May 2011 - Vermont Movers and Shakers
The Vermont Mover’s and Shaker’s
Fifty (50) members of the Vermont American Parkinson’s Disease Association (Vermont Chapter APDA) otherwise known as the ‘Vermont Mover’s and Shakers’ will be returning to the 2011 Unity Walk in honor of Bruce Talbot who passed away in January.
His energy and life even with Parkinson’s Disease was a true inspiration to anyone who was lucky enough or would have the chance to meet Bruce. His impact was felt both locally and nationally.
“Vermonter's lost a gentle and kind leader, a true pioneer on how to live life, share what it takes to endure each day with chronic illness, and never let go or fail to recognize the importance of those around him.....His presence will always be a part of the Parkinsons’s Disease Community in Vermont. His spirit will guide us and help us find the right answers even when we seem confused, and we will always love him endlessly for just being Bruce.
Bruce Talbot brought joy to so many people no matter what was cast or thrown before him and he taught us how to handle anything with the greatest of dignity. He will be missed by the entire community he established, and his dearest group of colleagues, friends, and individual’s who live with Parkinson’s Disease.
The Vermont Chapter of APDA is very grateful for the assistance that has been provided by the Leaders of the Unity Walk and for helping us to recognize his lasting legacy, hard- work, enduring- spirit, outreach, and acts-of-kindness; that always came so easily from Bruce Bellows Talbot.
We have all witnessed a journey that will never end with a love for life like no other”.
Michael J. O'Connor
President, Vermont Chapter APDA
Bruce Talbot: The man who brought the joy of gospel music to Brattleboro
By Joyce Marcel/The Commons
DUMMERSTON—IT HAPPENED overnight.
In the spring of 1992, Brattleboro woke to find itself plastered with posters announcing a concert by an all-black, 100-voice church gospel choir from New Jersey. The poster photo alone was a revelation — all those black faces coming to one of the whitest towns in the country! Lift up your voices! Make a joyful sound unto the Lord!
Truth be told, I was irrationally exuberant about this concert. I was a music critic back then, in love with old-fashioned blues and rhythm and blues, which is the other side of black gospel. As T-Bone Walker sang in Stormy Monday, “The eagle flies on Friday/and Saturday I go out and play/Sunday I go to church, then I kneel down and pray.”
Same beat, different words.
The concert had the potential of being a topnotch musical event, and all I could think of was, “How in the hell can this be happening in Brattleboro?”
The answer, I discovered, was Bruce Talbot, who died on Jan. 23 at the age of 61.
Talbot had been living in Brattleboro for only a few months when he decided to bring the choir to town.
He had already worked in the Montpelier bureau of United Press International. He had been a high school teacher, the editor of company publications for the National Life Insurance Company, and a public relations guy for the Barre Granite Association, and he was then organizing tours for Basketville. But gospel music?
IT SEEMS THAT a few years before, Talbot had had an epiphany involving an Aretha Franklin gospel song — and who hasn’t?
But Talbot took his enchantment deeper than most. He and his close friend, Paul Erlbaum, started seeking similar epiphanies in Harlem churches. And the people of Harlem told them, “If you want to hear the best gospel, you gotta go to Newark, to the New Hope Baptist Church.” So they did.
Soon, they were adopted as family by the New Hope congregation and realized they had found musical as well as spiritual nirvana.
The 11 O’Clock Choir of the New Hope Baptist Church in Newark, N.J., had some serious musical chops. Its director was the elegant Ann Drinkard-Moss, sister of the great singer Cissy Houston and aunt of the celebrated pop singers Dionne Warwick and Whitney Houston.
Talbot and Erlbaum decided to share this wealth of musical talent with Brattleboro.
“The purpose of my life is to enable people to have joy-filled, fulfilled lives,” Talbot told me then. “I make it up as I go along; I’m not looking at church or religious work. There’s a love that occurs in the music that to me goes beyond all differences and transcends everything.”
When the three buses from New Jersey pulled into Brattleboro, the singers and their friends and families murmured: “Everybody’s white here. What are we going to do?” And then someone said, “We’re going to sing for the Lord.”
And that’s exactly what they did.
As the 100 singers, in their navy blue robes, started marching down the aisles of the First Baptist Church, the audience was swept up by their majestic, stirring, thrilling sound and the power and the glory of their faith. Later, I wrote, “For me, ecstasy was followed by rapture, and there I stayed.”
“It was the best experience the choir ever had. It didn’t have anything to do with black or white. The exuberance that the audience had was so great; we responded accordingly and sang our hearts out.”
Talbot brought the choir back four more times to Vermont, the last two times to the Barre Auditorium, which holds an audience of 2,000. All the concerts were sold out. In 1999, he also brought, for a separate concert, the Newark Boys Chorus to the Barre Auditorium. It also sold out.
After the Talbot family moved to Barre, we stayed in touch mostly by phone and e-mail. But in 2001, Talbot and Erlbaum took me down to New Hope for an elevating musical experience from the source. By then, he and Erlbaum were habitually introducing Vermonters to African-American culture and vice versa. Cross-cultural communication without confrontation: it was a revelation.
“There was such a built-in cultural rift,” Talbot told me. “Yet over the years, Paul and I and others from Vermont have been completely and unexpectedly embraced. All we had to do was reach out a little bit and snap, there were these instant, loving relationships.... We’re all inherently anxious, if not fearful, about other people. If someone just makes a little step, boom, snap, these things just open up.”
In 1994, Talbot was diagnosed with Parkinson’s disease. It didn’t seem to slow him down at all. With energy and great good humor, he wrote, exercised. and founded and served as the president of the Vermont chapter of the American Parkinson’s Disease Association. In 2007, Talbot was named to the first national patients’ advisory council of the Parkinson’s Disease Foundation.
In February of 2010, Talbot was diagnosed with a fatal brain tumor. It didn’t seem to faze him. According to his obituary, his reaction was, “I’ve had a wonderful life."
He fought the good fight, surrounded and supported by his family and many friends, and he died peacefully among them. Besides his wife, Judith Sutphen of Putney, he leaves three children, his brother and sister-in-law, and their four sons and families.
* * *
ERLBAUM, who contacted me with the news of Talbot’s death, refused to speak about him in the past tense.
“Bruce is all about joy,” Erlbaum said. “He finds his joy in his daily morning meditation and spends the rest of each day spreading that joy to others. In meditation, Bruce gives his thanks and praise silently. At New Hope Baptist Church, Bruce finds people who shout their thanks and praise. This completes his world.”
After the first concert, Moss said, “Bruce, you have fulfilled your purpose.” In his life, this lovely, brave, and irreverently funny man managed to fulfill many purposes. He spread a lot of happiness, took many people on great personal adventures, and enriched the cultural life of Vermont. I have always felt honored to know him.