African American Studies
Owens, Jimmy Interview 1. October 7, 2005. Interview with the Bronx African American History Project. BAAHP Digital Archive at Fordham.
Click below to download supplemental content.Owens, Jimmy Interview 1.mp3 (121290 kB)
Jimmy Owens grew up in the Morrisania Neighborhood in the Bronxon 168th street. His parents moved to 163rd street and Union Avenue in the Bronx from Harlem shortly after they got married. His father worked for the Post Office out of the Morgan Branch on 9th avenue in Manhattan. Owens was born on 168th street betweenUnion andProspect Avenue.
His parents both had high school educations and music was not that prominent in his immediate family. His father’s side of the family however, was very musical. His father did however play jazz records in the house.
He went to PS 99 for grade school and remembers his sister walking him to school initially then later going by himself. Although there were no crossing guards, there was the safety patrol that was manned by students, which Owens participated in. He discusses candy stores and the temptations they offered to students walking to and from school. He remembers many of the teachers he had in grade school, some more fondly then others. The main forms of after school entertainment was playing in backyards or listening to the radio programs. In addition to these positive memories of grade school, he also remembers the presence of gangs and gang violence in the neighborhood. He also remembers numbers runners and other aspects of the underground economy. Additionally, he describes what made the “bad” children so bad, like murdering people, carrying weapons, and harshly beating up other children. In general however, he remembers his childhood fondly. For example, he remembers Langston Hughes coming up to theBronxto visit a relative and would stop and tell Owens and his friends stories about “Simple”.
Although he did not play an instrument in grade school, Owens had an older friend that gave him a broken trumpet and taught him how to play a little. In the 6th grade, he took an exam which allowed him to be in a special music in JHS 40. The test was a music aptitude test and did not require students to actually play an instrument. The first day of school, children in the special music class were given instruments they could take home. Eventually, Owens was good enough where he could join the band. Most of his classmates simply learned their instrument at school, meaning private lessons were not popular. He drew inspiration to practice from his neighbors, his sisters, and his cousins. All of these people made him want to be a good trumpet player. He practiced really hard and was able to pass the test to get into theHigh School ofMusic and Art.