AFRO-AMERICAN MUSIC INSTITUTE CELEBRATES 36 YEARS
Pain Relief Beyond Belief
In the span of a life marked by tragedy, Leroy K. Wofford turned to blues to soothe his aching heart and hoped his voice would help others, too.
"The way he felt is that music heals the soul," said his niece, Zaneen Brown. "The more people he could reach, the more people he could help."
Mr. Wofford, who sang his way to prominence on the Pittsburgh jazz and blues circuit, met his own tragic end Sunday afternoon when he died a day and a half after being shot at his home in Lincoln-Lemington.
Pittsburgh police said Mr. Wofford called 911 about 1:30 a.m. Saturday saying that he'd been shot.
He told police that two black men had knocked on his door and when he answered, one had been brandishing a gun. When he attempted to close the door, one fired a shot through the door, said Commander Thomas Stangrecki. The bullet pierced his left shoulder and entered his chest, the Allegheny County medical examiner said.
Mr. Wofford was taken to UPMC Presbyterian, where he underwent surgery. He died at 12:30 p.m. Sunday. Police did not have an opportunity to re-interview him, Commander Stangrecki said, leaving them with limited information. They had no suspects and could not surmise the motive Monday.
According to his family, Mr. Wofford started imitating James Brown before he turned 10 to entertain family members. With the help of relatives, he taught himself the drums, too.
He graduated from Westinghouse High School and began working regular gigs at the Crawford Grill.
His singing career took him to venues all over the city. He performed often at the James Street Restaurant on the North Side, now called the James Street Gastropub and Speakeasy. More recently, he was a regular at weekly gatherings of the Pittsburgh Jazz Society.
He released two albums with original music, one dedicated entirely to the Steelers, said Ms. Brown.
In 1996, Craig Guest, the 19-year-old son of his longtime girlfriend, was shot to death along with another man by a Pittsburgh police officer as they rode in a stolen car. The incident became a flashpoint of tension between the police force and the community, and Mr. Wofford was vocal in his criticism of the department and of the officer, who was cleared of any wrongdoing.
Ms. Brown said Mr. Guest's death devastated Mr. Wofford, as he had raised the man as his own son.
Ernest McCarty, a bass player in the Pittsburgh-based Boilermakers Jazz Band, said he believed Mr. Wofford channeled pain into his singing.
"He was a very forceful blues singer. He wasn't a crooner kind of blues singer," he said. "He was in your face. He was hard, hard-edged."
Pittsburgh Jazz Channel host Tony Mowod said the whole of the city's jazz and blues community mourned Mr. Wofford's death. He recalled him as a tip-top dresser and a charismatic performer.
"He sang songs that were meaningful," Mr. Mowod said. "He had his own style, and any time he performed it was a jam-packed house."
Ms. Brown implored the community to help solve her uncle's murder. Anyone with information was asked to call the city police homicide unit at 412-323-7161.
Mr. Wofford is survived by siblings Diane, Arthur and Sandra Williams; stepbrother William Dock Sr.; daughter Charmaine Kelley; and son Alan Wofford, all of Pittsburgh.
Funeral arrangements were incomplete Monday.
The family was requesting donations to the Spriggs-Watson Funeral Home to assist with funeral arrangements. Cash donations can be dropped off at the funeral home or checks, made out to the Spriggs-Watson Funeral Home, care of Leroy Wofford, can be mailed to 720 N. Lang Ave., Pittsburgh 15208.
A benefit will also be hosted to raise funds for Mr. Wofford's funeral at James Street Gastropub and Speakeasy on Wednesday at 6 p.m.
RIP Leroy. Another senseless killing of a child of God. It was always fun gigging with you!
|Benefit for slain blues great Wofford|
|Written by Christian Morrow - Courier Staff Writer|
|Wednesday, 12 September 2012 09:55|
Leroy Wofford, the blues and jazz singer known for the easy manner that contrasted with his often flashy clothes, was shot in his Larimer home Sept. 8. He died the next day from his wounds.
Police are continuing to investigate, but have little to go on. When they arrived on the scene, Wofford was conscious and told them two men walked onto his porch around 1:30 a.m. One pulled a gun and when he tried to close the door they fired through it, striking him in the chest. He was taken to UPMC Presbyterian where he died around 12:30 p.m. the next day. He was 59.
Though many in Pittsburgh’s musical fraternity are shocked that such a beloved entertainer could die this way, they are equally determined that his life and talent will be remembered.
“This is terrible. I don’t know what’s the matter with the world these days,” said James Street Gastropub owner Adam Johnston. “He was one of our favorites. We could always count on a great crowd when he played. He was a great entertainer; from his flashy get up he wore, to the way he warmed to the crowd. He’ll be missed.”
But he won’t be forgotten. Johnston contacted Nelson Harrison about holding a benefit show to raise money for Wofford’s funeral expenses.
“His family is having a tough time gathering up the funds. So I was talking to Doc about holding a benefit, and that got the snowball rolling. The outpouring from musicians around town has been amazing,” said Johnston. “People have been emailing and calling like crazy. So, we’ll have people playing music, talking about Leroy, and we’ll pass the hat.”
Johnston said the benefit will start at 6 p.m. on Wednesday, Sept. 12 and will go as long as it takes.
“From what Nelson is saying, we could be here all night,” said Johnston. “When I go, I want my funeral to be a joyous celebration. That’s what I want this to be.”
Tim Stevens was just setting up for his Sunday set at James Street, when he said one of the waitresses told him Wofford had died.
“My mouth literally just dropped open I was so shocked. This violence is too close, too brutal and too frequent,” he said. “Tony Mowod told me they had just spoken Friday about him coming down to join our set. He was probably the greatest showman, in terms of blues and jazz singing, in the city. He was always a big hit at out B-PEP jazz concert. We, of course, dedicated our set to him and finished with one of his favorites: Lou Rawls version of Tobacco Road.”
Stevens said he was pleased to hear about the tribute and plans to be there.
Harrison said he expects a large crowd of performers.
“Yes, it’s really taken off,” he said. “Adam called me and we spread the word about tomorrow night from 6 until. I know his sister and niece will be there to accept any funds that anyone contributes and there’ll be a whole lot of people there to join in.”
In addition to his sister Diane Williams, and niece Zaneen Brown, Wofford is survived by daughter Charmaine Kelley; son Alan Wofford; siblings Arthur and Sandra Williams, and stepbrother William Dock, all of Pittsburgh.
In lieu of flowers the family requests donations be made, in care of Leroy Wofford, to Spriggs and Watson Funeral Home, 720 N. Lang Ave., Pittsburgh, PA 15208 to defer funeral expenses.
Final homegoing arrangements for Leroy K. Wofford by Spriggs & Watson Funeral Home
Viewing: Thursday, September 20, 2012 from 5:00 - 8:00 pm
Funeral Services, Friday, September 21, 2012 at 11:00 am from Spriggs & Watson
720 N. Lang Avenue, Pittsburgh, PA 15208
LeRoy was so blatantly honest in his expression of the "Blues" that you could not help but be pulled into it. It was a privilege to record him and add some of his work to the Pittsburgh Jazz Artist Museum's archives. Some of which are available at our youtube.com/drfbm site. But, of course now, I wish that I could of caught more of him live but the positivity and showmanship of LeRoy will always be part of the Pittsburgh essence; until we can continue singing new songs with him in Heaven, sincerely Dr Bruce and PittsburghJAM.org