LOS ANGELES (FinalCall.com) – The stars lit up the Nate Holden Performing Arts Center on Feb. 3 to celebrate the life of Maestro Charles Veal, Jr., one of their brightest stars. The master violinist, orchestra leader, multi-instrumentalist and singer from California passed away on Jan. 23 after suffering a seizure in Chicago.
Mr. Veal commanded many stages for world-class performances throughout his life but during his own Celebration of Life, the composers were his family, friends, students, and industry colleagues. A video of his Oct. 19 performance for the Rededication of the Nation of Islam’s Mosque Maryam in Chicago played as guests entered the former site of the historic Ebony Showcase Theater.
“This was done with a lot of feeling and I saw nothing but love in this place today, which is the greatest thing you can give,” said Ernie McClean, Mr. Veal’s father, a soloist and rhythm guitarist who played during the celebration. “We’ve known a long time about Charles’ talent. He was one of the greatest things in my life and now he’s gone,” he said.
A deep brown violin rested in a chair draped in crisp white linen stage left where musicians, singers and friends of Mr. Veal’s entered, performing a slow, soulful rendition of “When the Saints Go Marching In.”
Wren Brown, actor, and founder and producer of the Ebony Repertory Theatre (the Resident Company and Operator of the Nate Holden Performing Arts Center) served as the master of ceremonies. From his welcome, to various performances, to the benediction presented by Pastor Billy Ingram of the Maranatha Community Church, the memorial participants took comfort in remembering Mr. Veal’s love for life, music and for people from all walks of life.
The program’s selections were: “Pachelbel Canon and Meditation” and “Hallelujah Chorus–A Fanfare” (the Charles Veal South Central Orchestra), “Blessed Assurance” (Jerry Peters and Donald Hayes), “In the Name of Jesus” (Rev. D.J. Rogers and Donald Hayes), “Vocalise” and “Arioso” (The Honorable Minister Louis Farrakhan, accompanied by Earl Jerome Malry), “I’ve Known Rivers” (video of Maestro Veal himself), “His Eye is on the Sparrow” (Jerry Peters).
“Charles was not a genius. Charles Veal was a god in music,” declared Min. Farrakhan after his two, back-to-back violin performances. He told those gathered that God visits the earth through the genius and the excellence that he puts in people, and that he visited the earth with Mr. Veal. “The genius of the God in us can never be put in a grave,” Min. Farrakhan added.
The celebration was very serious, yet filled with laughter and a heartiness that exemplified just how Mr. Veal lived said those who spoke publicly and in private interviews with The Final Call. Most of all, they recalled his love for his craft.
Min. Farrakhan recalled the 12-hour days of study he spent with Mr. Veal, who was like a member of his family. Mr. Veal was actually on his way to Min. Farrakhan’s home when he fell due to the seizure.
“Blessed is the human being who finds his purpose in life and fulfills it. No human being comes to this earth without a gift from God. The problem is that most of humanity is like seeds that never find fertile ground to grow and so they die unfulfilled because they could have been more than what they were but needed somebody to encourage, nurture and develop them,” Min. Farrakhan said.
Some other performers and guests were: Rev. D.J. Rogers, his friend of 40 years, actress Carol Christine Hilaria, Marlo Henderson, Paul Jackson, Jr., Anna Maria Horsford, Ginger Peters, Phillip Bailey (Earth Wind & Fire), actress Beverly Todd, and jazz musician Bilal Muhammad. Community leaders Adrianne Sears (Los Angeles Urban League) and Rev. James Jones, Jr. (Gangsters for Christ, a non-profit, religious and educational organization), also attended the celebration.
“I’m humbled by today because it truly was a celebration of life. It didn’t veer into any other direction but profound celebration and to have the Minister come with his most unique humility, with his instrument and his remarks, but most particularly with his heart, to celebrate his musical mentor, as he has referred to him, was a joy unspeakable for me. And to have all the other musicians and brothers and sisters who came and were in attendance, this was just, as my grandmother would say, a high steeple experience,” Mr. Brown told The Final Call.
Jazz pianist Patrice Rushen remembered a friend and colleague unafraid of excellence and the exacting, sometimes exhausting work that became part of his achievement. “His attitude and joyful art for people, all kinds of people, contributed to his sensitivity and depth as a person and as an artist,” Ms. Rushen said, as she recalled his antics as concertmaster for the lengthy string intro on her 1996 hit, “Haven’t You Heard.”
“For me, he will always remind me to have a passion for what you are doing and don’t be afraid to live life with vigor and enthusiasm. Live out loud,” Ms. Rushen said.
“He had the ability to make everybody feel like his best friend,” said actress Anna Maria Horsford. “I feel so special that I had a chance to share that much love and energy with him. This is just the best service I’ve been to in a long time because it was so full of him, that even if you don’t believe in ghosts, you know he was standing here,” she told The Final Call.
Pianist Ayke Agus met Maestro Veal as she was helping Min. Farrakhan prepare for his performance of the Beethoven Violin Concerto. “I realized what a master he was as a musician and the knowledge that he had was quite inspirational for me. I was very happy when I found out that he was working with the Minister on an almost day-to-day basis after the Concerto,” Ms. Agus said.
Henri Muhammad, director of the Muhammad School of Music, played with the orchestra for Mosque Maryam’s rededication and at Min. Farrakhan’s recommendation; he began studying with Maestro Veal. At least twice a month he traveled from New York for the five-hour lessons. “I’m really thankful to the Minister for giving me that wonderful gift and to Mr. Veal for all that he shared with me, which was more in our little brief time than all of my 25 years of violin study,” he said.
For the celebration’s finale, Mr. Peters led the band and orchestra with an up-tempo version of “When the Saints Go Marching In,” while guests marched around and out of the theatre in a New Orleans second line, a unique dance or walk done to jazz sounds while waving a white handkerchief in the air.