For the well-known Snapper-Hill musical whiz kid, who five years ago brought down the Providence Baptist House in a powerful rendition of “Go Down, Moses” and other hits by the Masters, Ernie Bruce is still capable of establishing from the ‘get-go’, that he is the brain behind the most dominant duo this country and most of the region have seen in years.
Song has often worked best with music and Ernie was late finding the right artist to accompany him in a musical recital already scheduled for the Christmas season, some five years ago. But Ernie was not to perform alone at Providence Baptist 2010—and he did not. A magical blending of song and music due to nothing less than serendipity: (the unexpected but pleasant discovery of one thing while looking for something (or someone) was working itself out. To the delight of hundreds of foreign music enthusiasts and local fans who flocked in at Providence Baptist, Ernie’s dynamic and celebrated bass would be accompanied by music produced by a delightful young pianist, who already was acquainted with Chopin, Schubert, Haydn and Beethoven.
Only days before, the bassist had run into Samson Tarpeh at a Christmas song festivity, cantata, at Trinity Cathedral! They forged a musical bond, (friendship, tie) laying the foundation for the legend each was on his way to becoming. Their collaboration could very well be billed the proverbial partnership “…made in Heaven.” Melodious tunes soon flowed from the piano manned by the-then, up and coming, but equally precocious, (gifted) Samson Tarpeh. And Ernie simply stood by, masterfully belting out one set of inspiring lyrics after the other, in a soulful rendition of song and music that evoked the memories of Paul Robeson at his best, in the memorable “America to Me”, and his moving paean to “Joe Hill.”
An Added Reason for the Season
Now, a showdown is in the making, which brings back for basketball lovers, Earvin Magic Johnson’s first major showdown with the upstart, Michael Jordan in the 1990’s, as the younger man Jordan prepared for and anticipated his first dethronement of Magic Johnson and the Lakers. So, on a cool, mid-afternoon this Christmas, Ernie might find himself compelled to perform beyond the banner, top-billing he commands in this year’s recital, and prove himself worthy of the edge he holds in the ratings; an edge that nothing short of hard work and discipline, could have produced.
And the odds just might be in Ernie’s favor when he and his performing partner, Samson Tarpeh, a younger musician, but no stranger to the stage—whether here, or in the U.S—take their bows as the curtains are raised. And though no more than a few will entertain any doubt that for now, Ernie is the man, there will certainly be some telltale sparks that the dynamic duo will generate by their collaboration.
But, will the great Ernie Bruce have things ‘his way’ this time around, against another child-prodigy who almost overnight, has morphed (changed) into a veritable (authentic, real) wizard on the piano keyboard after some serious studies and a rigid musical regimen (routine, procedure) that has taken him to another time and place, and then back to the present? And for no other purpose, it seems, than to make the point that Ernie—finally—has a match!
But the two maestros (rare talents) will not be competing against each other they will be rooting for each other. That will hold true when they perform together, as well as when they do solo acts at their Christmas Day performance.
Ernie Bruce graduated from the Episcopal high school in 1969. His next stop was Cuttington College. Prior to enrollment, his reputation as a young performer was already well-known. He was recruited by Dr. Joseph Knott who had just returned to Liberia following his first degree in music from Oberlin College in Minnesota. Dr. Knott had developed the Cuttington choir into what was considered the best choir in Liberia at the time. Ernie performed under him as a lead soloist in Purcell‘s “Dido and Aeneas”, “The Sound of Music” by Rogers and Hammerstein, and as bass soloist in “Handel’s Messiah” in a command performance for President William V.S. Tubman at the Executive Mansion. Ernie transferred to the Southern Illinois University in Carbondale and completed his Bachelor and Master’s Degrees in 1795 and 1977 respectively.
Samson Tarpeh’s Goals
Samson Tarpeh is back in Liberia in connection with the reopening of ANAM (AGAPE National Academy of Music), which he established in June 2008. He raised some funds in the US in connection with the reopening. His goal is educating the youths of Liberia in the art of music and also contributing to the documentation and preservation of Liberian music. He will be assisted by Ernie Fulton and will be joined by a piano ensemble of 4-6 hands including Rev. Alexander Brooks’s co-founder of ANAM, as well as Hassan Sankary, also a co-founder of ANAM.
This year’s collaboration with Ernie will involved more advanced pieces of classical literature, thanks to Samson’s Bachelor of Arts in Music with emphasis on piano performance. He expects at the end of his Masters studies to be back. He and Ernie hope to begin presenting concerts periodically, throughout Africa, Europe, and the U.S.
Tarpeh holds a benefit concert tonight Friday, December 18, at the Evelyn’s Restaurant as part of his fund-raising effort at reopening ANAM.