Irma and Willie Pickens recognized for contributions to Hyde Park community

Bethany (L to R), David and Kiron Pickens pose in front of a mural of their father, jazz pianist Willie Pickens, painted by Desi Mundo (far right), after the mural’s unveiling ceremony at the William H. Ray School Assembly. (Photo by Marc Monaghan)

Contributing Writer

Willie Pickens was a legendary jazz pianist, but to Hyde Park residents he was a great neighbor who contributed greatly to the local community.

And while Pickens died in December 2017, Hyde Parkers celebrated his life’s accomplishments at a memorial celebration Oct. 21. A mural created by Desi Mundo was unveiled at Ray School to memorialize Pickens’ life and accomplishments.

“This has been an amazing, wild three years,” Bethany Pickens, daughter of Willie and Irma Pickens, said. “It’s because of Hyde Park this event is happening.”

Mundo, a native of Hyde Park, wanted to do something before Willie Pickens died. When he heard that Pickens had died, he contact Pickens’ youngest daughter Kiron. Together, they came up with a design.

“The neighborhood, the Hyde Park community contributed,” Mundo said, “from small gifts to large gifts, to get this thing together.” A total of $7,563.53 was raised.

“It’s just kind of a sweet way to remember someone who contributed to the Hyde Park community, to the jazz community,” Mundo said.

Ald. Leslie Hairston (5th) poses with David Pickens, Bethany Pickens and Kiron Pickens during a ceremony in the William H. Ray School Assembly Hall on Sunday, where she presented the three with an honorary street sign naming the 5500 and 5600 blocks of South Kimbark Avenue as Irma & Willie Pickens Way, after their parents. (Photo by Marc Monaghan)

Bethany Pickens also credited Jay Mulberry with wanting to do more to memorialize her parents.

“He wanted to honor both my parents because they were active in the community,” she said.

Ald. Leslie Hairston (5th) presented the family with the street sign, “Irma and Willie Pickens Way” for 57th Street and Kimbark Avenue. “Just like this community, our roots run deep. Hyde Park is an example of how society should be,” Hairston said.

Along with the mural and the street sign, the Hyde Park Historical Society presented the family with a plaque for the home.

Pickens said it was a testament to who her parents were and their contributions to the community.

“Everybody knows my dad was a great pianist. What they didn’t see was behind the scenes my mom created an environment for him to be a great artist and father,” she said.

Pickens added that her mom served as a model for her.

“Because of my mom’s actions, I am active in the community,” she said. “This neighborhood has always been about action and it continues to be my mission as well.”