Musicians share experiences of living and working in the Heights
Cleveland Heights is known as “Home to the Arts,” and six Heights musicians took part in a recent panel event, "Welcome Home: Heights Musicians," to recount their experiences as musicians who live, and often work, in the Heights community.
Organized by FutureHeights, Reaching Heights and Friends of Heights Libraries, the event took place on May 19 at Rockefeller’s, the restaurant and bar located in the historic Rockefeller Building on Mayfield Road.
The musicians represented a variety of musical styles, ranging from classical to folk, and gospel to “newgrass.” Two of the musicians play with the Cleveland Orchestra: Beth Woodside, a violinist who has been with the orchestra since 1992; and Scott Haigh, who plays stand-up bass, and joined the orchestra back in 1978. Panelist Charlie Mosbrook is a folk singer-songwriter who has been on the Cleveland music scene for decades, and has so far released 11 CDs over the course of his career. Brendan O’Malley plays mandolin and sings with the newgrass band Honeybucket; and Willie J. Wright is a vocalist with the Wright Family Singers, a 10-member vocal group established in 1978, that performs gospel and spiritual music. David Budin, a Cleveland Heights writer and musician who plays guitar and sings with the band Long Road, served as the moderator for the event.
Three of the panelists—Mosbrook, O’Malley and Wright, as well as moderator Budin—grew up in the Heights. They all talked about how Heights schools influenced their musical passions.
“I was always exposed to a lot of different music when I was in school,” O’Malley said. Mosbrook noted that he started taking drum lessons when he was in fifth grade at Fairfax Elementary School and then got involved with the school choir when he went to high school. Wright recalled that he was in the sixth-grade choir when he attended Boulevard Elementary School, and said, “All the way through high school the teachers really lit the fire and set the passion for music.”
All three spoke of the influence that the Heights, in general, has had on their love of music. “Cleveland Heights has always been this bastion of artistry and music,” Wright said. “I loved hanging out on Coventry and going to the Coventry Street Fair. There has always been so much energy there on Coventry.”
O’Malley said that, when he was growing up, his parents always took him to see music in the area, and he recalled attending shows at the Grog Shop on Coventry, the Barking Spider in University Circle, Cain Park and the Hessler Street Fair.
Neither Woodside nor Haigh grew up in Greater Cleveland, but both moved to the Heights after joining the orchestra. “I love Cleveland Heights,” said Woodside, who was born in Rochester, N.Y. “It’s really wonderful raising my two daughters here. You walk into a coffee shop, and you hear music. And there are so many opportunities for children to sing in choirs at the schools and at the churches.”
Haigh, who grew up in Illinois, added, “There’s a real concentration of artistic diversity here. It’s an interesting and vital community. It’s not the kind of community with mega-malls and mansions that were built five years ago!”
In addition to his own music, Mosbrook is known for the open-mic sessions that he runs every Monday night at Phoenix Coffee on Coventry Road. He first started doing open mics about 25 years ago, when he worked at Arabica Coffee on Coventry.
This past February, Wright formed a community choir called Ties That Bind. It’s open to all cultures and all denominations, and rehearsals are held on the second and fourth Monday of each month, 7–8:30 p.m., at the Heights Christian Church on Van Aken Boulevard in Shaker Heights.
After the panel discussion, the audience asked the musicians questions. Then, Wright sang an a-cappella version of “Forever Me with Love,” followed by Mosbrook and O’Malley performing “I Will Be Coming Home to You,” with Mosbrook on guitar and O’Malley on mandolin.
The "Welcome Home: Heights Musicians" event was the third in an ongoing series of community panel discussions featuring some of the creative people who live and work in Cleveland Heights and University Heights.
James Henke, a Cleveland Heights resident, was a writer and editor at Rolling Stone magazine for 15 years. He is also the author of several books, including biographies of Jim Morrison, John Lennon and Bob Marley.