Pauline's Passing "St. Louis American"
A musician’s effort to comfort his dying mother comes to a beautiful end.
Staccato notes from a trumpet blare from a house along the 4600 block of Elmbank Avenue. The music is an unsolicited homage to the once culturally rich Greater Ville Neighborhood – an area that gifted the world Chuck Berry, Arthur Ashe, Dick Gregory, Josephine Baker and so many more notable African Americans. The single-family brick home is similar to many on the quiet, tree-lined street near Hickey Elementary School.
This was the neighborhood that Edward Nelson called home, an environmental engineer, and the place where he and his wife Pauline, an accomplished artist and photographer, raised their six children in the culture and tradition of Africa. Edward passed away in 2010. The house then went into disrepair as Pauline, 91, spent time in hospitals fighting the ravages of Alzheimer’s disease and other life-threatening maladies.
As COVID-19 spread rapidly last March, the Nelsons’ oldest living son, the musician, artist and educator Mike Nelson (affectionately known as “Baba Mike”) was forced to make a difficult decision. In September, he spoke with The St. Louis American about whether he should place his mother in a nursing home, or refurbish the family home so that she could spend her final days “transitioning” in accordance with African rituals and tradition.
A musician's battle for his mom in the midst of COVID-19 in "St. Louis American"
ST. LOUIS — To “transition,” in western society, means someone has died and moved on to the great beyond. The African tradition of “transitioning,” however, is a lengthier process. Since death is perceived as the beginning of a person's deeper relationship with creation, much attention is given to complementing life before a person dies.
This was a challenge for local musician, artist, and educator Mike Nelson, affectionally known as “Baba Mike.” Nelson’s mother, Pauline, 91, suffers from late stage Alzheimer’s and other life-threatening maladies.
Pauline was an accomplished artist and photographer. Nelson’s father Edward, who passed in 2010, was an environmental engineer. His parents introduced him to African culture and tradition as a child in their home in the Greater Ville Neighborhood. The neighborhood was once the center of St. Louis black culture. It was the home of notables such as Chuck Berry, Arthur Ashe, Dick Gregory, and Josephine Baker. As a youngster, Nelson studied jazz trumpet and arranging under artists Oliver Lake, David Hines and Lester Bowie.
In March, as the Coronavirus was spreading throughout the United States, Nelson and his siblings concluded that their mother, who had a stroke while living with his sister, needed to be in a nursing home. The process, he said, was a nightmare.
“This country has made a total mess out of hospitalization care for the elderly,” Nelson said. “I had to keep one ear to the news and one ear to what they (nursing home officials) were saying. All of it, from the White House, the health department…they all seemed to make it up as they were going along.”
The STL Free Jazz Collective, "St. Louis Magazine"
Sponsored by the Regional Arts Commission and featuring jazz-topped-by-poetry, the STL Free Jazz Collective bills itself as “outstanding St. Louis artists [who] come together to represent a collective vision of unity and freedom through our spontaneously improvised music.” The ensemble includes: Michael Castro, poet; Baba Mike Nelson, trumpet, shells, multi-instrumentalist; Jerome "Jay Dubs" Williams, alto saxophone; Jim Hegarty, piano and electronics; Paul Steinbeck, electric bass; Gary Sykes, drums and percussion.