhm.. It's great to be in a new school uhm.. and then I got into band then and Mr. Green was the band teacher. He's still living now. Most of these people uh.. are still around, which is great because they'll come and see me and you have a flashback to oh, my God. I played the French horn in the band and uh.. it was great. I-- Uh.. I loved the environment, you know, and I- and I was one of those kind of people that I liked studying, I liked learning, I enjoyed all of that and- uh.. and there was nothing in it that ever turned me off about it, but I was glad to get out of the school when I did. [laughs] I was just like oh, I'm through with this. And then from there I went to Gregory for one year. I'm not sure why I went to Gregory for that one year, the ninth grade, and there- there was a music pro-- Eh.. All the schools didn't have music programs. There was lots of music everywhere and uh..—

Hayes: It was a different time—

Grenoldo Frazier: It was a very different time. I used to go-- My entertainment, if I didn't go to the Ritz Theater on Saturday to see movies or to go to the Bailey and you had to sit upstairs in the Bailey and I wasn't a fan of that separate- but whatever- of going that way. I would go to Williston to hear their musical uhm.. programs and uh.. the band instructor, Mr. Floyd, was just excellent and Mrs. Odell was the choral director over there. She's still living too. And the- just the variety of music and William Grant Still and black composers that I hadn't- I- uh.. I had heard about through Miss Merrick and other teachers 'cause they taught us black history and that was just part of history then. They gave you a great, you know, information eh.. and then from—

Hayes: Tenth, 11th and 12th.

Grenoldo Frazier: Went to New Hanover because Williston was closing. Williston w—

Hayes: You were right at that—

Grenoldo Frazier: I was right at that-- I was- I was the- the prize baby- baby boomer, you know, so everything everybody was experiencing, the great change, I was right there in the middle of it. You know, at-- We were one of the first classes to move there. You could- You could make the choice. You could go to Williston for 10th and 11th and then Williston would close and I didn't see any sense of going there and then not being able to graduate from that school.

Hayes: You were from the last two years—

Grenoldo Frazier: Yeah, the last two years. So I went to New Hanover.

Hayes: How many blacks were in that class—

Grenoldo Frazier: I would say-- That was when New Hanover had like- 'cause Hog- uh.. Hoggard had- hadn't even opened yet, uh.. no, it hadn't opened yet. So you're talkin' about 2,500, 3,000 people going there then and could have been 250 the first year of blacks, then after that maybe it shot up to 700, somethin' like that.

Hayes: You were kind of a path breaker. I don't know if you didn't think of it that way as a—

Grenoldo Frazier: No, I just thought this was life. [laughs] I thought this was what life was, yeah.

Hayes: You didn't sign up to be the path breaker—

Grenoldo Frazier: No, this was just—

Hayes: You just were—

Grenoldo Frazier: Yeah, just were, and it didn't feel- it didn't feel-- I got along with everybody. I kinda-- You know, I understood the whole thing even though, you know, racism, it was a big part of Wilmington during those times. In fact, I remember I was traveling with my mother 'cause her husband worked for the- the coastline and he died- he died in December of '52 and I was born in uh.. April of '53. And I remember we changed trains in Rocky Mount and it was late at night or night time and I remember seeing a car and there was no black people in it and you could look in the car and I said well, why is that car- what- uh.. what is that? You know, and that time it was oh, shut up, eh.. eh.. eh.. eh.., you know, not that way but, you know, it was that meaning that, you know—

Hayes: Don't push it.

Grenoldo Frazier: Don't push it but eh.. goin' to New Hanover I—

Hayes: No problems?

Grenoldo Frazier: No, no problems. The last year was I think when we had riots in town. That was when the- the riot- the Wilmington 10-- No, it was before the Wilmington 10. That was like '70 was the year I graduated from there. That le- uh.. last year I remember being out of class a lot that year, uh.. completely a lot, and so there were a few—

Hayes: Musically then in high school what were you participating—

Grenoldo Frazier: In the chorus, Jane Price's chorus. She's still around, wonderful choral teacher, just unbelievable.

Hayes: Were you a bass or a tenor—

Grenoldo Frazier: Tenor, yeah, second tenor.

Hayes: Still do it?

Grenoldo Frazier: I have moments- [laughs] I have moments. [laughs] definitely Yeah, well, yeah- yeah but definitely I like- I like- uh.. depending on what the song is. If it's a sweet song I'll go up in the tenor, you know, range for it but it was great there and she let me play piano. I remember playing uhm.. "Wendy," [sings], "Who's lookin' out from the under the stairway, d- d- d- d- Wendy," uh huh. Yeah- Yeah.

Hayes: How big was the chorus—

Grenoldo Frazier: Oh, the chorus was- I would say it had to be 75 people, maybe more, and in fact one of the guys who was in the chorus now teaches uh.. music and teaches choral at uh.. uh.. New Hanover now. Yeah. So I went over there to do a demonstration and I said, "Oh my God, we're having flashbacks," and we just laughed our way through the entire time. The students didn't know what we were laughing at but it was just the fact that here he was back in the classroom and here I was playing piano one more time. Yeah.

Hayes: So, you're finishing high school—

Grenoldo Frazier: Finishing high school, working at the Star News during the summer. Uhm.. I got a scholarship to uhm.. Chapel Hill. I checked out a few schools. I was gonna go to Davidson but uh.. Davidson was like out in the middle of nowhere then. You know, I wanted a big school, I wanted to feel urb- urban, urbane, [laughs] uh.. something like that. So uh.. I went to Chapel Hill, uhm.. stayed in Chapel Hill for a year and in the middle of that year they're having auditions for Hair in Washington, the show- Broadway show Hair. So I went up to Washington and auditioned for Hair. My mother told me I could not do that though 'cause, you know, the- that was uh.. a scandal, that show was a scandal, nudity, you know.

Hayes: And long hair.

Grenoldo Frazier: And long hair.

Hayes: Did you have long hair at that time?

Grenoldo Frazier: Uhm.. Not until I got out of the house. My mother was conservative, she was very conservative. You couldn't have-- She'd say oh, no, those big Afros, oh, no, and that was not the look at all. I was just-- People used to call me Little Preacher 'cause I always was dressed like very down and very, you know, glasses, the whole deal, you know, very nerd as- like I would assume.

Hayes: So, what motivated you? You were back into thinking about music? You were taking you said journalism—

Grenoldo Frazier: Taking journalism- journalism in d- uh.. North Carolina. Well, this audition for Hair kind of- and I got into it and I said uh oh, and it was easy because it was a huge audition, got into the show and said uh oh, this is my profession, I know what I want to do, if uh.. it's that easy. So I dropped out of Carolina which was a riot at home. You don't drop out of college because education's the major thing in the community especially-- That crowd was definitely education oriented. And so how are you gonna n- you're never gonna make any money. I wa-- She was pretty right, you know. It's been-- Uh.. It's been a uphill fight along the way but I've enjoyed it and I think that's the thing that she saw, that it was the one thing that I really enjoyed.

Hayes: So, this was a national touring company or—

Grenoldo Frazier: No, it was in Washington playing at the National Theater. Yeah, it played the National Theater for years up there. So I came back home after that, spent one of those—

Hayes: Tell me about that experience. I mean that's—

Grenoldo Frazier: Oh, v- uh.. eh.. for Hair? Oh, well, you know—

Hayes: Where did you work for, the piano part or—

Grenoldo Frazier: No, for singing, acting. It's-- Uh.. Oh, I- I left out a little section up in there. I- I started to get out of- because I told you I could not go anywhere, could not do anything, library, play piano. High school, I was feeling my oats. It was like- uh.., you know, it was breakout time then and the- Jane Price was doing a show at Thalian Hall and she said anybody- need volunteers, you know, to come down to do the show, there's no money, whether you're experienced and stuff, and I was like- I was there. It was like okay, gave me a chance to get out. Theater, rehearsals would last 'til 11, 12 o'clock at night, it was perfect, great excuse to get out of the house. And my mother said okay, it sounds, you know,- 'cause Thalian Hall—

Hayes: Thalian Hall—

Grenoldo Frazier: Uh huh, that was the big deal around there then.

Hayes: It still is—

Grenoldo Frazier: Yeah, and they were opening their doors, you know, to everybody 'cause the times have changed and I met some good friends down there, some friends I still have today, down at Thalian Hall and uh.. met uh.. Tony Rivenbark and uhm.. Sam Garner and uh.. uh.. Doug Swink- Doug Swink, who was just- he was absolutely- he and his wife Kay, they were just absolutely the best people ever in the world, taught me so much about theater, so much about art, and uh.. I ended up doing shows at the- the first shows they had at the uh.. SRO Theater right in this building over here, that Doug Swink uh.. did and so from—

Hayes: What was that show that you went to do? Was that—

Grenoldo Frazier: Celebration was the name of the show out here uh.. and—

Hayes: How about the Thalian? Do you remember—

Grenoldo Frazier: Thalian was Bells are Ringing. [laughs] That kinda brings up another thing, doesn't it? It's like okay, I'm having a flashback. [laughs] Anybody who ever listens to any of these uh.. soundtracks of old musicals, that's truly uh.. an old one and uhm.. I—

Hayes: That was more song- Did you dance too? Did you have to pick it up and do dancing at all—

Grenoldo Frazier: Yeah, but, you know, dance wasn't a primary thing. You know, you could get by with just kind of imitating a lot. And we do- uh.. did Anything Goes- Anything Goes which is- very much got me into Cole Porter, I understood who Cole Porter was. Uhm.. Man of La Mancha out here, uhm.. the- their summer theater out here, and from that when I went off to college and then the audition for Hair. So, you know, that's- this was like- uh.. like buildup to that.

Hayes: It was an extension of that.

Grenoldo Frazier: Yeah, it was an extension to that.

Hayes: How long was the Hair experience—

Grenoldo Frazier: The Hair-- I never got to do Hair. My mother said I couldn't do it because of the nudity. I got in, yeah- yeah. Eh.. "You're not gonna do that show, why would you do that show?" You know, it was just like, "No, it's not something you want to do." [laughs] So okay, maybe—

Hayes: Did you go back to Chapel Hill?

Grenoldo Frazier: No, I w-- Uh.. What I did, I stayed in Wilmington for the summer, worked at Winn Dixie uh.. for the summer, made some money and decided I was goin' to New York and so I went to New York and stayed with my birth mother, Frances Frazier, and uh.. stayed with her. I think the f- second week I got to New York I got a show with a group called uh.. Voices Incorporated. That was the times when you did- when the black touring shows were around, when you did the black experience. We were coming out of the '60s. It was like '71, '72, somethin' like that. So a lot of those shows were around then.

Hayes: You got it. You must have been good.

Grenoldo Frazier: I got in there.

Hayes: That you still are.

Grenoldo Frazier: I- I got in. I was the piano player for the show so I became the piano player and you acted and you danced and—

Hayes: Let's talk a little bit about your piano playing in the sense that you could read music, right, you were trained—

Grenoldo Frazier: Yeah- Yeah, had to.

Hayes: But much of this also was improvisational or—

Grenoldo Frazier: Yes. Yeah- Yeah.

Hayes: Were you just makin' it up as you went along?

Grenoldo Frazier: Making it up as you go. [laughs] I remember I was writing songs in high school, I was writing 'cause that was the time of- when people were doing that, all the great recording people, they were just kinda making it up as they went along.

Hayes: Well, I think one shift that I was reading about the other day and listening to was the fact that you could be a great song performer for Cole Porter's music or so forth and then in that time period everybody was writin' their own thing so you now were performing your music.

Grenoldo Frazier: Your music, yeah.

Hayes: Have you done your own music?

Grenoldo Frazier: Yes, I have. I've done my own stuff. Eh.. Uh.. Did-- Uh.. Jumping ahead, I was composer of a show called Mama, I Want to Sing, which is the longest-running gospel musical in New York, uh.. composer of Moms, which is about Moms Mabley, I was the composer of that show. I've done about seven or eight shows now and I've got two more, one that's gonna be done in Chicago. It was done in St. Louis two years ago, called Home and it was written originally as a play by Sam Art Williams of Burgaw and we've known each other for uh.. 30 years. We met in New York and we didn't know we were both from North Carolina until years later.

Hayes: Let's talk about Sam because I know he is out there and where did you intersect there--

Grenoldo Frazier: We were doing a show- We were doing a show with Epaka- S. Epatha Merkerson who's uh.. the detective on "Law and Order", the black lady on "Law and Order," and we were all in the back line of a chorus of people looking at each other like what the hell is going on here 'cause we weren't dancers per se but you know you have to eh.. do that, that's all part of the gig, and the show I think was Bird Land, the story of Bird Land and we were trying to hoof it like- [laughs] and we bo- we- the three of us became friends then. We were like oh, buddy, this is not—

Hayes: Where was she from? Was she a North Carolinian?

Grenoldo Frazier: No, she's from Detroit- she's from Detroit.

Hayes: Sam was just up the road?

Grenoldo Frazier: Sam was just up in Burgaw but we didn't-, you know, didn't know anything and really didn't really talk about that too much.

Hayes: Is he the same generation or—

Grenoldo Frazier: S-- He's a little bit older than I am, yeah.

Hayes: So you then became what, New York friends, huh?

Grenoldo Frazier: Yeah, New York friends and m- and I had friends who stayed in the same building he stayed in and I knew his girlfriend, I know all these people, and so we were out just enjoying ourselves. We were young people in New York City in the '70s. You know, there was no better place to be at that time.

Hayes: But you were working and I think that's—

Grenoldo Frazier: Working, yeah.

Hayes: You weren't a struggling musician—

Grenoldo Frazier: No- No- No, we were working. There was lots of work then.

Hayes: Tell me some of the other things you did in that New York time period. What other shows—

Grenoldo Frazier: Uhm.. We did-- And that's why I got my little- I got my little sheet here to remember what it was that I was doing. I did uhm.. a Brick Top show at the Rainbow Room, uh..

Hayes: Did you do the famous Rainbow Room?

Grenoldo Frazier: The f-- Uh.. Yeah, the famous Rainbow Room. There was a singer called Brick Top. She had red hair, a black lady, and she's the one who's credited with teaching the Charleston to the Duke and Duchess of Windsor, so that was her claim to fame and Cole Porter wrote "Miss Otis Regrets" for her. They were great friends and she was from the South.

Hayes: You were her pianist—

Grenoldo Frazier: No, not her pianist, a show about Brick Top. She was still living but she was an old lady by that time but she was still living so a show about Brick Top. I did a Motown review. I worked a lot for Woody King who ran the Henry Street Settlement. He was one of the great black producers who's still around and he gave me lots of chances to act and dance and sing. In fact, the show that I met Sam on, that was a Woody King show, and out of that there was uh.. Denzel Washington, uhm.. Samuel L. Jackson. All these people were coming. They were making their name, you know, during that period of time. So I was the pianist and singer and sometimes actor and sometimes dancer. Uhm.. I did-- Uh.. I directed Don't Bother Me, I Can't Cope in Newark after it had left Broadway and done that production.

Hayes: How did that happen? You just said "I directed it" but that doesn't just happen—

Grenoldo Frazier: Well, eh.. yeah- yeah. Well, I was- I was pretty lucky in a lot of respects because I had d- musical directed a lot of shows prior to that, a lot of off off-Broadway shows or workshops and that sort of stuff, so I was known as the eager beaver for doing that sort of stuff and Don't Bother Me, I Can't Cope was primarily uh.. review- not review, m- mostly musical show. There was not a lot of dialogue in it at all. So I was able to get the job. It was like I know what to do. I'd watched enough people, I knew how to do that and in fact I ended up directing quite a few shows around New York. And then I came back down here, directed something at eh.. Thalian's and uh.. uhm.. Tapestry, it used to be a theater company here. I directed for them and directed a show I wrote called Captain that was done in Charleston and Savannah. So that was all part of the-- You know, it's like you stumble into a job and nobody else really is there to do it and you know how to do one job, so rather than pay two people they can pay a little bit more and get you to do both jobs.

Hayes: Give us a sense of when you were a musical director of an off-Broadway show. What does that mean—

Grenoldo Frazier: What does that mean? What-- Uh.. What- What you have to do, you have to get uhm.. casting, [laughs] go through people that you think will support your ideas, because my ideas I've always based upon all the years that I have uh.. d- been around music and I have definite ideas about what a good sound is like, what- what a good feel is like. You put together your band or your orchestra from people. Sometimes you know them, sometimes the producer knows them.

Hayes: Who do you work for, for the producer?

Grenoldo Frazier: Yeah, you're working for the producer.

Hayes: Who is working for an investor.

Grenoldo Frazier: Yes, and then uh.. d- then during that time, during the '70s, there was a lot of government money for the arts so there was a lot of- you didn't—

Hayes: Grants.

Grenoldo Frazier: Yeah. You didn't have to go out for eh.. investors too much. You could work it through a grant.

Hayes: So the producer handles everything and comes to you as the musical director so you've got to pick the cast--

Grenoldo Frazier: Pick the cast, sing, yeah, and then you have to make sure you agree with the director because what may be great for me the d- the director may not agree with 'cause he's looking—

Hayes: There's a separate director who's directing more of the acting—

Grenoldo Frazier: Right, uh huh, right, uhm.. the acting.

Hayes: Now, is there a choreographer—

Grenoldo Frazier: Yeah, there's a choreographer so you have to work with them. Yeah, it's a team- it's a team effort.

Hayes: Then are you coaching and getting the quality of the singing—

Grenoldo Frazier: Yes-- Yeah. You're doing all of that, getting the quality of the singing, the quality of playing, tying in uhm.. scenes underlying music, that sort of stuff.

Hayes: When you were the musical director were you generally doubling as the pianist too or not—

Grenoldo Frazier: Eh.. Yes, on most of 'em, most- in most of the shows I was.

Hayes: So, you can control in that sense—

Grenoldo Frazier: Yeah- Yeah- Yeah- Yeah. Yeah, and creating and that- that gave me a great sense of how to put together a show so later on how to compose my own stuff and do lyrics and that sort of thing just like the old days, you know. You read about, you know, the Gershwins and those-, you know, the people uh.. that we-- Gershwin was the rehearsal pianist for something and then, you know, he learned by playing other people's music, what worked and what didn't work.

Hayes: As you look back through these many shows so you're talking tons of shows that you—

Grenoldo Frazier: Yeah, tons, yeah.

Hayes: Would the general public know many of them that eventually say made a movie because one of the dilemmas is a show in New York can be great in New York but—

Grenoldo Frazier: No one knows it anywhere else. Yeah, most of 'em, no. Eh.. Most of 'em wouldn't- wouldn't eh.. ever be known, even the ones like I told you that- uh.. that were very popular like Mama, I Want to Sing. Very few people uh.. would know that.

Hayes: Thousands would know it but not—

Grenoldo Frazier: N- Not- Not nationally, no- no.

Hayes: 'Cause if they don't come the show doesn't keep going—

Grenoldo Frazier: Yeah. Yeah, that's true. Eh.. Even though-- Now Mama, I Want to Sing became well known because it was the first, and we either got blamed or were praised because eh.. uh.. before then no one had come up with the concept of running a show. We used to do four shows a day on Saturday, two on Sunday, three on Friday, two on whatever. Uh.. We were a non-union show even though the band was uh.. uh.. union, we were all 802 members, but we used to pack them in. Buses used to come all the time. It was the first sort of popular show that now you have uhm.. the guy with Medea and his movies and that kind of thing. There were no sh—

Hayes: Did you write that particular show, Mama?

Grenoldo Frazier: I wrote the music for that show.

Hayes: The lyrics too?

Grenoldo Frazier: No, I didn't write the lyrics for that l—

Hayes: Explain why you wouldn't also write the words. Who would write the words?

Grenoldo Frazier: Because uh.. the producer was also the director and they came to me with an idea. I had known her eh.. from-- I'd done Hello, Dolly with Pearl Bailey and uhm.. Billy Daniels and it was her farewell production on Broadway. The-- Hello, Dolly had left Broadway and she was gonna take it back to Broadway but she was gonna tour it first, so she produced it herself and got Billy Daniels instead of uhm.. "Hidy Hidy Ho" man because they hadn't gotten along at all. So since she was doing it herself-- And a little sidebar on that is she- at the audition- I went to the audition and she was getting out of a limousine in front of one of the Broadway theaters—

Hayes: She being—

Grenoldo Frazier: Pearl Bailey, uh.. and her driver didn't open the door for her and I just happened to be s- walking down the sidewalk and saw her sitting in there and saw her very-- Uh.. [laughs] She was a very-- She was old-style movie star and performer so she was gonna sit there until he opened the door for her. [laughs] She was not gonna touch the doorknob at all. So I just happened to be and I thought well, you know, Southern thing, you know, you open the door for a lady. So I opened her door and she said, "Oh, you're just a wonderful young man, you must be from the South," because she was from Virginia. And I said, "I am- I am from the South." She said, "I knew it, nobody else would open the door for me [laughs] but somebody from the South." And so she said, "You"- and then she grabbed my arm and walked with me into the theater backstage and she said, "Oh, well, are you auditioning?" And I said, "Yes, I'm auditioning for Barnaby. I had already come to an audition and they told me I was too old at 19 to play this- uh.. this person." She said, "I don't think you're too old at all but, you know, go and audition, maybe they'll see something different." So uh.. she sat out in the audience. That's how they auditioned out in the Broadway theater and uhm.. I- I- they called my name eventually and I walked onstage and she put up her hand very dramatically and said, "He doesn't have to sing, he's wonderful." And she gave me the- the job just based on a simple act of kindness.

Hayes: What was the job—

Grenoldo Frazier: Hello, Dolly, and I was Barnaby who's the younger kid who works in the store. There's Cornelius and there's Barnaby.

Hayes: --singing or—

Grenoldo Frazier: Singing and dancing. I had to dance in that show too and acting.

Hayes: She was the lead in it.

Grenoldo Frazier: She was the lead in Hello, Dolly. Yeah, and she was very, very kind. I thought she was strict then but now looking back I understood what- why she was very strict. Gentlemen h- always had to wear coats to the theater.

Hayes: What a break though.

Grenoldo Frazier: Yeah, it was a great break.

Hayes: You were going anyway to audition.

Grenoldo Frazier: Yeah, I was going anyway to audition, and I had done another Broadway show prior to that called Dr. Jazz with Lola Falana and that show was just a- and Bobby Van and Arthur Miller's sister that I don't remember what her name was but she was well known in her time. And it was just one of those mammoth flops on Broadway. Yeah, it was just-- Oh, it was horrible. [laughs] It was just absolutely horrible.

Hayes: How long did you get paid? Not that long—

Grenoldo Frazier: Not that long. You know, you get uh.. four weeks of rehearsal and then the show ran about two weeks and that was it- and that was it.

Hayes: All that work and—

Grenoldo Frazier: All that work just down, you know, but that's the chance you take.

Hayes: Wow, you were a true Broadway performer.

Grenoldo Frazier: A sh- true Broadway performer for many, many years. Yeah.

Hayes: You then went into the writing of the music.

Grenoldo Frazier: Writing of the music.

Hayes: We're back to the issue of why you wouldn't do the words on that one show.

Grenoldo Frazier: Oh, on that one show, because they came to me with a project they had and it had been done before but it had flopped, you know, a kind of workshop project. And they'd had difficulty with the other composer and the other people and so they already had their lyrics, they knew what they wanted to say, so they said, "Can you do the job?" I knew her from way back when, one of the producers, and so I just did the music and it just really tumbled out of me. It was very simple to me, what- what the music would be. Music generally works that way for me. I get an idea of the project, like Sam's project, what I'll do is I'll do research on whatever it's about and once the research is done there'll be an idea, an inkling of what the tune because some people will tell you like Sam said, now right here I need a something and a something. But on Mama, I Want to Sing they didn't give me any-, you know, no perimeters on what it could be about, you know, uhm.. just go with the words and whatever you feel that's gonna be it. And so we hit gold with that one, we really did.

Hayes: When you compose do you have to do the orchestration too and all the other parts or do you have somebody—

Grenoldo Frazier: Uhm.. Somebody helps you- Somebody helps you with all that kind of stuff.

Hayes: Because, they weren't always just piano--

Grenoldo Frazier: No, they weren't all piano. This was a full orchestra. It was one of the first that we used synthesizers, what- what uh.. the union is fighting against now. We were the first one to really use-- It was all synthesizers. It was-- Eh.. I had-- I played piano and also played some bass in my left hand on a synthesizer and there were two other synthesizer players who had banks of synthesizers all hooked up and a percussionist who played congas and uhm.. uh.. mer- uhm..—

Hayes: Marimba?

Grenoldo Frazier: Yeah, all- all of the other percussionary things and then a drummer, but the sound was huge. It had a very orchestral effect. In fact, Rock and Roll uh.. Confidential called us, said that we were a cross between Earth, Wind and Fire and Van Halen, the sound. Yeah, we were crossing all the- all the genres uhm.. uh.. And the thing about the show is even though it was listed as a gospel show, there were only four church numbers within the show and that was my choice not to make it the typical, you know, sort of sounding-- It had a very rock and roll, rhythm and blues feel to it.

Hayes: What year was that, that you did that?

Grenoldo Frazier: 1980.

Hayes: Would you consider that one of your most successful ventures—

Grenoldo Frazier: Yes- Yes, it was.

Hayes: Tell us again the name of it. It was—

Grenoldo Frazier: Mama, I Want to Sing.

Hayes: Is it still out there? Can somebody do it? Can anybody find it? It sounds like it ought to still have a life.

Grenoldo Frazier: Eh.. N-- Well, eh.. eh.. yes and no. [laughs] Uh.. Times- Times pass certain pieces by, so time has kinda passed that piece by now. It was- It was very popular in its day. It ran for so many years but after a while people are like eh.. eh.. yeah, you move on.

Hayes: So where was the actual theater that it was performed—

Grenoldo Frazier: The theater, it played uh.. a theater right next to- on Fifth Avenue and 100th- 100 and Third Street. There was-- We were looking for a space and no one would give us a space and we wanted to run it for a long period of time and so that space was open and I think it's called uh.. uhm.. Hispanic Museum now and that space was open. It was like a 1,000-seat theater and so—

Hayes: How many years did it go?

Grenoldo Frazier: Oh, it ran for-- With me it ran for about four years and then I dropped out. We had financial problems with the producer. I didn't agree with a lot of his actions, so I withdrew my music from the show and another composer came in and it played another six years.

Hayes: You had four years. Did you go to every performance and every—

Grenoldo Frazier: Not-- Well, when we first started we did and we did two road shows, one in uhm.. Detroit and one in Philadelphia and I went off for both of those and it still ran in New York.

Hayes: Were you able to do a record out of it ever or not?

Grenoldo Frazier: We did one recording of the- the theme song and that was about it. We didn't do any- any more of that.

Hayes: That's too bad—

Grenoldo Frazier: Yeah. It was a- It was a sticky situation because what had happened is because I knew her from so long, we started out with a handshake agreement. Wrong, wrong, wrong, never do a handshake agreement ever, you know. And so as we started to build- because we were just doing it to see if it would work and it took off like-, you know, took really off, and so we kept that for so long but then after a while I realized I'm only getting 1 percent and it should be 4 to 5 percent of that. I was being paid as a musical director too so as- as a composer and I was being paid as a pianist but, you know, I was young and stupid so- and- and when I woke up I realized and I said no so—

Hayes: Naïve—

Grenoldo Frazier: Naïve, yes. Thank you. You cleaned- You cleaned it up, didn't ya, for old times' sake. [laughs] Yeah, but I went on to do some other shows. Because of that show I got a lot more shows to do. That's how I got- one of the reasons to do the- uh.. the- Don't Bother Me, I Can't Cope. You're asking about directing. [crew talk]

Hayes: Okay. We're back on March 6, 2006. This is tape two with--

Grenoldo Frazier: Grenoldo Frazier.

Hayes: Grenoldo Frazier. Grenoldo, we can't document every show you were in. There were so many of them. Let's go back and talk about a few of the others. You said you did work with Sam Art Williams. Was he the director of the show, or just as a partner?

Grenoldo Frazier: No, we were just actors and dancers and uh.. just performers when we met. And then after that, he went on to write Home, which was his big Broadway show, three-character show.

Hayes: But you weren't in that.

Grenoldo Frazier: No, I wasn't in that, but we adopted that. Years later, 25 years later, he called me. He was leaving California. He produced uh.. three or four television shows, Martin and The Motown Specials and that sort of- "Fresh Prince of Bel-Aire" and he was sick of uh.. Los Angeles. And he wanted to get back home to take care of his mother. That's why he came back - to take care of her. And he called me about a year before he'd moved back and said that, you know, he wanted to make a musical version of Home and he thought about me. And so--

Hayes: Isn't that great - 20 years later.

Grenoldo Frazier: Twenty years later - here we go. So we did the show. We tried it out in St. Louis and we tried it out first at a theater in uhm.. New Jersey called Crossroads. It was one of the premiere shows. It- it-- Premiere theaters. It had just won the Tony the year before as best regional theater. Now they're closed.

Hayes: Oh, gosh.

Grenoldo Frazier: Yeah, a lot of sh- a lot- a lot of the theater companies closed. But we were one of the last shows that went in there and talking about luck- how luck works in terms of certain things. First what we did, we went into the studio because I said, I, you know-- We didn't- we didn't have enough money to put together a band and to rehearse them and do all that. So we went into the studio and uhm.. did two versions of everything - one with the tracks, th- the vocal missing from it and originally, I sang the vocals on all the things. And then we got together some singers and hired them and got them to learn the material and learn the script and all of that. So we did the rehearsal, got a well-known uh.. Hope Clark who was the original Broadway choreographer - uh.. Don't Bother Me, I Can't Cope and a dancer. And she came in and did the choreography and did very simple, almost like a reading, but a stage reading. Uhm.. The theater was packed. The buzz, the electricity - all the things you would think would be happening. We started the show and the first number is extended 12-minute pieces. I don't know what you call it. You know, concerto, everybody was calling it because it- it was a combination of everything that I thought would get you to North Carolina because you have to get an audience from wherever they are to where you want them to be. And so I went through uhm.. a whole listing of ideas that would get you back to the spot. So this big opening choral, you know, music, duh-dat, duh-dat-dat. The audience is on its feet, you know, screaming and yelling, you know. All of a sudden, we hear something in the back of the auditorium. It was like, "What happened?" Somebody had passed out. The fellow died. Died, which is a bad omen in a theater. It's a real bad omen if someone dies on your opening number [laughs].

Hayes: Ouch.

Grenoldo Frazier: Right. So it took 45 minutes and there was no way we could get the audience back. There was no way. They enjoyed, but there's no way, you know, when your fellow audience member dies on you--

Hayes: Oh, ouch.

Grenoldo Frazier: So then we tried- [laughs] we tried and there was some very uh.. dark humor. The theater people said, "You're killing 'em. You're killing 'em." [Laughs].

Hayes: Oh, no.

Grenoldo Frazier: Uh.. Then we- we went to a theater in St. Louis - St. Louis Black Rep Theater, which is a well-known theater out that way. And they did the production, but the feeling of the show was not there. What we-- A lot of times when people who don't live in the South do Southern shows, they think of Southerners as uh.. Li'l Abner, you know. They think that- that- that's the ideal Southerners. And the characters are not that way. They're just Southern and they're poor, but they're not, you know, stupid. And so they went that completely opposite direction and the show just got very mixed reviews 'cause we got New York reviewers come in. And so now it's gonna be done in Chicago.

Hayes: Oh, it is coming here.

Grenoldo Frazier: It- it's coming to Chicago. A theater out there is doing it. It opens in June. And I'm not going to musical direct it this time. I'm letting somebody else do that.

Hayes: Are you going to go at all to try to help?

Grenoldo Frazier: I'm gonna go out there, but I don't know how much time I can- I can spend out there because I got bookings here to do that. But it's a very good show. It's a very different sort of show because the reviewers-- One of the reviewer interviewed uh.. Sam and I and the thought was, "Why isn't there more blues in it?" And I said, "Well, 'cause it's not really about the blues at all." It's about, you know, you're trying to develop a character. And when you're writing something, you want the character to be there, not the g- genre of, you know-- The blues, you're expecting blues, or you're expecting church music. But it's not really that kind of show at all. It's about, you know, the internal life of this one character.

Hayes: Now is Sam still here?

Grenoldo Frazier: Yep. He's still in Burgaw. He's all over the country though.

Hayes: Well I was going to say--

Grenoldo Frazier: He's everywhere. He's doing like three or four shows. In fact, he tried to show out at Thalian Hall. He's trying to do a mov- uhm.. television. Now, he's- he's been looking for backers for that.

Hayes: Now you mentioned an interesting thing about friends and connections. Isn't that the music industry? In other words, you have people know each other.

Grenoldo Frazier: Yes.

Hayes: It's smaller than we think, right?

Grenoldo Frazier: Yes. It is much smaller because I- just those producers of Mama I Want to Sing; I hadn't talked to them in 20-some years and they called me last year, last-- Well, year before last - December. And their daughter who was being born then, you know, she's got a singing career now. And so they've gone through everybody they could think of and tried to get the music for her and her name is Noel. And they said- they called me and said, "Well, you know, we haven't talked to you in 20 years, but our daughter's grown up now and, you know, do you have any songs that you think would- might be good?" And I said, "Well, I always got some songs." So I had to get my notebook 'cause I have massive notebooks through the years. You have an idea and you sketch it out and you just leave it there sometimes, knowing that somebody's gonna need it at some point.

Hayes: So you really are systematic about--

Grenoldo Frazier: Yeah. Yeah. Like- like today, a rainy day on a college campus - something about that. I always get something out, or sitting here with you - about going through memories. And you might not put a melody to it, but you'll get a form to it. And at some point, something else will come to it.

Hayes: So how many songs do you have out there? I mean in other words, when you consider have been published and ready to go and being used?

Grenoldo Frazier: Uhm.. Published is a different matter 'cause most of the shows haven't been published.

Hayes: Oh, I see. Well, we can put performed and--

Grenoldo Frazier: Oh, performed. Lord, there are like-- Really good ones or the- the little slacker- the slacker ones?

Hayes: Any of the ones you've done.

Grenoldo Frazier: I would say there- there's maybe a hundred, maybe about a hundred songs. And this album with this girl I spent most of last year-- I'd go up to New York and I can only spend four days up there because I was playing in clubs here. So we- we've got an album together, but I don't know really how it's going because I don't understand the music business now. I think I may be too old for young people's music now - the beat and the bang and that kind of stuff.

Hayes: So you have written this for her--

Grenoldo Frazier: Written this for her.

Hayes: --And she's doing it--

Grenoldo Frazier: And she picked the songs and some of the songs that she picked I was very surprised because she's a very modern young lady.

Hayes: Yeah.

Grenoldo Frazier: But very, very smart, very smart. And so she picked the songs that I would pick for her.

Hayes: Well that's great.

Grenoldo Frazier: And so we've been- we- we finished all our stuff. It's now being mixed and they're taking it to various people for them to remix it to give it more of a modern sheen 'cause I don't know about the- the hip-hop and stuff.

Hayes: The hip-hop __________________.

Grenoldo Frazier: Yeah, I- I listen to it, and I try to understand it 'cause it is a music form.

Hayes: Right.

Grenoldo Frazier: And I was telling somebody the other day, we were- I was doing, 'cause I've done a series out here for the Upperman Center.

Hayes: Right.

Grenoldo Frazier: And I was explaining that you have to go through a series sometimes of music to get to the other side and reminded people that at one time, in the 1890s, rag time was considered, "Oh, the Lord. No" or blues, "Oh, no. Devil's music."

Hayes: Elvis Presley.

Grenoldo Frazier: Right. It was considered--

Hayes: [Inaudible]

Grenoldo Frazier: Right. Right. Right, 'cause I remember uh.. Ed Sullivan. I- I don't--

Hayes: Well, he's still going __________________.

Grenoldo Frazier: Yeah, he's still, but my- my mother was uh.. uhm..-- She didn't like Aretha Franklin or James Brown because she grew up uh.. listening to-- She was born in 1912.

Hayes: Yeah.

Grenoldo Frazier: So that as much too much for her. She was more Sarah or Ella Fitzgerald. That was her kind of music there. So they were like screaming and carrying on. So--

Hayes: Every generation seems to be, um, trying to break its own music away from a previous __________________.

Grenoldo Frazier: Yes, that's--

Hayes: Although what I find fascinating is that so many performers keep going. So do you still get a responsive chord? You don't have to become a hip-hop.

Grenoldo Frazier: No.

Hayes: When you play now--

Grenoldo Frazier: Yep.

Hayes: --Do you still have--

Grenoldo Frazier: Yep.

Hayes: --Audiences that--

Grenoldo Frazier: Yep. Yep. Yep. Still do. Still do. We had a great time Friday night. We were down at Water Street and it was a packed crowd and it was-- The- the thing about it I think is that there's a- there's a chord like you said that goes among people sometimes. It crosses uh.. dif- different kinds of music and there were uh.. guys who were going off to Iraq in four days. They were in celebrating. There were uh.. a lot of older people. There in inns, music, you know, '30s and '40s kind of music. And then there was a middle crowd in there that rhythm and blues and that sort of thing. And all of them stayed all night long enjoying themselves and drinking, celebrating these young guys who were going away to war. And it was almost for a moment now - somebody mentioned to me. It was almost like a flashback to World War II. It had that feeling to it that here were these young guys going off. We may not see them again. And, you know, whether we agree with the war or not agree with the war, there was a feeling we wanted to support them. So to have of all of that feeling-- So I brought out a lot of those old songs like "I'll Be Seeing You."

Hayes: Oh, really.

Grenoldo Frazier: And the guys were crying, and, you know, and they had the young girls who were dancing with them and doing the jitterbug and then I did some Elton John and mixed it all up. So--

Hayes: Interesting.

Grenoldo Frazier: There's a place for that and I'm very lucky-- I played at Windows on the World and- at- uhm.. uh.. for about three years and I played that restaurant circuit in New York.

Hayes: Tell us about that.

Grenoldo Frazier: There's a uhm..

Hayes: Most of our listeners wouldn't know what that is. What is it?

Grenoldo Frazier: Well, there's uhm..-- I call it Music Mafia in New York. There's a goup- and you can't play in hotels or major places there without going through this group. And it was called Joe Baum--

Hayes: But they're not really the Mafia.

Grenoldo Frazier: [Laughs] Right. [Laughs]. They- they call themselves uh.. uhm.. "Restaurant Associates." That's- that's their name and they controlled all the Rainbow Room, Windows on the World, all the major hotels and Waldorf Astoria. If you played in one of those, you had to go through them to get booked into it.

Hayes: It's not a union per se.

Grenoldo Frazier: No. You- you were a member of the uh..-- Union _______________ that's a whole different thing. They make sure you get your benefits and all that kind of stuff. But this is like a management group that you have to go through them before you get a job. And so they were the ones who told me, you know, "Why don't you use your talent?" 'cause I played in clubs, but mostly I did a lot of theater. So when I got that job, they said, "Why don't you play-- Nobody goes down that Nat King Cole. Go through his songbook and see what you can see in there and then look at some of the other things, and look at all- people like Bobby Short and all those other pianists and stuff, the single piano people, and see what you can find in there and maybe update that and make that your own." And so that's what I've done.

Hayes: Interesting.

Grenoldo Frazier: But Restaurant Associates, they first started out-- Joe Baum is the guy who headed that. And he started out at Newark Airport when uh.. flying in planes you dressed formally. Women wore gloves. They started in the '40s. They- they controlled the restaurant at Newark Airport and the lounge, like those Perry Mason episodes when ther- there would be a lounge near the airport. They go there to have a drink. Uh.. So they controlled all of that. And then they moved over into the restaurants in New York and all the hotels and controlled all of that.

Hayes: But you can understand why a hotel wouldn't want to bother with it. They'd rather go to through one company--

Grenoldo Frazier: Yeah.

Hayes: --Where they can just say-- So they felt that there was a missing element of this kind of good piano playing. So they thought you were going to be a--

Grenoldo Frazier: Well, yeah. They- they- they figured that maybe, you know, 'cause I didn't know. I was just- you know, would play some songs and stuff. But they were the ones uhm..-- And the guy who really hired me, uh.. that's why I say Music Mafia. They- he was an old uh.. uh.. uh.. uh.. guy from the old school and there was a certain way the old school acts [coughs] with the- with the paint key ring and the- the dart club - the whole deal - like he stepped out of a movie. But he was such a nice, nice guy. And I just met him at the right period. He just took a liking to me. So he just took me under his wing and said, "Hey- hey can--"

Hayes: What was his name?

Grenoldo Frazier: Alan Lewis. I just kind of cropped that up. Bronx-born.

Hayes: Yeah.

Grenoldo Frazier: And Alan was like this. "Well, buddy, we're gonna- you're gonna do this. You'll be wonderful. Don't oversell it. Da, da, da, da, da, da." The whole deal and anything--

Hayes: He was right. So you were successful?

Grenoldo Frazier: He was- he was-- Yeah, very.

Hayes: How many years did you do that circuit?

Grenoldo Frazier: Three years. Three years in that. In fact, I was working seven days a week. In fact, I just- it wore me down.

Hayes: I bet.

Grenoldo Frazier: 'Cause I was working Windows on the World five nights a week and then working at the hotel two nights, the other two nights.

Hayes: Tell someone who'd be reading this or listening what's a typical evening? Like what do you do when in a lounge in--

Grenoldo Frazier: A typical evening, you're- you're impeccable dress. "You should--" One of the things he said, "You should dress better than the customers dress whenever." Down in Wilmington maybe not the same thing, but, you know, if I play at those kind of places-- Like I played at a place down in Myrtle Beach. It's also a tuxedo.

Hayes: Wow.

Grenoldo Frazier: Always very, you know, refined, very reserved sort of approach with people.

Hayes: Now people are eating and you're playing, or is it a show?

Grenoldo Frazier: Yep. And- well what I do is I make it more of a show. What I- what I found is that I could-- My talent is being able to- to take you someplace else, to make you feel that you were in one of those movie settings where there's a performer. It's a cabaret 'cause they don't really have cabarets anymore. So that's my niche - to make you feel that you're- if you're eating dinner or if you're, you know, just having drinks that you're taken back to another era completely. So I find I can lock that in pretty well. And there are certain songs that will lock it in. You play uhm.. "I'll be Seeing You," or you play uh.. uh.. uhm.. uh.. a Cole Porter song or there's certain- certain songs that will do it. If you play "In the Mood," you're there. People who were there will immediately go with you and then you can follow along that line.

Hayes: Do you have kind of like a set for almost each decade that you hang on because not everybody would know "In the Mood" back in--

Grenoldo Frazier: No. What I do is I go between- I go from 1890s all the way up to 1980s music and I'll bounce between all of those depending on the crowd. I'll program it depending-- I program it like a DJ would program it, whereas you have a listing of things in your mind that will work and you look at the crowd when you come in.

Hayes: Interesting.

Grenoldo Frazier: And you go, "Okay, if I have--" Like at Water Street, when I first got here I- generally the crowd was in their '70s and '80 - little old ladies, you know, whose 7:00- you know, by 8:00, they're ready to go. They're having their little nightcap and that. Then I would with "Ain't She Sweet" and "It Had to Be You" and then I might mix in a little Elton John 'cause they would have heard that or James Taylor or something like that and just kind of keep mixing it. As they leave, you keep mixing it 'til you get- and _____________ Evita, you know, and that kind of stuff. So you go whatever the crowd is.

Hayes: Interesting.

Grenoldo Frazier: And kind of bring that about.

Hayes: So when you were playing in New York, what time would you start?

Grenoldo Frazier: I would start- at the hotel, I would start in the afternoons. I think I started at 6:00, 5:30 - something like that - 5:00.

Hayes: And go clear __________________.

Grenoldo Frazier: Yeah, sometime at 3:00. I think on Mondays it was 3:00 and maybe on Sundays later.

Hayes: Was this a setting where people would come and chat with you, or no?

Grenoldo Frazier: I played in the-- In the hotels, I played the Rihga Royal Hotel, which is a new hotel then. Very uh.. plush. Very upscale. Right around the corner from Rockefeller Center. It was like the lounge that faced the street. It was like a new hotel, but with an old-fashioned feel. The dining room was off to the side, but you had to pass through the bar and- and the little lounge. Grand piano. I played very soft, quiet sort of music. As the crowd got louder, I would get louder.

Hayes: Interesting.

Grenoldo Frazier: Yeah. So--

Hayes: It sounds like you enjoyed it.

Grenoldo Frazier: It think it's great. It's great. Any- playing music in a bar and they're paying you to do that [laughs]. You're drinking. You're having a good time. You're making the crowd. And your job is to keep them drinking as long as you possible can - keep them entertained as long. Ordering more food and whatever it is - yeah.

Hayes: So that was a good time. You were part of the big experience.

Grenoldo Frazier: Yes. You're part of the experience.

Hayes: You can fix something at home, it's not the same as going to hear--

Grenoldo Frazier: That's right.

Hayes: Did you have like loyal fans after--

Grenoldo Frazier: Yeah, you- you develop people who come in all the time. There was a lady who was uhm.., she was either crazy or [laughs] just- just something. She used to dress a lot in furs, a lot of uhm.. jewelry and she would sit at the bar all the time with her martini and just kind of-- Whatever I played she was just in love with it because I'd- like I said, I could touch whatever it was that she needed to have touched at that moment.

Hayes: Yes, that's great.

Grenoldo Frazier: Yeah.

Hayes: So your settings weren't usually people dancing. You weren't a dance fan. You were--

Grenoldo Frazier: No, but it- at Windows on the World, you would sit in the corner on the 107th floor because they said it was 110 floors, but we were really the 107th floor. And it was a corner, and New Jersey was this way and Staten Island was there and Brooklyn was behind you and Uptown Manhattan was behind you. And you sit in this little corner. Grand, huge, not baby grand, but a huge grand piano and playing-- There would be a band. There would be a band that would play and then I would come on for 45 minutes, and the band would come back, and then I would play and the times would change. But people would get up and dance. There was a dance floor there. So they would dance and sometimes they would just drink and look out over the- depending on what I played. And like the different places I played - down at Myrtle Beach or Wilmington - people will get up and dance to something if you can get them in the--

Hayes: And that's fine.

Grenoldo Frazier: Oh, yeah. That's perfect. And then sometimes they just sit there and listen and then sometimes I force them to sing along.

Hayes: Oh, really.

Grenoldo Frazier: I'll leave out something so they had to sing. Like I'll go, "Ain't she sweet. She's coming down the street. I'll ask you very confidentially--" An- and I do that or I don't put a hand or anything. I just leave it out and they will sing the other part.

Hayes: So are you singing through much of your performance now?

Grenoldo Frazier: Yeah. Yeah.

Hayes: Was the case in New York, or was that all piano?

Grenoldo Frazier: Uhm.. Singing. Singing and, you know, you kind of break it up. You can't have singing all the time. I do more singing down here than I did in New York though.

Hayes: I see.

Grenoldo Frazier: 'Cause there, you know, there's some times you just wanna tinkle underneath. You don't want to just overpower them all the time. And then sometimes as the night gets later, you can turn it into more of a cabaret show.

Hayes: So what, yeah, what I was going, say if you classify yourself now, what do you think you are?

Grenoldo Frazier: I don't know.

Hayes: You're not a lounge singer because they usually have to have somebody with them. You're doing the singing too.

Grenoldo Frazier: Yeah. Yeah, just an entertainer.

Hayes: Entertainer.

Grenoldo Frazier: Entertainer is about it. That's about the best I can say.

Hayes: Which is a good thing?

Grenoldo Frazier: Uh.. It's not bad. [Laughs] It's not bad.

Hayes: And people keep coming and they just--

Grenoldo Frazier: And they keep coming so far.

Hayes: [Inaudible]

Grenoldo Frazier: So far. It's been- it's been amazing. I've been surprised.

Hayes: So you came back. How long have you been back--

Grenoldo Frazier: I've been back close to 14 years now, 13 years, 14 - something like that now I've been back. And I- I didn't know how it was gonna work in this area at all 'cause I was coming to do a, you know, job to take care of my mother. But I've been very surprised that I built up a group of people who come to see me all the time here.

Hayes: You said Myrtle Beach. That's a large area. There are some good opportunities--

Grenoldo Frazier: Yeah, that place at Myrtle Beach is uhm.. called Thoroughbreds and it's a very upscale sort of restaurant - very nice. It's like different rooms that you can have dinner in and have drinks in and then there's a bar and also a little lounge area. And so I play in that little area. But it's piped throughout the restaurant. So generally people will come in and sit and have cig- and a smoking area. So they can sit and have a cigarette and listen and have a few drinks and then go in and eat. And then when they finish eating, they can come back out and enjoy the music 'cause they've been hearing it all night.

Hayes: That's good.

Grenoldo Frazier: Yeah. So it's really nice.

Hayes: When I called for the interview, you said you're not necessarily a morning person. Partly that's just occupational, isn't it?

Grenoldo Frazier: Occupational. I think it's probably me too because for so many years, taking care of an elderly relative, you have to be up early with them. You have to get them certain things. And before I lived here, I would get up-- Sometimes-- I do my best work at night. I'm one of those kind of people who enjoys that period from 2:00 a.m. to sunrise to get a lot of work done 'cause the telephone's not ringing. It's very quiet. There's a good spiritual thing. I think the French call it uh.. "Hour of the Angels" and I- I really believe that. You can get so much-- You can hear things clearer. Your mind is a lot clearer and the--

Hayes: But your work is evening work almost your whole career--

Grenoldo Frazier: Yeah. Yeah.

Hayes: --When you think about it--

Grenoldo Frazier: Yeah.

Hayes: --Shows and--

Grenoldo Frazier: Yeah, shows and that sort of stuff and you're general up and in New York. You can stay up all night long. Once you finish a show, you go out to dinner, maybe go out, you know, hang out or something like because the adrenaline is so much that you just can't go home and go to sleep. So for me even now, I've reverted back to that - that sometimes, like this morning. I was- I was up maybe-- I watched bits and pieces of the Academy Award and then I watched like late-night news and went to sleep maybe midnight. Got up maybe 3:00 and did some work from like 3:00 to 4:30-5:00 knowing I had to come here, and went back to sleep again.

Hayes: Interesting.

Grenoldo Frazier: See, normally, I would have stayed up later and then gone to sleep probably after the morning news, say 7:30-8:00 and then slept until 1:00-2:00.

Hayes: Interesting.

Grenoldo Frazier: Yeah. I used to feel guilty about that, but then I realized hey, [laughs] I enjoy that. It's like I can do it.

Hayes: Your body can do it.

Grenoldo Frazier: Yeah.

Hayes: And people are out for entertainment.

Grenoldo Frazier: Yeah.

Hayes: They're not going out for entertainment at 9:00 in the morning--

Grenoldo Frazier: That's right. That's right. Yeah.

Hayes: You have to go where the customer--

Grenoldo Frazier: You have to go by the customer hours. So--

Hayes: Now tell me a little bit about your connection to UNCW. Are you excited that you're here for a semester? Is it the Upperman Center?

Grenoldo Frazier: Yeah. The uh.. uhm..- the Upperman Center. Uhm.. What do they call that?

Hayes: Visiting--

Grenoldo Frazier: [Laughs] Visiting daughter.

Hayes: [Inaudible]

Grenoldo Frazier: No. Uhm.. uhm..

Hayes: Scholar? I can't remember the name.

Grenoldo Frazier: No. What is that thing they- they call it? I can't think of what it is. But I- it- I'm the second one they've had at the Upperman Center. Uhm.. I've done some work here since I've been in town. The- the kindness of strangers. That should be put on my tombstone because generally most of the things I get is because people have been so kind. They said, "He needs," you know, "Somebody needs to hear him" or "Somebody needs to whatever." And so they pass the information along to somebody and that's what happened with uh.. Joanne Nottingham when she was over here.

Hayes: [Inaudible]

Grenoldo Frazier: Yeah and so uhm.. she started booking me in for various things and then one year, she said, "I would love to do a series of things where you talk about music," because I would sit and talk with her about how music came to be and different- uhm.. you know, different styles of music. So I ran a series for uh.. six weeks and we had great turnouts - in a little classroom with a piano.

Hayes: Really?

Grenoldo Frazier: And I would talk about the different music and how this music-- And I'd play examples of it and put it up against something that they knew and they'd go, "Oh, I hear how that works." And how ragtime moved from what it is and how rap came about, that there was a thing called patter songs in the uh.. 1800s. And these were like uhm.. what rap is now. There would be music underneath it and it's the very same thing that George Burns-- Remember George Burns--

Hayes: George Burns, yes.

Grenoldo Frazier: --Would do - he had the cigar going "And dudut dudut dudut," and the guy would play piano? That was patter songs and he was the last one who did those.

Hayes: Well you mentioned the "Hidy Hidy Ho" was--

Grenoldo Frazier: Cab Calloway.

Hayes: Cab Calloway did a lot of spoken--

Grenoldo Frazier: Spoken, spoken words. Yeah.

Hayes: Interesting, yeah.

Grenoldo Frazier: Yeah. So I would do those kind of combinations and people would even go out and buy something saying, "Oh, wow. Listen to that." And some of the stuff you're not gonna like, but then you will understand something about the kids now and go, "Oh, I get it. That's the same thing as this."

Hayes: Oh, it's interesting what you're almost a music historian now.

Grenoldo Frazier: Yeah. I've lived that long. [Laughs]

Hayes: No, but you've done so many different types of music.

Grenoldo Frazier: Mm-hmm.

Hayes: That's part of it.

Grenoldo Frazier: Yeah.

Hayes: Did you ever drift over to the classical side at all?

Grenoldo Frazier: Yes, because the playing- the early playing, that's the classical. And if you- if you ever come to hear some of the stuff I do, sometimes I'll mix that in.

Hayes: Really.

Grenoldo Frazier: I'll mix that and a little Beethoven or little Mozart or little Chopin within the context of whatever the song because you can find-- The chord structure is very much the same. You can play an Elton John song like "Your Song," and you can hear some uh.. uhm.. Bach in there. And so I'll just do that combination to go. But I'm not the first to do that. Uh.. There was a singer and pianist. I can't think of her name. She died a couple years ago. She was the first. I heard her in the '70s in New York and she- she was known to do that. She would just go from, you know, what a pop tune right into something else.

Hayes: Are you in a position where you still have to practice everyday then?

Grenoldo Frazier: I don't-- There's some days I have- I don't like to listen to music. I don't wanna play keyboard 'cause I've got a- I've got an "in" pile and an "out" pile now. And people have given me lots of music they want to hear in clubs and I- I tell people, "If you want to hear something, get me the music and I will play it for you. But I can't guarantee when I'm gonna play that for you." So somebody just gave me a whole stack of old music and it's- and I'm looking at it now. It's like I've got four other projects 'cause I'm at North Carolina State next Monday doing a series of uh.. music - the same sort of thing, and so once that's finished then I'll have a little time to get into that pile. But talking about playing and practicing, there's some days I refuse to even listen or touch a keyboard 'cause music is like fists sometimes. And then other times, it's like an open vessel. It's like whatever it is, I'll sit there and practice. Like I've got Irish music that I'm getting ready for- for uhm.. St. Patrick's Day in uh.. Myrtle Beach. And, you know, that's gonna be a drunken night there. So we have to start- I start off with the Irish music and then kind of segue into other stuff 'cause it'll just be too much to just do it all night long and a crowd will get bored. Not unless you were coming to hear--

Hayes: They don't want to hear Irish music.

Grenoldo Frazier: No, they don't wanna hear it all. But they- they want a flavor since it is St. Patrick's Day. You give 'em like a half-hour of that and have them sing, "duh- dutta," you know, and then you move on.

Hayes: Are you going to do this forever?

Grenoldo Frazier: No. I wanna retire soon, please. [Laughs] Please let me retire soon. Yeah. I'm not-- Uh.. I was explaining to somebody. I'm not really that kind of musician who lives for their art so much, you know, that I- I wanna keep doing it forever and ever like you hear people do 'cause I used to question that about myself. It's a job for me and it's a job I enjoy. I really enjoy it, but it's- at some point, I don't really wanna do it anymore. I wanna be able to just go off on a boat to Havana Harbor. Castro will be gone. I can sail in there and I can travel and do all those wonderful things 'cause, you know, I wanna see what's out there more. I traveled-- I lived in Germany for a while. I lived in-- I did a show called uhm.. Body and Soul. I lived in Germany for a year and a half during the show. It was one of those huge shows they don't do in America anymore. You would think they did it, you know, in the '40s and the '30s and- where there's like dance number, 40 people coming down. Girls in little short dresses and you're out front singing the number, the big dance number and set changing and all of that kind of stuff.

Hayes: So musical review almost.

Grenoldo Frazier: Musical review. Old-fashioned--

Hayes: Who was the sponsor of it? A German company?

Grenoldo Frazier: Yeah. Andre Heller. He's uh.. Well known in Europe. He does these kind of uhm.. pieces. And--

Hayes: And what town were you--?

Grenoldo Frazier: Oh, everywhere. Berlin before the wall, Berlin after the wall, uhm.. Dusseldorf, uhm.. Munich, uh.. Augsberg, uh.. you name it.

Hayes: You've been all over this country an awful lot.

Grenoldo Frazier: Yep, I've done-- I've done all this--

Hayes: Are there other countries that you've got a chance to travel to?

Grenoldo Frazier: Austria. Austria. England. Uhm.. Rome. Did a- a piece in Rome about, it's been about 20 years ago for uhm.. Easter, a Easter piece for RAI. They're national television station there.

Hayes: Wow.

Grenoldo Frazier: And got to do the- the Vatican. It's amazing. Rome is-- Have you been there?

Hayes: No.

Grenoldo Frazier: It's unbelievable. It's hug-- The buildings are huge 'cause you think, well, you know, it's okay. But, you know, once you see it - the Vatican, it's like, "Wow." The Coliseum - huge buildings, like stadium-size, you know. Great monuments. Unbelievable. In fact, I saw the Pope there 'cause I was there on an Easter Sunday when he comes out on the thing and he's like up there, way up there, you know, and the crowd is milling around. And it has a feeling of a great ceremony; almost, uhm.. I don't wanna say it, but- but it all has a very pagan feel to how it must have been in Europe like 2,000 years ago. It has all of that feel to it. You got- I get it 'cause I hadn't gotten it before. And seeing a castle, a real castle and the mechanism and the moat and the- the draw and the whole thing. I said, "Oh, I get it."

Hayes: I get it.

Grenoldo Frazier: You have to see it before you get it and how it must freezing in those places. Except for the king had his, you know, his room - you know, fireplace and stuff.

Hayes: Now what have you got for the rest of the semester here at UNCW? Are you going to see Debbie, or--

Grenoldo Frazier: Well, we- uh.. we did our third one. We did-- The first one was civil rights. The second one was uhm.. uh.. uh.. uh.. - what was the second one - New Orleans.

Hayes: Well, good.

Grenoldo Frazier: New Orleans music. Uh.. The third was uh.. Just the Other Night. That was gospel. The history of pre-go--

Hayes: That you played with the gospel choir too.

Grenoldo Frazier: Well, they had their own set and there was a singer and a dancer and then I come on and do my thing like vaudeville. I'm better when I come on and do my own. I used to be an accompanist and stuff for years. But after a while, it's just too much rehearsal and it takes too much to put it together and try to convince somebody that you need to sing it this way or that- the other way. Uh.. We have uh.. Ray Charles-- No. Tomorrow, I have senior citizens at the senior citizen center. It's part of this. And then Ray Charles, I think, is the last one that we have. And each one follows a projectory. So people that come, they can see how the music jumps from one and how you add something to another piece and it becomes something else.

Hayes: Interesting.

Grenoldo Frazier: So it's- it's great. It's been fun. And it's great seeing the crowds 'cause they go, "Oh, I get how this- how it became gospel and how Ray Charles and how this and dah, dah and how pop music and Sinatra came about because this happened before."

Hayes: But you're- interesting that you blend such a long time period of music--

Grenoldo Frazier: Yeah.

Hayes: --Together.

Grenoldo Frazier: Yeah. It all seems the same to me. [Laughs] It really does.

Hayes: Well you like the music.

Grenoldo Frazier: Yeah. Yeah. I really like the music.

Hayes: Different styles.

Grenoldo Frazier: Yeah, I really like it all. But I- I find a connecting tissue in there. I think maybe it's the teachers that I've had through the years, that they showed you there's a connective thing in there and there's always a pattern. The old musicians always said, "Look for the pattern no matter what it is." You're playing Bach, there's a pattern there. Once you know the pattern, it's easy. You're playing Chopin, you know about the feel. You know what that is. And if you get into the feel of it, then- it makes it so much easier to play than write rather than fighting the feel - or Wagner. That you know you've got this long - or Sawhi. Knowing that every 32 bars there's gonna be something in there for you. So if you think that way, then it makes it a lot better. But all music has that kind of pattern to it.

Hayes: Well listen, I wanna thank you for coming and talking to me.

Grenoldo Frazier: Well thank you for having me. I appreciate it. Hopefully this will--

Hayes: I hope you have a long and extended career here in Wilmington.

Grenoldo Frazier: Yes, sir.

Hayes: Or wherever.

Grenoldo Frazier: Yeah.

Hayes: And I'm glad you're connected with the university.

Grenoldo Frazier: I'm so glad to be here. I appreciate it.

Hayes: All right. Thanks.

Grenoldo Frazier: Thanks.

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