Profile By Jennifer Earle Strickland
Many would say that music is essential to our lives; that there’s a song to every story and vice-versa, and, as Marvin Gaye crooned, often serves as “therapy” to sooth the soul.
The smooth sounds of the Larry Salter Soul Orchestra captures the essence of all this and more. Salter’s extensive career in the industry merits him as one of the country’s 1.8% of African American musicians and approximately 2.5% of the nation’s Black conductors and musical directors.
Buffalo native Larry Salter is an independent spirit who, at age 10, shined shoes and had a paper route to help his widowed mother and household of 12 children. He lived on Waverly St., in Cold Spring, and attended Buffalo public schools, including PS #37 and East High. His high school years were the onset of Salter realizing that the best things in life don’t come easy. “It was about survival,” says Salter who worked at Motor Tire, a now defunct Main St. auto maintenance shop; War Memorial Stadium; American Standard; and United Postal Service where he retired after 30 years of service.
Junior high educators, Mr. Young, who taught English Language Arts, and Mr. Dorsey who, was his music teacher, would ignite the passion for Salter’s love of the art of music. In 1965, our community’s own original chicken wing king, John Young, also played an integral role as manager, in the development of Salter’s musical career. With the influence and guidance of these early mentors, he and his brother, Milton, formed the music and dance group, Milton Salter and the All Night Workers, who performed at various venues in and around Western NY.
Salter, who defines music as “a great connector; a life experience, that changes the spirit” learned to read music and play the piano at the African American Cultural Center. His quest to conquer the sounds of music encouraged his ability to play multiple instruments in every category. His talent is broad; his gifts to the music world are seemingly infinite, and his knowledge and expertise on all things musically-related, from classical to spiritual and from ragtime to rock n’ roll, can likely span the height and depth of the Library of Congress. In addition to mastering the 88 keys, Salter is proficient in his delivery on the saxophone, trumpet, all of the strings (including the cello, violin, viola and percussion). “All music is essential to me”, says Salter, confirming that his musical range has no limit.
Despite challenges, such as growing up without a present and significant male role models until reaching 7th grade, and his mother’s transition, at 83 in 1986, Salter, whose mind and movements are ever-consistent with one who has music in his DNA, is a strong believer in introducing, encouraging, and training next generations in the arts. A family man, to the bone, this husband, father and grandfather is endeared by many. Niece, Davidia Salter Aiken recalls childhood memories of Uncle Larry, who “would take us for rides on his motorcycle, when he wasn’t working.”
He’s been married to his high school sweetheart, Delores, for 48 years, and through their union, he has ensured the perpetual longevity of his love of music by providing violin lessons to his grandchildren, who now play so masterfully that they are members of the orchestra. They include Andrea, 28; Jeremy, 25; Johnny, 22; Jaliyah, 21; Rahim, 16; Nicole, 16, and great-granddaughter, Aniga, 6 (who’s not yet an orchestra member). He shares that one grandchild’s expression of interest in the violin led him to Henri Muhammad, of Muhammad’s School of Music.
“He told me that I’d need to get them violins, so I bought them all violins, then took them, with their violins, back to him, and asked ‘what’s next?’ , “Larry believes that today’s youth are “coming out pretty good, despite the roaring ‘20s mentality (gang warfare). They just need to have strong support and role models.”
Continuing in the spirit of positive musical images such as Louis Armstrong, Buddy Bolder, Count Basie, and Fletcher Henderson, the maestro of musical magic and lifetime member of Buffalo’s Colored Musicians’ Club, now directs the 23 piece (including his 6 grandchildren on violins) Larry Salter Soul Orchestra.
His ‘big band’ includes some of Buffalo’s finest musicians and vocalists, including Joyce Carolyn and director, Maceo Skinner. But, in this era of computerized compositions and costly disputes over rights and ownership of creative works, is the age of the big band orchestra fading from musical culture? “No,” proclaims Salter, “We’ll be here as an art-form that is widely accepted, worldwide.”
Larry Salter, who respectfully gives credit for his success to the Creator, believes that his greatest accomplishment is creating and sustaining the Soul Orchestra, while keeping the integrity of the ensemble intact with the constant reminder of “who we are”, and reinforcing the self-affirmation of “This is why I’m here.” According to Salter, his most noteworthy point along his musical journey came this year when he received the first ever, Musician’s Award presented by Black Achievers, Inc. at their awards dinner. “Receiving the recognition of my community speaks volumes and is so humbling,” says Salter.
Though Salter’s career in the music industry has spanned 50 plus years, at 70 years young he still has a back-up plan, just in case… “I would become a truck driver,” he says. A likely career, as long as he travels with his orchestra and stops along the way, to share his melodic gifts with the world.
For more information on the Larry Salter Soul Orchestra, click www.lssoulorchestra.com or onesoulorchestra@ gmail.com