Courtney Brooks Obituary

Ron Weinstock rbluesw@YAHOO.COM
Sun Mar 27 22:12:10 EST 2005

This is the text of the obituary I drafted for Courtney Brooks who recently
passed away. Ron Weinstock

Courtney Brooks 1923-2005
Courtney Brooks, leader and drummer of one of D.C.’s most popular rhythm and
blues bands, community volunteer and long-time director of the D.C. Blues
Society, passed away on March 9, 2005. Brooks was born an Alexandria native,
born on November 17, 1923. After attending Parker Gray School in Alexandria,
Brooks attended Shaw Junior High School and Armstrong High School in
Washington, D.C. His father got Courtney started playing drums He played
drums in the school band at Armstrong, a school that produced numerous D.C.
musicians including Charlie Rouse, the Clovers and the late Nap Turner.
After graduating high school, he served in the U.S. Army with tours in
France and England.
After an honorable discharge, Courtney returned to playing the drums and for
most of the next several decades led the Courtney Brooks All Stars, one of
the top bands in the D.C. area which would back touring acts including Ruth
Brown, The Clovers, Etta James, the Three Peaches, The Five Keys, The
Orioles and the Moonglows. Ruth Brown remained a lifelong friend of Courtney.
For many shows, Courtney worked for promoter Julian Dove who would promote
dances. In an oral history interview for the City of Alexandria Courtney
remembered, “[A]t that time, a lot of the acts that came through, they
didn’t have their own band. They might have a guitar player, do in the late
‘50s or ‘50’s. My band, the band that I had, we would always be their band,
They would say ‘The Orioles and their Band.’ We were always their Band. We
were always the house band for Julian Dove.”
Courtney’s time at the helm of the D.C. area’s leading bands was interrupted
in 1953 when guitarist Roy Gaines, leader of Chuck Willis’ Band recruited
Courtney to play drums for the band which had Courtney spending time on the
legendary and infamous chitlin circuit. Courtney also served as the band’s
bookkeeper. Courtney recorded while with Willis, although he left Willis’
Band before the success of “C.C. Rider,” which his son Ronald told me was
his one regret. Courtney also recorded with the Griffin Brothers Orchestra.
Courtney came off the road in 1957. Courtney was a Government employee
working for the Under-Secretary of War before serving in the Army. He worked
for the Government with the exception of the years on the road, spending
many years with the Records Section of the General Accounting Office.
Courtney served in so many community activities. In 1946 he helped start the
Alexandria Rams, the first African-American football team in the area at a
time when professional football was segregated. Courtney was the business
manager of a team that integrated football in the area in 1950 and, as an
integrated team, played a game in Charleston, South Carolina in 1954 that
broke the color line there. Later he was involved in youth football and
youth baseball. Courtney also wrote a sports column for the Virginia Arrow,
an African-American newspaper available in Alexandria. He was actively
involved with Anchor of Hope Ministry distributing food to needy families
and other activities of a similar nature.
Courtney also was a member of the Departmental Progressive Club, one of
several social clubs in Alexandria. With the Progressive Club he served in
every capacity including President and head of the Entertainment Committee.
In addition to its social functions. The Departmental Progressive Club also
raised moneys used to award scholarships to local youth. Through Courtney
and the late Wally Adams, the Blues Society partnered with the Progressive
Club to hold several holiday parties there as well hold Board of Directors
meetings there for several years.
Courtney served on the Board of Directors for a substantial period of time,
resigning from the Board a couple years ago because of health issues. Bill
Wax of XM radio noted at Courtney’s funeral how he helped mediate disputes
on the Board, but was also important in enabling the Society to conduct a
variety of programs during this period including the Society’s participation
in various Black History Month programs and the annual African-American
Festival in Alexandria.
Courtney was always a presence at the Society’s festivals back stage helping
with all sorts of matter. Former Society President Bob Gray remembers, “The
first year we did a drum workshop at the festival, we asked Courtney to get
sets of drum sticks to give the kids. He took great pride in finding the
best price, etc., and got his car towed in the process. What we did not
realize (being new at this) was that after the workshop all the kids would
be running around the festival using the drumsticks as weapons. Courtney
thought that was pretty funny! But, we did not do that again.”
And for several years, he and his wife Lois, graciously hosted our summer
picnic which started early in the afternoon and went on very late at times.
Courtney often spend a fair amount of times behind the drums at the picnic.
Your editor remembers one picnic where the wonderful Laura Pettaway was
singing and Courtney was on drums. It may have been St. Louis Blues she was
singing, but it was in any case some blues heaven here on earth.
In the words of Bob Gray, “Courtney worked at sharing the joys of his life
and he wanted us all to know each other. That’s why he got the Society
involved with the Progressive Club and wanted to have Society picnics in his
backyard. Courtney had an unending enthusiasm for the music and ideas about
shows the Blues Society could do at the Alexandria rec center or Cameron Run
or adding gospel to the shows at Barry Farm. He loved the music!”
“You might notice that in one of the pictures of Courtney drumming, he has
his cap turned around. I was teasing Courtney and asked him if he was trying
to emulate the teenagers. Courtney said he turned the hat around so he could
see the other musicians--the brim blocked his view!”
One of Bob’s favorite memories was “ one Sunday Courtney called up and said
with great enthusiasm “Guess who I just talked to? Ms. Rhythm!” Ruth Brown
called him up to talk about old times. He couldn’t have been more pleased.”
Bill Wax recalled at the funeral that he was scheduled to conduct with Ruth
Brown and was a little nervous and after recalling Courtney talking about
Ruth, he thought it might make things easier if he had Courtney and Ruth
speak with each other at the beginning. So when he called Ruth and
introduced himself he told her that he had someone on the phone to talk with
her. It was Courtney, and Bill remembered it took a bit of time to be able
to finally interview Ruth after Courtney and her chatted for quite awhile.
This writer remembers how pleased Courtney was to see Roy Gaines back stage
at the Festival several years ago as it had been the first time in over four
decades they had seen each other.
Bob Gray remembers a favorite quote from Courtney. “Everybody wants to wear
the uniform but nobody wants to step up to the plate.” Courtney was always
ready to stand up to the plate whether with respect to the Blues Society,
the Departmental Progressive Club, the Anchor of Hope Ministry or the other
activities and groups he was associated with.
I remember attending a celebration for Courtney several years ago at the
Departmental Progressive Club. In a brief article on the event in the
newsletter, then Blues Society President Bob Gray summed up about Courtney
noting “Courtney is a special person.” Indeed he was a very special person
and so many of us will miss him. Courtney is survived by his wife Laura, son
Ronald, a sister Dolores Jackson, two grandchildren, five grandchildren and
countless friends he made over his well-lived life.
A special mention should be made about Chet Hines, Jackie Hairston and Whop
Frazier who played at Courtney’s repast. Courtney’s family were greatly

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