Church Anderson kept busy in Baltimore's music circuit

May 18, 2002|By JACQUES KELLY

IRECENTLY walked past the long closed Danny's Restaurant at Charles and Biddle streets and thought about how its patrons would fill the place, maybe after a day at Pimlico, possibly the Preakness. And of how so many of Baltimore's restaurants and nightspots had their house musicians, those wonderful pianists, sidemen and singers whose versions of a song will always stay with you.

And while I never knew him, I think of men like Howard "Church" Anderson Sr., who died May 6 at age 90 in his West Baltimore home.

Church Anderson grew up in South Baltimore near Sharp and Leadenhall streets, just a few blocks away from my father's boyhood home.

As a boy, Anderson played the piano at the old Sharp Street Church - so often that the name Church stayed with him for life. So did his attachment to South Baltimore; on top of all his musical gigs, he still found time to work at the South Baltimore Recreational Center and at the Eastern Venetian Blind Company on Wicomico Street.

As his daughter, Coletta Horton, told me, "My father was a workin' crazy person."

As a young man he had taken a job with the Post Office, but his talent was too great to stay with the federal government. In the late 1930s he and three other musicians formed a quartet, the Grooveneers. And after his 1943 marriage to Margaret Ann Jones (she used the professional name Sylvia Anderson and died last August), the group evolved into Three Strikes and a Miss.

And when Church and Sylvia Anderson appeared together, they were known as the Two Hot Peppers.

They appeared at the old Club Astoria, a musical bar at 1309 Edmondson Ave., not too far from Lafayette Square. This nightspot, blocks away from the better known black entertainment addresses along Pennsylvania Avenue, where the Andersons also appeared, has fascinated me. I've often heard it referred to by oldtime Baltimoreans who know this neighborhood, but its fame eluded me.

My curiosity finally got the better of me and I checked it out last fall, not long after Sylvia Anderson's death. I was too late. The shell of the building had been freshly torn down; there was new straw on the demolition site. I'd still like to know more about the Club Astoria and the happy nights that Church and Sylvia Anderson spent there.

Church Anderson often played at other spots, many on The Block - the Band Box, the Circus and the Spa. As his daughter said, he liked to work. He was also on call with local musician Rivers Chambers, who gathered many musicians for weddings, debutante gatherings and other social events.

And, as if that wasn't enough to do, he played for many years around the corner from my home, at the old Love's Restaurant at 25th and Charles.

His memorial service will be at 3 p.m. tomorrow at Perkins Square Baptist Church, 2500 Edmondson Ave., 12 blocks away from the old Astoria.

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