Alonzo R. Bennett III, 62, jazz enthusiast, held fund-raising parties for Blues Society

February 27, 1997|By Fred Rasmussen | Fred Rasmussen,SUN STAFF

Alonzo Ryland Bennett III, a jazz enthusiast who organized the annual "Eat the Rich" fund-raisers for the Baltimore Blues Society, died of respiratory failure Feb. 18 at North Arundel Hospital. He was 62 and lived in Glen Burnie.

Mr. Bennett had diabetes and was on dialysis. He held his final "Eat the Rich" fund-raiser in August.

That event, which was held on the grounds of his 2-acre residence, brought to an end more than 20 years of the open-air events that featured music, food and camaraderie.

"I guess they kind of started in an informal way before they were officially called 'Eat the Rich' picnics," said Freda Parks, owner of the Full Moon Saloon in Fells Point, a venue for blues.

"We would have some food and listen to music. They went on all day and all night with people drinking, eating, dancing and performing.

"Some folks would even pitch tents and camp out," Ms. Parks said. "In recent years, he'd bring in national acts such as Marcia Ball and Big Jack Johnson.

"He liked a lot of music. He was definitely a blues fan because it is original American music, but he also liked classical music."

Family members said he also enjoyed jazz and gospel music.

Mr. Bennett said that he started the "Eat the Rich" gatherings because he did not send Christmas cards. The early parties were built around nothing more than a portable stereo or record player and crabs and beer.

After the parties gained in popularity, Mr. Bennett would roast 30- to 40-pound pigs stuffed with sauerkraut and pineapple over an open pit.

No one is sure of the origins of the event's anti-establishment name, but guests were certain of one thing -- the "Eat the Rich" event was synonymous with a good time.

Several years ago, Mr. Bennett, who was a charter member of the Baltimore Blues Society, decided to get the society involved with the party. Blues artists joined in, and crowds of more than 200 became common.

Mr. Bennett, who was born in Baltimore, was an Eagle Scout in his youth and graduated from Douglass High School in 1951.

He earned a bachelor's degree from Lincoln University in 1955. He served in the Army and was discharged as a private in 1958.

He went to work at Sinai Hospital, and in 1960 joined the Wilmer Eye Institute of the Johns Hopkins Hospital as a biochemical technician.

At Wilmer, he researched and co-wrote several scientific articles. In 1990, he retired because of diabetes.

"Despite being sick and unable to drive his car or go to Fells Point to hear music at night, he kept his chin up. He liked to have fun and enjoyed life right up until the end," Ms. Parks said.

Mr. Bennett was a member of the Inner Circle social club and Kappa Alpha Kappa Fraternity.

His body was cremated and an invitation-only memorial service will be held May 3, which would have been his 63rd birthday.

He is survived by his mother, Helen Holt Jones Bennett of Glen Burnie; a sister, Yvonne S. Bennett of Glen Burnie and Brooklyn, N.Y.; and several other relatives.

Pub Date: 2/27/97

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