African American Studies


Interviewee: Valeria Capers, session 2

Interviewer: Dr. Mark Naison, Maxine Gordon, Dawn Russell

Date of Interview: January 18, 2007

Summarized by Alice Stryker

The interview resumes by talking about Valerie’s first gig at Kenny’s. She began working there in 1965 or 1966. She also mentions how inspired she was by the music of John Coltrane. Her brother Bobby played a big part in inspiring her to develop her skills as a jazz musician. One of his friends was Arthur Jenkins, who she calls Artie, who would come over and play for her. Les McCann also helped her develop an ear for blues.

When her brother Bobby was at PS 63, the teachers noticed he was very gifted and they advised her parents to take him to a better school. At Olinville Junior High, Bobby began studying Clarinet. He was so talented, that he was able to attend the High School of Music and Art. There, he continued classical training on the clarinet as well as the piano. It was during this time that he discovered his love for the saxophone. Bobby was good friends with the first violinist, named Lyle Atkinson.

In the mid to late 1950’s Bobby began playing at the clubs in the Bronx. At this time, many people and musicians came up from Manhattan to go to or play at these clubs. She talks about some of the Bronx musicians she believed were very talented. She does not believe that her friends were using drugs at the time.

Bobby began working with Mongo Santamaria. It was during this time that Bobby created “Watermelon Man,” a top ten pop-song. The first song she composed, “El Torro” was for Bobby and Mongo. They would play that song at many of their gigs. Their group had a reputation for partying and would frequently get kicked out of hotels. Bobby stayed with Mongo until 1969. After he left Mongo, he worked with a couple music programs.

Bobby died February 25, 1974 due to his alcoholism. She was well aware of his problem and of how bad it had gotten. People told her again and again that she had to help her brother but she did not know how to.

She talks about some of her recent family problems. One of her young relatives embezzled money from Valerie and her mother. Unfortunately, she was unable to get it back. Many of the New York papers got involved in the story, but the press did not help her situation. Sadly, this fight caused a division in the family. When Valerie’s mother died, she had no idea she had great grandchildren because of this fight.

She was able to be as strong and successful as she has been because of her family. They always wanted her to be strong and feel that she could do anything.

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Capers, Valerie Interview 2.mp3 (179648 kB)