Something irreplaceable is missing at the Minneapolis Farmers Market and other Twin Cities gathering spots.
That's because Alphonse Bolden Sr., who charmed urban strollers into tossing bills and coins into his upturned hat or guitar case in appreciation of his "One Man, One Band" busker act, has died.
Bolden, 62, died of pancreatic cancer June 9 at his St. Paul home, dead far too soon for his extended family and those who loved his one-of-a-kind gig. "Music was his love and his life," said his son Alphonse Jr. of Minneapolis.
Bolden's brother Marshall of Zachary, La., said he grew up in the Zachary-Pride area and along with his siblings was raised primarily by their father. "It was a rural community, and there weren't many opportunities, though he did play sports in high school," his brother said. "But our family did absolutely no music back then, so I'm not sure where he got that -- he was self-taught when it came to music."
Alphonse graduated from Chaneyville High School in Zachary and went on to Southern University in Baton Rouge, La., majoring in accounting, playing tuba in the school's marching band and graduating with honors in 1972.
He landed a job with Control Data Corp. in Minnesota and moved north for good, marrying and becoming the father of two sons.
Alphonse's sons Kenyatta, of Edina, and Alphonse Jr. picked up the story from there.
"At Control Data, he did very well for his family," Kenyatta said. "But he told my aunt, 'When I had everything, I had so much stress.'"
When Control Data and its linked companies floundered in the early 1990s, he was laid off. That and a divorce brought hardship, but also, Kenyatta said, opportunity. "He realized it was time for him to chase his passion for music, to reinvent himself," his son said. "He had offers from other corporations, but opted to do odd jobs so he had time to pursue his music."
Thus was born "One Man, One Band," which had Bolden playing guitar, bass drum with a foot pedal, hi-hat cymbals, harmonica and singing, all at once. He began attending open-mike music, poetry and storytelling sessions and playing at the Minneapolis Farmers Market on weekends and at its downtown version on Thursdays, as well as at libraries and other workaday venues. Soul and old-school rhythm 'n' blues made up his musical base, his sons said.
"He developed a real following -- people would go with their kids and seek him out," Kenyatta said. "He had all the intangibles -- charisma, a charming personality, good looks, compassion, a raw but very warm voice, and this great calmness and control. People found him engaging and genuine."
Alphonse Jr. said his dad was "a little scared" when he begin playing to the street, but came to love it and "couldn't wait for May to get to the Farmers Market."
"He took standards like 'A Sunday Kind of Love' and 'Stormy Monday' and made them his own," he said.
In addition to his sons and brother, he is survived by a stepdaughter, Zenobia Willett, of Eagan; another brother, David, of Baton Rouge; sisters Danielle Daniel of St. Paul and Diane Shaffer Bolden of Baton Rouge; two stepbrothers, three stepsisters and two grandchildren. Services have been held.
Pamela Miller • 612-673-4290