By GABRIELLA CRUZ-MARTÍNEZ
A group of friends and admirers of jazz have gotten together to honor Willie Pickens as a Jazz musician, Hyde Park resident and Ray Elementary School supporter by collecting donations to install a mural commemorating him at Ray, 5631 S. Kimbark Ave. Pickens died Dec. 12, on his way to a Sound Check prior to a Jazz at Lincoln Center concert.
The planners, led by Kiron Pickens, Sam (Desi Mundo) Mulberry and Jay Mulberry, have already raised a little over $2,000 of their $6,000 goal only two days after creating their donation site www.letsrememberwillie.com. Now, as the Hyde Park community gears up to celebrate the 27th anniversary of the traditional 4th on 53rd parade and picnic, Friends of Ray School plan to hand out flyers about the fundraiser to community.
Sam Mulberry, founder of the Community Rejuvenation Project, a policy organization that cultivates communities through public art, and education, came up with the idea and shared his vision for the project with the Pickens’ youngest daughter Kiron Pickens, during lunch at Medici on 57th after a memorial service for Willie Pickens. Ald. Leslie Hairston (5th) supported the idea and suggested that mural be created at Ray.
“Willie and Irma were the sweetest, most gentle, and loving people in Hyde Park,” said Jay Mulberry, a lifelong friend of the Pickens who is helping organize the project. “The mural will be set up just across from Willie’s home at the entrance of the school’s auditorium, which I think is wonderful.”
The Pickens’ home on Kimbark Avenue is still owned by the family.
Jay Mulberry and Kiron Pickens described Willie and Irma Pickens as “special and loving people that always gave back to their community”.
All three Pickens children attended Ray so Irma and Willie Pickens always participated in the school’s events and activities. Irma Pickens was part of Ray’s Parent Teacher Association, and their daughter, Bethany Pickens, an important Jazz musician in her own right, served as a teacher at the school for 15 years.
“Every year, at the end of the first semester, Willie and Irma would host special luncheons for the school teachers and staff, inviting them into their lovely home,” said Mulberry, who remembers the excitement gathered around the event each year.
The Pickens were also active at Hyde Park Union Church, 5600 S. Woodlawn Ave., where jazz pianist Willie Pickens organized the traditional Christmas holiday concert from the early ‘90s until recent years. Pickens would then give the proceeds of the concerts to the Centers for New Horizons, a nonprofit organization with locations throughout Bronzeville and Riverdale that helps children, youth, and families become self-reliant. Meanwhile, Irma Pickens would assist with the church’s Sunday school activities.
Mulberry, who expressed his gratitude to the Hyde Park community for all of the support shown in the last few days, said he hopes that their initiative will gain support from Hyde Park community members and that through everyone’s efforts that they will be able to honor a dear friend, father, musician and loved community member.
Donations can be made at: https://donorbox.org/willie-pickens-memorial-mural.