I had visited Matthew and Shelly's small one bedroom brownstone apartment several times, gazed up and down the walls lined with books from floor to ceiling, admired the framed photos that shed light on youth and extended family, and pressed a few notes on the upright piano that had stacks of songbooks and sheets of music, many of which were songs of Matthews' that he had notated out by hand and printed copies of. As Shelly unlocked the storage unit in Harlem that she and Matthew had rented and used for 30 or more years, my thoughts were steeped with curiosity about this extension of Matthew and Shelly that I was just then being introduced to for the first time.
I was co-leading a summer kids camp when I first learned that Matthew was in the hospital. Always seeking an adventure, the other teachers and I arranged a field trip for later that week to walk over and visit him. As the class walked up the sidewalks of Upper Westside Manhattan, I did my best to teach the kids this very line of one of Matthew’s songs, “Freedom, fighting for freedom, 30 or 40 years down the line.” The kids and I would sing it to him upon our arrival.
Time passed by that must have felt like days, but it may have been months or years. However long it was since Matthew had given his last human breathe in this world, Shelly had decided it was time to take on the enormous project of sifting through this heavy weight, sitting on her mind as much as in storage, collecting dust. Among the stacks of cardboard boxes, the racks of cassettes and VHS tapes, resting alongside the other odds and ends, were two guitar cases.
I took a peak inside the first case, and there it was. The small nylon string guitar with the large white sticker that says, “LOVE ANIMALS, DON'T EAT THEM”, that I’ve seen Matthew holding in several old photos. This is a guitar I hope someday to see displayed in an American Civil Right’s Movement exhibit hall, along with his courageous story. I closed the case and peaked inside the other to find another beautiful guitar, this one a Martin D-28 steel string guitar. Shelly told me it was gifted to him in the early ‘70’s, but Matthew never used it much since he preferred the size and feel of the nylon string guitars. We had much to do that day, so I only took a quick minute to please my curiosity. The day began with renting a van, loading it, driving it back to Matthew and Shelly’s neighborhood, then making several trips up and down the 3 flights of steps to the apartment. Madeline, Shelly, and I got quite a work out.
Four or five years before that day of heavy lifting, at Advent Lutheran Church on 93rd and Broadway during a meal, I first met Matthew Jones. And it wasn’t long after that meal that I began accompanying his music. I would carry my guitar and violin across the city to an occasional event at the People's Voice Cafe on East 35th St. in Manhattan, always in memory of other musically inclined activists, and each year Matthew would lead a Martin Luther King Day event at the same church I met him at, usually just as the cold winds of January rolled through the city. The rehearsals took place at he and Shelly’s apartment and were short and sweet followed by good conversation.
Driving the van back to their apartment, I was taken by surprise when Shelly told me that she believed that Matthew would want me to play that guitar, that they would both be delighted for me to have and play the steel string guitar that he was gifted for his acts of kindness and courage.
Thank you Shelly, and thank you Matthew. I'm incredibly honored to share songs and stories with this lovely guitar. I know, from the depth of my heart, that I continue to spread Matthew's love every time I play it.
There are many others who knew Matthew much better than I. To learn more about Freedom Fighter Matthew Jones, follow the link below.
Madeline Fendrick and Brian Peck
We're happy to share with you stories from our journey as artists. Stories from the road, and stories from our home base in Stoughton, WI.
Logo Art by:
Robert Peck (Brian's Dad)
Cover Photos by: