Chief Anderson Benefit Concert
Bryn Mawr College - McPherson Auditorium
by Gina Lee
On March 13, 2014, at Bryn Mawr College’s McPherson Auditorium, the United States Postal Service honored the late Tuskegee Airman Charles Alfred “Chief” Anderson with his own 2 oz. stamp in his hometown of Bryn Mawr, Pennsylvania. Chief Anderson, also known as the “Father of Black Aviation,” is now the first Tuskegee Airman to ever have his face on a USPS Stamp– another milestone in black history, American history, and Tuskegee Air Force history. To celebrate such a significant event, the C. Alfred “Chief” Anderson Legacy Foundation held a benefit concert following the First Date of Issue Ceremony to remember the life and accomplishments of Anderson, the lead flight instructor of the Tuskegee Airmen.
The benefit concert, hosted by comedian Rodney Perry, featured a performance by Grammy nominated artist Ben O’Neill, who has played guitar for some of the best names in music, including Christina Aguilera, Kanye West, Common Sense, and Kid Cudi. O’Neill joined two-time Grammy nominee Eric Roberson, the show headliner, in creating a memorable musical celebration for Anderson’s outstanding achievements.
O’Neill, originally from mid-Pennsylvania and now a Philadelphia resident, was enthusiastic to be involved in the historic ceremony. “I’m excited to be a part of something that’s obviously a big piece of American history and play some music to entertain the folks.” O’Neill admires the current Philly music scene, stating, “Philadelphia has a ton of talented musicians and creative people, so I’m grateful for that. I came here 15 years ago and I haven’t left, so that says something about the Philly music scene. There’s a bunch of different genres that are well represented… I like the diversity of the city.”
Eric Roberson was just as honored to be a part of the event. His purple high-top Adidas sneakers almost outshined his animated personality, but when the very humble independent singer/songwriter/producer was asked to tell a bit about his own accomplishments, he simply stated, “In general, I’m just a kid who likes to do music and likes to get up and open my mouth up in front of a microphone.”
Roberson was personally invited to headline the concert by Chief Anderson’s granddaughter, Christina Anderson, who founded the C. Alfred “Chief” Anderson Legacy Foundation. “When she told me about the fundraiser that she was putting together and the benefit concert she was doing, I jumped at the opportunity. I said it would be something we would love to do– to take part in anything for someone that I aspire to be like.” Roberson, with nine albums under his belt, has written songs for Philadelphia musical artists Vivian Green, Jill Scott, and Musiq Soulchild, as well as singer Charlie Wilson and R&B group 112.
Despite his in-depth presence in the music scene, Roberson’s mission for the night was to make sure the audience had fun with his music and, more importantly, to amplify the messages of Chief Anderson, who was said to have a giving spirit and to always do what’s right. Roberson acknowledged the current state of the Philadelphia music scene, which he described as “rebuilding.” “When you look at Kanye West’s band, you see Philadelphia musicians. When you see Lady Gaga, you have a Philadelphia drummer, when you see almost any big pop, rock, R&B star right now, they’re pretty much backed by Philadelphia musicians. So with that said, now is the time for the young musicians, the young singers, the young producers, young songwriters to build. I think it’s in a rebuilding stage that I think is very exciting, I just hope they learn the lessons from the movement that happened right before them.”
Not everyone that came out to honor the Chief was a singer-songwriter. U.L. “Rip” Gooch, former state senator of Kansas who also served as a Tuskegee Airman, travelled by car from Kansas to Bryn Mawr to celebrate his fellow Tuskegee Airman’s accomplishments in history. Rip, as he likes to be called, made it clear that the entertainment piece of the benefit was secondary to him. He came to support the granddaughter of Chief Anderson in her efforts to have a successful fundraiser and to witness the stamp unveiling ceremony. Both Anderson and Gooch were previously named to the Black Aviation Hall of Fame, an achievement that he keeps very dear to his heart. He pulled out his medal from his inside jacket pocket and proudly displayed his award, bashfully chuckling that he hoped to one day gain a spot of recognition like Anderson.
As a young boy, Charles Alfred “Chief” Anderson knew he wanted to fly. Unfortunately at that time, no one was willing to teach a young black man aviation. Undeterred, Anderson learned airplane mechanics and, to ensure he would learn how to fly, purchased his own airplane. When the Tuskegee Institute started its Civilian Pilot Training Program (CPTP), Anderson was invited to be the Chief Flight Instructor. From there, Anderson dedicated his life to teaching blacks to fly.
To learn more about the C. Alfred “Chief” Anderson Legacy Foundation, visit www.chiefanderson.com. To explore the music by Grammy nominated artists Ben O’Neill or Eric Roberson, visit www.benoneillmusic.com or www.ericrobersonmusic.com.
Photography by K.D.Morris