Remembering Hardrick Rivers

The Rivers Family Cemetery is a small, easy to pass unnoticed series of plots dug by family hands for generations adjacent to the land they farmed. Just across the tracks toward the river outside Powhatan, it’s a small cemetery in the big scheme of things, but the connection’s made somehow tighter by physical closeness in both life and death: sharing houses, sharing land for crops and animal sustenance—a harmony of sharing everything so that everyone got something and worked their butts off for that something and got to jointly revel in that sharing of “we did this” time and again, thru the generations…

As part of his collection to the dirt of his father’s past, Hardrick attended and excelled at Allen High school in especially his band and music classes. After marriage and a child, a good job came along at Aherns’ Portable Buildings, which allowed a more consistent income for the growing family. Soon, though, Hardrick began pursuing even more lucrative jobs playing his saxophone with touring bands where Hardrick’s personality and playing hit with notables which led to multiple European Blues and New Orleans Jazz Fest Circuits. Then years of Saturday nights and Sunday afternoons at Bubba’s and other joints down Cane River came, which eventually led to Friday nights at Roques Blues Hall on Carver Street—just a couple of blocks off of Williams Avenue but miles from the comfort of both black and white patrons’ homes, which nonetheless became one of the most popular and talked about venues in town and across tourist interchanges. It was not rare to see Mama Lair Lacour cutting a mean, slow drag while oblivious to younger, more hyper white hipster dancers were just as mesmerized by Hardrick’s and the band’s rhythm and blues. As the popularity of these Friday night jams grew, they came to be known as “White Night” because the crowd began to look a little different than before, but as new folks started to come it, none of the older more traditional black folks were left out. His talent and laughter grew and taught us all important, lifelong lessons. Hardrick’s dance tunes moved blacks and whites together as one in shouting seas of funk, R & B, and joy.

While kicking on the floors of every dance hall and stage around, Hardrick never stopped trying to get better…getting better by having gifted musicians join him on stage, and by going back to complete his Associate’s Degree in Music at NSU which solidified his music teaching career, and the love and respect of countless students. I also saw the inspiration completely set in the night Barack Obama was elected as the President of the United States. His mission grew as an alderman for the Powhatan Village Council until his eventual election as Mayor of the City of his childhood. I asked him one day when at his apartment what made him run for Mayor, and he wheeled his wheelchair down the hall to his bathroom and turned on the water in the tub and let it run for 2-3 minutes—coming out brown and never becoming clear. “If I can’t take a bath here and get water for coffee and cooking every day, nobody can, and we gotta fix it- and that he did. He inherited over 30 years of water system failings, issues with the State Health Department and the Rural Water Association, and several competitors and pushed all the way to clean, safe water. Within 6 months of his election, he took me to his bathroom and told me “It’s not rocket science” as clean, clear water came of his and his constituents taps.

He loved jazz—playing jazz with any musicians; listening to jazz from any musician—just being in the moment with jazz while his brain processed what the other’s brains and fingers were processing. Piano Jazz, Horn Jazz, 50’s Jazz, Jazz Fest—it was to become his jazz funeral home. As his body slowly failed and he played less and less, his mind started walking the streets where the sounds were heard, and he played and sang and talked about music and his friends until the day he passed. While there may be a Jam in is honor soon, there will not be a festival or marching camp or solo sax ride anywhere near his hometown or family cemetery that a faint harmony or call won’t be heard. Rest up, Hardrick, but keep sending songs, melodies, and ideas of peace and love. You’ll be missed, and those left behind (for now) long for the day that we are one again—one band, one honky tonk, one family—just playing and singing and dancing along to the blues of Hardrick Rivers. Peace for now.