Benjamin Barksdale, 86, jazz drummer worked at Social Security Administration

July 25, 1996|By Robert Hilson Jr. | Robert Hilson Jr.,SUN STAFF

Benjamin Barksdale: An obituary in the Thursday editions of The Sun incorrectly stated the age of Benjamin Barksdale of Baltimore, who died of a heart attack July 23. He was 76. The Sun regrets the error.

Benjamin Barksdale never made it as a big-time drummer. His jazz sessions were with small bands at local clubs.

But in the evenings, after his day job had ended, he and a son would go to the basement of their two-story West Baltimore rowhouse and he'd give his No. 1 fan an encore performance and a music lesson.

"He'd take me downstairs and show me how good music should really sound," said Benjamin Barksdale Jr. of Hillsborough, N.J. "He'd get down there and just play and play. This happened all of the time. He could just play."


Mr. Barksdale, who died Tuesday of a heart attack at Bons Secours Hospital at 86, played drums without the benefit of lessons. His talent landed him spots with many local bands -- and gigs at the former Club Astoria on Edmondson Avenue -- but none ever large enough for him to consider a full-time music career.

Instead, as he grew older he lived his musical dream through his son, a professional jazz saxophonist who has performed with many well-known national acts.

"If it wasn't for my father, I wouldn't be as close to the music field as I am now," his son said. "He always told me not to get into a professional setting or a club until I was ready. He brought me down there to get ready. Daddy was my inspiration."

As a youngster, the younger Barksdale often asked his father to take him to jazz clubs to watch and possibly play with the musicians.

"He'd say first, 'You have to come downstairs and listen to some professional saxophonists. They'd run circles around you if you weren't prepared,' " Mr. Barksdale said.

Nicknamed "Mr. B" because of his last name and a resemblance to vocalist Billy Eckstein, Mr. Barksdale had a large collection of jazz records -- including his favorites, Eddie "Lockjaw" Davis, Gene Krupa, Sonny Stitt and Gene Ammons.

Yesterday, Mr. Barkdale's three-drum and cymbal set sat idle in the basement. It was last used many years ago, when Mr. Barksdale was healthy and his musical interest thrived.

"He probably used them last when I was in high school, many years ago," his son said.

A native of Nashville, Tenn., Mr. Barksdale came to Baltimore as a youth with his family in 1929. He graduated from Frederick Douglass High School in 1937 and served in the Army from 1941 to 1946 during World War II.

Upon his military discharge, Mr. Barksdale began a 30-year career with the Social Security Administration in Woodlawn, retiring in 1977 as a staff administrator.

He married Evelyn Jackson in 1946, and the couple settled in West Baltimore.

In addition to music, Mr. Barksdale was an artist and car buff who loved large, late-model cars.

"He could always tell the make and model immediately of every car he saw," said Anethia Williams, his sister. "He loved music and cars, he sure did."

Services are scheduled for 11 a.m. Saturday at St. James Episcopal Church, 1005 W. Lafayette Ave.

In addition to his wife, other survivors include a son, Robert Barksdale of Augusta, Ga.; and five grandchildren.

Pub Date: 7/25/96

Baltimore Sun Articles
Please note the green-lined linked article text has been applied commercially without any involvement from our newsroom editors, reporters or any other editorial staff.