“Rent Party” and Jazz Music Bring Smiles to San Francisco’s Seniors on Rainy Day

by Anh L on April 21, 2006

San Francisco – On Friday, March 31, 2006, the rain was pouring torrentially in San Francisco. But the brave party goers still trekked their way in the downpour that cold afternoon to the “Rent Party” hosted by Senior Action Network (SAN), at its 7th floor office on Mission Street. Senior Action Network, a nonprofit organization which advocates for the Seniors community in the San Francisco Bay Area, threw a festive party for the “Rent Party” celebrants.

Historically, a “Rent Party” had its roots during the Great Depression in the U.S. Poor workers and families would invite their friends over for a party. Upon entering the celebration, guests would throw money into a hat to help their hosts raise enough cash for one month’s rent. In the 1940’s and 1950’s, the tradition of “rent parties” continued with jazz artists and other types of artists.

Senior Action Network wanted to honor these musicians, artists, and poor families, by celebrating this tradition with a “Rent Party.” Seniors and community members from throughout San Francisco came to the party.

Party goers were treated to the upbeat musical sounds of the “Charles Unger Experience” Jazz Ensemble, featuring San Francisco’s legendary jazz saxophonist Charles Unger, and jazz keyboardist Sam Peoples, Jr. Joining Unger and Peoples was Minh Jeffrey Anh Le, a sixth grade student who rushed from his school after school dismissal to volunteer his time by playing his Electric Bass. The three musicians, who played Jazz, Rhythms and Blues, and other American music genres, were joined by Lionell Sandiford, a member of Senior Action Network, who delighted the audience with his powerful resonant singing voice.

Welcoming the “Rent Party” celebrants were the Master of Ceremony, Bill Price, President of Senior Action Network, and Bruce Lee Livingston, Executive Director of Senior Action Network.

The many volunteers at Senior Action Network who helped to organize and put up the decorations for the party included Verlie Pickens, an activist residing in the Bayview Hunters Point; Juanita Negrete, an activist residing in Potrero Hill; Pauline Williams, a member of the Board of Directors of Senior Action Network; Hui Thi Truong, who moved to the U.S. from Vietnam thirty years ago, and graduated from Senior Action Network’s “Senior University,” a program which trains San Francisco’s Seniors on community organizing and Senior empowerment; Jean Roby, an activist residing in Noe Valley; and Lenny Reiter, an artist, native of New York City, and San Francisco activist.

Verlie Pickens, wearing a bright lavender outfit and hat, waved her hands in the air as she listened and moved to the melodic jazz music.

Hui Thi Truong conversed in Vietnamese with the other Vietnamese American party goers, Hao Thi Dao and her two daughters Ngoc Tu Dao and Tran Tu Dao, Lieu Xuan Ngo, and Hon Thi Bui. The Vietnamese American Seniors also had a chance to socialize and visit with the other Seniors at the party. Truong said, “I am deeply touched and want to thank Senior Action Network for organizing this ‘Rent Party.’ It gives the Vietnamese American Seniors a chance to get together to visit with each other, as well as to meet other Seniors. It creates valuable bonds and friendships between Seniors from many backgrounds. I appreciate the work of Senior Action Network to improve the lives of all Seniors. It is invaluable.”

Jean Roby, who was conversing and laughing with Virginia Price, wife of Senior Action Network’s President Bill Price, said, “The ‘Rent Party’ is a big success. I am delighted to see the beautiful decorations surrounding the entire room. Everything is beautiful. The food is beautifully served and delicious. All the guests really enjoy themselves.”

Delbert Scott, a volunteer at Senior Action Network and activist in San Francisco, said, “This ‘Rent Party’ is a huge success. I hope that the next one is just half as good!”

Juanita Negrete, who had put in a lot of hard work preparing for the party and contacting Seniors to invite them to the party, listened to the upbeat music, and said, “This is really a nice party.”

Bill Price, President of Senior Action Network, said, “This is a great party! It would be ‘ultra’ if the weather cooperated.”

Jill Weiner, a staff member at Senior Action Network, and an activist in the San Francisco People’s Organization, remarked, “We are having a great time! The music is fabulous! The food is great!”

Other celebrants at the “Rent Party” included Susan Bierman, Former Member of the San Francisco Board of Supervisors; Jodi Reid, Executive Director of California Association of Retired Americans (CARA); Tim Paulson, President of San Francisco Labor Council; and California State Assemblyman Mark Leno.

Charles Unger, Sam Peoples, Jr., and Minh Jeffrey Anh Le, the three jazz instrumentalists, and Lionell Sandiford, the singer, delighted the party goers with their memorable music making and myriad songs. Le, in perfect unison with Unger and Peoples, offered the Seniors and other party goers a soulful, whimsical, and energetic performance on his Electric Bass of Herbie Hancock’s song, “Watermelon Man.”

Unger, Peoples, and Le ended the late afternoon’s “Rent Party” for the Seniors with a beautiful performance of John Coltrane’s composition, “A Supreme Love,” a title which contains the fitting theme for the “Rent Party,” and the work of Senior Action Network and the activism of the Seniors community in San Francisco.

As Minh Jeffrey Anh Le said, “Today’s ‘Rent Party’ is beatific!”

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