Generation to Generation
When bluesman Archie Edwards opened his barbershop in Northeast Washington, DC, in the 1950s, it soon became a gathering place for musicians, music lovers, and their friends. Every Saturday afternoon, Archie would close the barbershop and host a jam session – sharing music, stories, and friendship with the people who dropped by to listen, play, and socialize. His mission was to play the music, pass it on, and keep it going.
Founders and the Barbershop Community
Archie's passing in 1998 threatened to close the door on his ministry of the blues. To keep that from happening, many of his fellow musicians and friends, with the approval and cooperation of his family, formed the Archie Edwards Blues Heritage Foundation. Founders Michel Baytop, Jeff Glassie, Eleanor Ellis, Neil Harpe, Kevin Canning, Miles Spicer, and Reverend Dion Thompson had a vision, and with the contributions of countless volunteers and donors, the community has flourished and grown.
Over the years, a host of individuals have become part of the Barbershop community by joining in the Saturday jams, participating in workshops, and attending concerts –
and by donating funds and volunteering their time and talents to make the organization a success. Behind the scenes, a volunteer board of directors plans and manages the organization’s activities and functions, drawing on others from the Barbershop community for help.
The contribution of volunteers cannot be overstated. When specialized skills are needed to keep the Barbershop facility functioning, members of the community step up to help. Volunteers staff concerts and plan holiday parties and special events. The Barbershop’s window displays and gallery walls were designed by volunteers.
The Barbershop's warm atmosphere has fostered a strong sense of community. No one who drops by remains a stranger for long. Everyone who is interested in listening to, learning about, or playing the blues is welcome.
The Archie Edwards Blues Heritage Foundation celebrated its 20th anniversary in 2018.
One of the most treasured aspects of Archie’s Barbershop is the opportunity to share the stories and music of those who came before us. Sadly, many of Archie’s contemporaries have now passed on, but they remain in our hearts.
We honor them at the Saturday jams by taking time for someone who was privileged to know Archie or his friends to tell a story – or a tall tale – that brings to life earlier times at the Barbershop and in African-American history. As we create our own stories and make our own music, we pass the tradition on to the new generations we meet at the Barbershop and in the community.
Archie Edwards (1918-1998)
Archie Edwards was a bluesman, teacher, barber, and storyteller. He was born in 1918 in Union Hall, Franklin County, Virginia. His father was a respected multi-instrumentalist whose friends would stop by the house to play with him, fostering his son’s early interest in music. A more detailed biography on the Archie Edwards page tells a rich story about the life and times of this remarkable musician, educator, and friend. The Archie Edwards Blues Heritage Foundation, founded in his honor, is dedicated to preserving his memory and carrying on his mission of keeping the acoustic blues tradition alive.
Richard "Mr. Bones" Thomas (1922-2002)
Richard “Mr. Bones” Thomas was a fixture in the Washington music scene for at least seven decades. Born in Pomonky, Maryland, on July 30, 1922, he was raised in Washington, DC, from the age of six months.
He developed an interest in the bones at the age of six, after seeing a vaudeville performance by Sammy Davis Jr. He crafted his first set of bones from a cigar box. He then began fashioning them from wood and finally settled upon using 6- to 7-inch beef rib bones to make them – a process that takes approximately nine months.
During World War II, he was drafted into the Army and was a member of the famous Red Ball Express. During the war, he earned four Battle Stars. After the war, he worked a series of jobs in both the private and public sector until his retirement.
Mr. Bones met Archie Edwards in 1989 at the recording of Blues and Bones. After making the recording, they performed at the Chicago Blues Festival. In 1997, the duo performed at the St. Louis Blues Festival.
His amazing talent on the bones and his winning personality made Mr. Bones a crowd favorite when he performed at the Smithsonian Folklife Festival, the Bull Durham Blues Festival, Blues in the Burg (where he was a featured performer), the DC Blues Festival, and other local festivals. He also performed community service benefit shows at hospitals, schools, and civic events.
Theorin B. O'Neil (1923-2002)
Theorin B. O'Neil was from Pittsylvania County, Virginia, which bordered on Franklin County, Archie's home. However, they did not meet and become friends until they both moved to the Washington, DC area.
Although Mr. O'Neil's guitar playing style was different from Archie's, their common roots were still evident.
Mr. O'Neil was a tall, reserved, and sober man. He was also shy and very dignified. He was a regular at the Barbershop for many years until his failing health prevented him from attending the Saturday sessions. A truck driver for a moving firm until his retirement, Mr. O’Neil enjoyed gardening. He and his wife raised six children.
Joe Watson (1920 – 2002)
Joe Watson was born in Goochland, Virginia, and moved to Washington, DC in 1941. He worked at the Harrington Hotel for 40 years before retiring.
Joe and Archie were very good friends, as evidenced by their constant banter and insults aimed at each other. He played the guitar and sang. He is most famous for his song “Can Do Bad By Myself,” a Barbershop favorite.
Joe performed with the Barbershop at the Smithsonian Folklife Festival, the Herndon Blues Festival, and other local festivals. Joe had a gentle but fun-loving personality with a deep love
and appreciation for the blues. He was a Barbershop regular until his health prevented him from participating.
N.J. Warren (1933-2009)
N.J. Warren was a friend and mentor to the many musicians who came to know and love him at Archie’s Barbershop. N.J. was an old friend of Archie Edwards and was a regular at the weekly Barbershop jams for decades.
A transplant from Pine Bluff, Arkansas, N.J. impressed acoustic blues fans with his slow-down, low-down, Delta-style guitar work and his talent for inventing soulful lyrics on the spot. His guitar playing and singing evoked the late Lightnin’ Slim and Silas Hogan.
N.J. was truly a blues ambassador, passing along his deep understanding of the music and supporting and encouraging younger musicians.
Napoleon Brundage (1925 – 2012)
A quiet man with a sly smile, Nap once said: "When jazz was born, I was in the delivery room"
An avid harmonica player, Nap was the last of the original generation of friends who gathered on Saturdays to jam with legendary blues artist Archie Edwards at his barbershop in Washington, DC. He taught himself to play the harmonica, developing a unique style that was appreciated by fellow musicians and anyone who had the privilege of hearing him play.
Over the years, Nap played with ensembles from Archie's Barbershop at events including the Bull Durham Festival, Blues in the Burg, DC Blues Society Festival, and Herndon Blues Festival. His failing health meant that his visits to the Barbershop were infrequent, but he still sat in on occasional performances, including at the Washington Center for Aging Services where he lived in his later years.
Napoleon Brundage was born in Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania on September 14, 1925. He spent his early childhood years in Devereaux, Georgia, and came to Washington, DC, when he was 12 years old. As a teenager, he moved to New York City where he was acquainted with many musicians in the night club scene. A WWII veteran, he served on a destroyer during the war. After returning to Washington in the 1960s, his many pursuits included owning a record store where he could share his love of music. He lived in Washington until his passing on August 18, 2012.
Dennis Herndon 1953 - 2017
Dennis Herndon was a founder of the Archie Edwards Bllues Heritage Foundation and a member of the Foundation's board of directors. A native of Detroit, Michigan, he had a long career in radio and audio engineering, culminating as the manager of staffing and logistics engineering at National Public Radio. After he retired from NPR, he returned to his Detroit hometown and resigned from the Archie’s board, but continued working with the organization on digital issues until illness He passed away in 2018.
Dennis was a beloved member of both the Archie’s community and the NPR staff. Thoughtful, witty, and warm, he was always a voice of calm wisdom in challenging situations. A technical wizard and an early adopter of digital media, he helped the Foundation develop its website and take advantage of digital resources. He played a major role in designing NPR's new headquarters with state-of-the-art studios in Washington, DC.
Although Dennis was typically found on the sidelines of a jam, he was a fine acoustic guitarist.