It isn’t often that a Resident Spotlight can also serve as a Behind the Music, but when it comes to telling the story of Oakmont Rochester Independent resident James, you can’t have one without the other. Music has always been a part of his life, and whether it was using his piano skills to entertain Canadian Troops during the war, or forming a band with other residents at the age of 91, one thing is for certain: for James, the beat always goes on.
Born on the east side of Detroit in the mid-1920s, James’ courtship and marriage to his wife Gloria plays like a story from a classic song. Both graduates of Denby High School, and even dating a few times during those formative four years, the couple wouldn’t marry until later in life. “We knew each other at Denby, and then we went our separate ways,” he said of his future wife. “She married and I married, and after 30 years, my wife died and she got divorced. We had stayed in touch all those years, and now we’ve been married for 38 or 39 years.”
Before marrying his first wife and going to college, James served his country by enlisting in the Navy Air Force. “Incidentally, I really got interested [in the Navy Air Force] because of the movies,” he said. “I used to watch all of those movies with John Wayne and the flying and all of that. You know, I was 16 or 17 years old, and I thought ‘oh boy, that’s what I want to get into!’”
A Master of Metallurgical Engineering
After his service, James graduated from Wayne State with a Masters’ Degree in Metallurgical Engineering, which led him to a career working for many major manufacturers including some of the Big Three. After retiring, James and Gloria, now in their early 90s, decided they wanted to downsize and be comfortable – prompting them to move into Oakmont Rochester Independent in the spring of 2017. It was here during the course of normal dinner conversation that James realized he was surrounded by like-minded musicians – and that his musical career might just get a second act.
“We have a table of five that, since we got here in April, we sit with the same five people: my wife, myself, and three other fellas,” James said. “We found out early on that one fella plays the drums, one plays the guitar, and I play the piano.” An instant kinship was born.
Getting the Band Together
Not only did the three men have their musicianship in common, they also had some similar performing experiences when they were younger – not to mention a similar taste in music. After comparing their shared histories, they decided to get together for a jam session, and have since made plans to continue practicing at least once a month. Their planned repertoire includes Benny Goodman, Tommy Dorsey, and whatever other pieces of sheet music James has laying around in his collection.
When not practicing with the band or sharing a meal with his wife Gloria, you can most likely find James at the piano, leading a Happy Birthday singalong for residents who are celebrating In his short time at Oakmont Rochester Independent, he has become the resident Maestro – taking requests from neighbors and providing the perfect accompaniment for every new memory made.