We heard, sadly, that Adolphus Bell passed away this morning. Last week Aaron, Ardie Dean and I all met up in Birmingham to see our old friend. His four-year fight with lung cancer had taken a turn for the worse and he was fighting pneumonia. Despite his tough situation, Adolphus was clear-headed, watched a beautiful message videoed by Denise, and he and I talked. We broke our stay up into short visits so as not to tire him too much. Adolphus had called me last week and he wanted me to come and see him, he knew his situation was not good and wanted to give me his old guitar. When I got there, Adolphus and I agreed it was not time yet, he should hold on to his guitar, as he was going to make it through. This seemed to give him hope and he told me “yeah man, I am going to try.”
Adolphus Bell was born in Birmingham, AL in 1944, but grew up in Pittsburgh, PA. His neighbor growing up was George Benson, who lent him a guitar to get started. As a teenager Adolphus began performing in local clubs with bands. Many times the players would not show up for the gigs or for practice, so his mother suggested that he go out on his own and not depend on anyone. Adolphus then had an idea for his own “one man band.” He went into his room and practiced for six months, playing the guitar, harmonica, bass drum and hi hat. When he came out he was ready, and began his life-long profession. He had bad experiences with managers so he turned to himself to make it work.
He painted, “Adolphus Bell, One Man Band,” on his station wagon and hit the road. Going from town to town, playing in small bars, the streets, wherever, he did this for just over 40 years when I met him.
He was an incredible guitarist and a wonderful dancer famous for his steps of Georgia Mashed Potato, Mississippi Longleg, and many more.
When Music Maker met him he had been living in his van, homeless for 15 years. He loved Music Maker and was thrilled to participate in all our programs. We helped him get dentures, an apartment, a car and a career.
He recorded a wonderful record, toured Australia and throughout Europe, Turkey, Costa Rica, Argentina, and the US, playing at the Lincoln Center among other prestigious venues.
4 years ago his career was in full bloom, he fell ill with cancer. He was forced from the road as he fought his battle with cancer, and Music Maker helped him with basic needs and emergency expenses. He never stopped trying to get back out there, and we never stopped hoping that he would beat the cancer. We will all truly miss him.
– Tim Duffy
Adolphus Bell’s One Man Band: