Gloria DeNard studied voice at the Juilliard School. She sang on CBS Radio and toured the world as a U.S.O. performer. But it was offstage, as an educator and activist, that Ms. DeNard made her greatest influence.
She created her personal Juilliard in East Harlem.
Ms. DeNard opened Manna House Workshops in 1967. She named it after the meals that God supplied the Israelites within the desert, and her objective was likewise to deliver enrichment to an impoverished neighborhood, within the type of jazz and dance schooling.
“I wanted the people in the community to have a better feeling of self-worth,” Ms. DeNard stated in “Manna — Jazz and Survival in East Harlem,” a 2018 documentary about Manna House. “I just said, hey, jazz is something we created as African-Americans. They ought to know it, and then be able to feel good about that and hopefully get an income from having studied it.”
Manna House started as a month-to-month espresso home at the Church of the Ascension in Harlem. But in 1968, with grants from the Rockefeller Foundation and different sources, Ms. DeNard purchased a five-story constructing on East 106th Street, making the primary two flooring a faculty and renting the higher tales.
Over the subsequent 52 years, Ms. DeNard, a diminutive lady shy of 5 toes tall, carried Manna House — and to some extent, East Harlem — on her again.
In a neighborhood beset by crime and medicines, Manna House was “an oasis of functional activity,” Craig Harris, a jazz trombonist who taught there, stated within the 2018 documentary. “People could bring their children and be taught great things, beautiful things.”
Manna House ran on a beautiful chaotic vitality. The instructors (together with Ms. DeNard, who taught piano with a eager ear for unsuitable notes) have been top-notch musicians, however the price of a lesson ran as little as $20. If a dad or mum or pupil couldn’t afford that, Ms. DeNard would supply a “scholarship,” making up the shortfall herself.
In 1997, when the constructing’s handyman was killed in his upstairs apartment throughout a theft, Ms. DeNard took over sweeping the halls, tending the boiler and taking out the rubbish. Building upkeep grew to become only one extra responsibility, together with instructing, fund-raising, organizing a yearly live performance collection, encouraging college students and working off anybody who dared use medication in entrance of the college.
“Gloria sacrificed anything for Manna House,” Brenda Fair Alexander, the college’s administrator, stated in an interview. “Her heart was just so big.”
Kenwood Dennard, Ms. DeNard’s son and a drummer who has performed with George Clinton, Sting, Miles Davis, Gil Evans and plenty of others, virtually grew up at Manna House.
There was no line between his mom and the college she based, Mr. Dennard stated in an interview: “Manna House was Gloria DeNard and Gloria DeNard was Manna House.”
Ms. DeNard died on May 30 at her dwelling in East Harlem, throughout the road from Manna House, her son stated. She was 93. Her demise was not broadly reported at the time.
Gloria Isabel Cummings was born on Oct 11, 1926, in Brooklyn. Little is thought about her father, Richard Cummings. Her mom, Maude Bascome Cummings Taylor, emigrated to New York from Bermuda. A gifted and disciplined pianist and organist, Maude ran a music faculty and served for 45 years as choir director of Cornerstone Baptist Church within the Bedford-Stuyvesant part of Brooklyn.
As an adolescent singing in that church, “I sung myself out,” Ms. DeNard stated within the documentary. “My vocal cords got in trouble. And I had a whole year of just being quiet.”
Juilliard supplied corrective, and Ms. DeNard emerged with classical coaching. But her real love was jazz — she particularly admired Sarah Vaughan — and he or she and her husband, Frederick Dennard, whom she met at Juilliard, grew to become a vocal duet.
Throughout the 1950s, the couple traveled the world on U.S.O. excursions, performing for American troops in Alaska, Japan, South Korea and elsewhere. It was after Ms. DeNard returned dwelling that she received the concept to ascertain a faculty.
While she carried out for many years as a soloist, in each classical and jazz settings all through Manhattan in addition to within the choir of Riverside Church, Ms. DeNard’s personal music profession took a again seat to encouraging others.
Some of Manna House’s former college students, amongst them Will Calhoun, the drummer for the rock band Living Color, and the actress PaSean Wilson, went on to have careers within the arts. But the purpose of the college was to not practice professionals, because it was at Juilliard; it was to encourage youngsters who won’t in any other case have the chance to create and be happy with who they have been.
“Above all else was this overriding sense of purpose — a sense of the need for that school in that place,” the British filmmaker Peter Urpeth, who directed the 2018 documentary, stated in an interview. “Gloria wasn’t just a great singer and musician; she was the epitome of a leader.”
Ms. DeNard’s marriage resulted in divorce, after which she modified the spelling of her stage identify from Dennard. In addition to her son, she is survived by a daughter, Dale Sims; a brother, Richard Cummings; a granddaughter; and two great-grandchildren.
An advocate of wholesome dwelling who didn’t drink alcohol and took a each day shot of wheatgrass, Ms. DeNard was energetic at Manna House till the final week of her life. She was in talks for somebody to purchase the constructing, and hoped a member of the family would take over the college.
“The neighborhood has gentrified, of course,” Ms. Alexander, the college administrator, stated. “But there is always a need for a place like Manna House.”