Scholarship Program to Honor Philly Music Hero Eddie Lang

Richard Barnes, guitarist and leader of the Philadelphia area’s Blackbird Society Orchestra (a band specializing in the music of the 1920s) has established the Eddie Lang Scholarship Program, which hopes to give educational opportunities to underprivileged children. Lang, whom many consider the “Father of Jazz Guitar,” was born in South Philadelphia in 1902.

Lang, whose real name was Salvatore Massaro, had a stellar career in jazz from the early 1920s, playing with the Mound City Blue Blowers, Jean Goldkette, Red Nichols, Adrian Rollini, Lonnie Johnson, Paul Whiteman, and, most famously, his childhood friend violinist Joe Venuti. He was the preferred accompanist of Ruth Etting and Bing Crosby until his untimely death (from complications following a tonsillectomy) at age 30 in 1933.

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In October of 2010 Barnes organized “Eddie Lang Day in Philadelphia” to bring attention to the importance of Eddie Lang and his music through a night of songs and stories by five bands and over fifty musicians. Made official with a Mayoral Proclamation by Mayor Michael Nutter, Barnes and company raised $2500 to help feed the impoverished of the city during the Holiday season.

Since then, Eddie Lang Day in Philadelphia is October 25th, which is the pioneering guitarist’s birthday. This year Barnes has something extra special to announce.

On Sunday October 23, 2016, the city of Philadelphia celebrated jazz guitar pioneer Eddie Lang (born Salvatore Massaro) with a mural located at 7th and Fitzwater Streets in Philly, not far from Lang’s boyhood home on St. Alban Street. The 60-foot mural, by artist Jared Bader, was created and installed through a partnership between the Mural Arts Program of Philadelphia (founded by Jane Golden) and Richard Barnes, guitarist and leader of The Blackbird Society Orchestra of Philadelphia. The mural features Lang in the foreground of an imagined Okeh recording studio with fellow recording artists Joe Venuti, Bix Beiderbecke, Bing Crosby, Lonnie Johnson, Louis Armstrong, and Bessie Smith, among others.

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After working the past twelve months, Philadelphia’s Mural Arts Program, led by Jane Golden, is set to dedicate a wall mural to Eddie Lang in his old neighborhood at 7th and Fitzwater Streets in South Philadelphia. The mural is scheduled to be unveiled during Eddie Lang Day festivities.

Barnes says, “I am very fortunate to have discovered music when I was eight years old. Starting on clarinet, then cello and then guitar. It has opened my ears and eyes and mind to many wonderful things. I’ve made many friends through music. I’ve expanded my cultural appreciation. It kept me off the streets, prevented me from being bored with life, and helped me grow as a person.

“I believe that music not only increases your appreciation of the arts but also improves your mind, your reading and literacy skills, reasoning, mathematical abilities, emotional intelligence—and just makes you smile and feel good!”

Barnes feels that every child should have the opportunity to experience the chance to learn and the chance to interact with new people—and, above all, the chance to create.

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This October Barnes will hold a Gala Event to raise funds for the Eddie Lang Scholarship Program. The evening will feature live music by The Blackbird Society Orchestra and other local musicians as well as student bands from area grade schools, high schools, and colleges.

He hopes through donations to help children experience the joy of music by enrolling them in lessons and by providing them with their own instruments upon completion of a year of lessons.

No exact location has been set at this time, but Barnes would like to hold it at WHYY, the NPR station in Philadelphia that is best known nationally for hosting Fresh Air. Since there are costs involved to rent the facility, as well as for catering, advertising, and other miscellaneous expenses, the fundraising campaign will start with securing that venue so that organizers may then concentrate on finding vendors and sponsors.

The funding goal is to raise $5000 by May 1st, 2016.

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Richard Barnes hopes that through the Eddie Lang Scholarship Program, children who otherwise could not afford the expense of instruments or classes will be able to develop their musical gifts. Money “should not be the wall that stands between a child and their dreams. I’d like to make sure that never happens.”

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