Jae Mason, 1941-2003

Jae Mason, 1941-2003

He recorded a pair of folk-soul albums for Buddah in the ’70s, opened shows for Bruce Springsteen, Betty Carter and The Moody Blues, swapped songs with Guy Clark and Townes Van Zandt, and had cuts with Richie Havens, Phoebe Snow and Taj Mahal. You’d never have known it by talking to him, though. Self-deprecating and kindhearted, Jae Mason did all those things. He also rode horses with actor Danny Glover, worked as musical director for The Bill Pickett Rodeo and served as a minister of the gospel before losing his fight with cancer last week.

Born in Washington, D.C., but raised in Pennsylvania and New York, where he worked security and often performed at the Bottom Line, Mason moved to Nashville in 1987 with his wife Diane at the bidding of master songwriter Hank Cochran, who thought there might be a place for Mason in country music. Yet as with most black country singers, Music Row didn’t know what to make of him—a warm, Bill Withers-like singer with a penchant for picking out jazz- and R&B-inflected figures on his acoustic guitar.

Yeah, well, Bruce Springsteen knew better. According to Mason’s friend Steve Wiener, the Boss used to introduce Jae as his opening act by admonishing the crowd to hang on his every word. Which is just what people did when Mason played a showcase hosted by the Black Country Music Association at the Bluebird a few years back. There wasn’t a dry eye in the house by the time he finished singing “Little Cowboys and Cowgirls of Color,” a song he wrote about the absence of brown faces in Western movies—and the message that sends black youth.

—Bill Friskics-Warren


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