Gaston & Catawba

WSGE explores soulful development of music

In celebration of February as Black History Month, Tyrone Jefferson and his wife, Toni Tupponce, will host education programs on Gaston College’s WSGE 91.7 FM radio station that examine how music from the black community has affected American culture.

Segments of “The Heart and Soul of American Music” series will be aired as part of the “R&B House Party” show Jefferson and his wife host each Saturday from 7 to 9 p.m. The special series will be from 7 to 8 p.m.

“R&B House Party” has been featuring old-school rhythm and blues and funk since 2006. The Black History segments will explore how those music genres evolved from native musical rhythms and phrasings African-Americans brought with them to America and how they have influenced everything from gospel and jazz to rap and rock ’n’ roll.

“If it weren’t for people like Louis Armstrong, Duke Ellington and Count Basie, we wouldn’t have jazz because black gospel songs were the start. The oldest roots are African-American music,” Jefferson said last week. “Louis Armstrong set the phrasing for jazz.”

Both Jefferson and Tupponce are musicians.

Born in the Harlem neighborhood in New York City, Jefferson’s family moved to Charlotte when he was a year old. His father, a shipping clerk by day, played drums, tap danced and was a comedian at Charlotte’s old Hi-Fi supper club.

His mother, Rosa, played piano at their church. Jefferson, as a seventh-grader, learned trombone and played with his junior high school’s band and orchestra; he later learned to play piano.

After earning a bachelor’s degree at N.C. A&T State University in electrical engineering, a certificate in arranging and composition at Berklee College of Music, and a master’s degree in information management systems, he served as band director and music arranger for funk, soul and R&B singer James Brown “off and on for 25 years,” he said.

He serves as information technology project manager for Mecklenburg County’s Water and Land Resources Division, and is executive director of A Sign of the Times of the Carolinas, a nonprofit he founded that is dedicated to improving the community through cultural productions and educational programs that reflect the heritage of African-Americans.

Tupponce became a singer at an early age. “I began singing when I was just a child,” she said. But she credits her mother with giving her a needed push to perform in public by urging her to perform in a Christmas program at their church when she was 10.

After receiving a bachelor’s degree in sociology at N.C. Central University, a master’s in regional planning at UNC-Chapel Hill and accreditation in municipal administration at UNC-Chapel Hill’s School of Government, she held planning director, division manager and consulting jobs with Santee Lynches Regional Council of Governments in Sumter, S.C., N.C. Department of Transportation in Raleigh, Winston-Salem’s City-County Planning Board and the city of Charlotte.

Now owner and president of Tupponce Enterprises II Inc., a Charlotte-based consulting, training and facilitation firm, she serves as program director for A Sign of the Times of the Carolinas and lead vocalist for A Sign of the Times jazz and R&B ensemble.

Both the couple and Sandra McMullen, marketing director for A Sign of the Times, believe that the organization’s work has helped the black, white and Latino communities connect and understand each other’s culture through the music, dance and spoken word programs. Sometimes members perform as a 24-member band and oftentimes as a five- to six-member combo or ensemble.

But rarely do they play parties, Jefferson said.

“We party for a purpose,” he said with a smile. And the purpose is to make the world a better place through learning the history of the music and dances that evolved through blending America’s diverse cultures.

Stereotypes and biases are hard to break, Jefferson said.

But he’s convinced that the shared love and history of the black community’s contribution to America’s music genres can help bridge the gap of understanding.

“Unless you know about what you are and where you came from, you can’t grow,” said McMullen.

“The more people that participate and learn from A Sign of the Times programs, the more they can grow and connect.”