“Keith, how did you start with the harmonica?” I am asked this a lot. To answer properly, I need to start at the very beginning to mention the different events and influences that led me to the harmonica.
The list includes Boston City Hospital, Northampton Street, the Rivoli Theater, Orchard Park Projects, baseball, T-Bone Walker, James Cotton, radio station W-I-L-D, Luther ‘Snake’ Johnson, a Grundig Hi-Fi and so on.
When you hear the reasons, during this series, you will see how they are all related to me and starting to play the harmonica.
Why is Boston City Hospital important to my story?
I was born in Boston City Hospital and being a child who was born with chronic asthma, I also almost died there shortly after being born. Because of my asthma and often being sick, I did not go outdoors very much in my early years.
Luckily, at that time, we lived on Northampton Street, only about half a mile from City Hospital, because for a few years, I had to go to the hospital once a week, and then once a month to get shots and that awful yellow medicine that they gave to asthma patients in those days.
For a while, I spent more time at this hospital than anywhere other than at home. After 4 years of this, I was considered healthy enough to start going out to play and look for trouble with other kids. I was finished with regular visits for now, but the hospital will come back into my story later.
Dudley Street Station and hittin’ the streets..
We moved from Northampton Street to the Orchard Park Projects close to Dudley Street Station. It has since been torn down but at that time it was the main transportation station for our community and the heart of the Roxbury section of Boston.
I remember standing on the old wooden boards of the station in the morning waiting for the train to go to school, or playing harmonica with Stanley Steele or selling newspapers or various other things. Soon after moving there, I did not know it, but I was about to see my first live concert.
More about the concert and how it is relates to former Atlanta Mayor, Keisha Lance-Bottoms, in Part 2 of “How I Started To Play Harmonica” Keith Dunn