Story by Lourice Angie
The Village of Warwick’s Sesquicentennial Committee, in partnership with the U.A.M.E. Church, sponsored a concert on Fri., Feb. 24 at 7 p.m. at the U.A.M.E. Church in celebration of Black History Month. E’Lissa Jones headlined the concert and introduced the debut of the Hudson Valley Ebony Strings.
Pastor Katherine P. Brooks opened the evening speaking of the significance and long history of the U.A.M.E. Church in the Warwick community. Brooks commended the community and the help of Warwick Village Mayor Michael Newhard, Warwick Town Supervisor Michael Sweeton, and the Warwick Historical Society, for all of their support and generosity. She ended saying, “We are all in for a real treat. AMEN.”
Pastor Brooks then introduced Sister Denise Smith thanked E’lissa Jones and the young musicians of the Hudson Valley Ebony Strings.
“Welcome to the U.A.M.E. Church. We’re so glad that all came out to support us in this venture. There will be a lot of things going on throughout the year, including the sesquicentennial, and we’ll see you there. Thank you all and please feel free to join us anytime,” said Sister Denise Smith.
Mayor Newhard thanked Pastor Brooks and members of the U.A.M.E. Church and the community. He spoke of upcoming events at the historic U.A.M.E. Church and then welcomed “a dear friend of Warwick, E’lissa Jones.”
E’lissa Jones opened the concert by telling the audience how blessed she was to be there. She shared a personal story from her teenage years, a story about an inspiring music teacher named Mr. Tom Humphrey who created the “Ebony Strings” with only five students. He took them on tour to many cities and states in his minivan and got them on TV and in the newspaper. Looking back, she could not believe that he fit all of the students and their instruments, including a cello, in the van.
After recently attending a high school reunion, Jones decided to keep his legacy going. She met with Humphrey while he was in New York and told him that she was going to organize the “Hudson Valley Ebony Strings.” Her goal is to promote classical music played by African American musicians, as well as to inspire other young African American’s to embark upon classical music with all four strings. The very special highlight of the evening would be their debut at the U.A.M.E. Church.
Born into a musically gifted family, E’lissa began singing and playing the piano at the age of five. She wrote her first song at the age of seven and began studying violin at the age of ten. The extremely talented and popular E’lissa Jones has embraced the stages of many local businesses and concert halls throughout the area. She has performed background vocals with blues legend Wilson Pickett, toured with Ray Charles, Al Green and many more. She balances the life of being a mom, music teacher, and a musician, which also includes being a singer, songwriter, and an original member of the Colorado Ebony Strings.
Jones was joined by the E’lissa Jones band, made up of Jones on vocals, violin, guitar and piano; Mickey Kopchak on bass and vocals; Michael Robert Hickey on percussion; and Mark McNutt on lead guitar. The group’s music ranges from folk/rock to pop/rock and together they have written and composed a catalogue of over 250 songs, all available on iTunes and CD Baby.
During the concert, Jones invited special guests, Pastor Edgir Jean and Quinn Hermann, to accompany on her vocals for two of the songs performed and was also joined by musician Phil Randazzo.
Jones gave special thanks to Mayor Newhard for inviting her to play at the event saying, “I am deeply honored. Special thanks to the U.A.M.E. Pastor Brooks for opening your doors to us and offering the Hudson Valley Ebony Strings rehearsal time. Thanks to my band who I consider more like my family.”
Hudson Valley Ebony Strings
The Hudson Valley Ebony Strings is a chamber group comprised of young, talented African American musicians who have a pure love for music. It includes violins, violas, cellos and bass. The group was established in 2017 by Jones.
Just as Jones’s life was greatly changed by her teacher, she hopes to create amazing experiences for the young group. With a strong classical background, members of this group perform various styles of music. The group of young musicians performed four songs on Friday evening including “Soon I will Be Done,” “Banuwa,” “African Blessing,” and “Funky Pizzicato.”
Members of the group include: Lauren Armand, Nii-Ayi Aryeetey, Amelia Brown, Amari Brown, Elizabeth Roberts and Brandon Spencer on violins; Jasmine Decossard and Dennis Wilson on viola; Malcolm Conley and Mika Leonard on cello; and Timothy Leonard on bass. For more information on the Hudson Valley Ebony Strings, send an email to email@example.com or to firstname.lastname@example.org.
History of U.A.M.E. Church
The Warwick U.A.M.E. Church was founded in the early 1900s by a small group of people who felt a conviction to establish a church for the African American community. A piece of land on McEwen St. was purchased in November of 1905. The cornerstone of the new completed church was laid in February 1906 and the church was dedicated on Jun. 7, 1906. The building served the congregation for over a hundred years but in 2007, the congregation determined it was time to replace it. With support from Newhard, Sweeton and the Warwick Historical Society, the historical church was moved to Forester Ave. where repairs were made and it now serves as a museum and a venue for concerts, lectures and plays.