It was a Fordham first: Brennan O’Donnell, Ph.D., dean of Fordham College at Rose Hill, Paul Cimbala, Ph.D., professor of history, and Asif Siddiqi, Ph.D., assistant professor of history, jammed onstage with friends in the McGinley Center Ballroom on March 3 before a crowd of 200 at a fundraiser for the University’s Bronx African American History Project (BAAHP).
Dubbing themselves “Dr N’s Rhythm Review,” a name inspired by Mark Naison, Ph.D., professor of African and African-American studies, and principal investigator of the BAAHP, the faculty band cruised through two sets of rock, rhythm & blues and soul favorites, inspiring the audience of students, faculty and friends to get funky on the dance floor.
Naison, who emceed the evening, opened the performance with a hip-hop “educational rap,” and followed it with a dance featuring some fancy footwork in a pair of time-worn, stiletto-toed shoes. Onstage, band leader Cimbala announced a B.B. King favorite, and playfully encouraged his students to dance if they wanted to “pass their Ph.D.s.” He also invited younger faculty members onto the floor.
“You guys are still in shape — you’re not old like we are,” he said.
Wearing a “Blues for Peace” baseball cap and adroitly picking his Gibson guitar, Cimbala offered some bluesy vocals, his tremolo evoking “yeas” and “all rights” from the pleased crowd. He was backed on rhythm guitar by Siddiqi, whose raw thrumming and garage-band experience earned him the title “master of the Stratocaster” from his co-workers.
“He doesn’t have tenure yet,” Cimbala, teased. “But he’s willing to stick his neck out anyways and play with us.”
Dean O’Donnell, sporting jeans and a maroon Fordham baseball cap, played bass, plucking the strings with impressive dexterity and rocking to the music. The other band members were Annmarie Davis on vocals, Ronnie Negro on drums, sociology doctoral candidate Andrew Tiedt on percussion, John Sopko on keyboards and Anthony Marcatillo on sound system. Lizzie Grant, a Fordham College at Rose Hill junior, also sang.
In a special highlight performance, Mark Chapman, Ph.D., associate professor of African and African-American studies, joined the band for a special rendition of Curtis Mayfield’s “People Get Ready.” Despite a few feedback problems, Chapman’s resonant baritone earned large applause.
Following a brief intermission, Naison performed a “serious flow” rap called “Get Your Bush On,” which he dedicated to P.S. 140 staff members in the audience. The Bronx-based elementary school is a major participant in BAAHP’s Oral History Project. Nicknaming himself the “Notorious Ph.D.,” Naison rapped to the rhythm of Herbie Hancock’s “Chameleon” on the importance of unity among the races.
The benefit raised funds for BAAHP, a project dedicated to uncovering and documenting cultural, political, economic and religious histories of African-Americans in the Bronx.
The collaboration inspired a solemn promise from Cimbala, who spearheaded the event, to do it again next year.
“Not bad for a bunch of professors,” Naison said.
– Janet Sassi