Phyllis Perkins Ezero

Music has been an important part of my life for as long as I can remember. I watched my mom and learned, by her example, how to play piano for square dances. My parents thought it important that I learn to play piano by note so they arranged for me to take lessons. The old upright piano wasn’t the best, so they scraped together enough money to buy a beautiful spinet so I would be able to practice on a piano of better quality

My father, I called him "Pop", would get home after a hard day at work and I would inevitably choose this time to practice my classical pieces — right during his supper. I’ll never know how he kept from getting acute indigestion. I always received a nod of approval and that special smile letting me know, without the utterance of a single word, just how proud he was of me.

In school, I was a member of the high school chorus, became first violinist in the high school orchestra and played bells in the marching band. I also had the opportunity to play piano for the elementary choral group and continued to do so each year until I graduated from high school.

I think one of the many memories I have from growing up in a musical household is that from one night to the next you never knew what genre of music was going to be resonating within the walls of our house at any given time. One night I could be practicing piano or Donald would be learning a new country and/or fiddle tune. Another night it might be the electric guitar blaring out a solo-lick of Elvis’ “You Ain’t Nothing But A Hound Dog.” My brother, Dewey, could be heard practicing his drums or playing the saxophone. I can still see my late brother, David, sitting in the recliner playing 50’s rock and roll on the old 45 rpm record player, eating oatmeal cookies, and drinking skim milk. I honestly can’t remember a night that our house wasn’t filled with music.

My role in the family band has mostly been playing piano and providing the vocals. I can play fiddle, guitar, and dabble with the mandolin, but feel the most comfortable playing piano. I think what I enjoy most is step dancing. When I get the opportunity I recreate the steps learned from my father and, in doing so, all those happy memories of when we danced together so many years ago come rushing back; I can feel his presence.

I have participated in several fiddle contests taking first and second place at the Cobleskill County Fair in Cobleskill, NY, and Huntington, QC, respectively. I have also played piano backup for Donald at many fiddle contests throughout New York, Vermont and Canada.

In 1993, the Perkins Family had the privilege of participating in a program called Families of New Yorkers presented by the Folk Arts Program/New York State Council on the Arts. These concerts were held on the West Capitol Lawn & Empire State Plaza in Albany, NY, and featured the finest musical families in the Empire State. During our performance, I had the privilege of dancing a jig with Matilda Cuomo, then New York State’s First Lady, on the front lawn of the capitol. What a great time we had.

I think one of the most humbling experiences was in 2002 when the Perkins Family was awarded the North Country Heritage Award given by Traditional Arts in Upstate New York (TAUNY). What an honor for my family and, without a doubt, the highlight of my musical career.

Over the years our music has brought me in contact with many wonderful people. Little did I know that I would meet my future husband, Joseph, while entertaining at Woody’s Club in Redford, NY. I also didn’t know at the time that he would become a member of our family band. Another special person I hold dear to my heart is Ken Bonner. What a fiddle icon, great entertainer, and musician that held true to his art. He wrote many fiddle tunes. One, in particular, that I love is Skillet Lickin’ Breakdown. He taught me “Skillet” on one Thanksgiving Day back in the 70’s when he came to our house for dinner. I play this tune often and think of Ken, and that Thanksgiving Day, with much fondness.

My children, Daniel and Lesley, have also entertained with our band. Introduced to their musical heritage in the womb, they each possess an innate sense of musicianship and a love for a wide variety of musical genres. Daniel’s exceptional style and proficiency on the electric bass, coupled with Lesley’s sweet vocal work, has added much to our repertoire over the years. My grandson, Liam, also shows a love for music. It will be interesting to see what path he follows in his musical journey.

For a number of years we were part of the praise team at the Elizabeth Street Wesleyan Church in Plattsburgh. What a joy to serve our Lord and Savior in yet another musical genre; not only playing the old hymns but also the newer, more contemporary choruses. Although happy for the Saunders family, our family was saddened when Pastor Mike accepted a pastoral position out of our area. He, his lovely wife Diane and their family, moved to Pennsylvania yet we have stayed in touch over the years. We have had a couple opportunities to participate in Country Sunday at Crossway Community Church where he currently pastors. I remember the first time we were asked to play; it didn’t take us long to load our instruments, hop in the car, and head for PA. I asked our good friend Shaun Batho, a very accomplished musician from Pittsfield, MA, if he would lend his expertise to our sound. Without hesitation he, and wife Amy, met us in Willow Grove. What a grand time we had singing and playing the old bluegrass gospel tunes.

My musical journey has never been dull. I’ve traveled many miles playing many genres of music; old time fiddle tunes, old country, rock and roll, jazz, classical, the old hymns of the church, bluegrass and my favorite bluegrass gospel.

One of the most awesome musical adventures I've ever experienced was playing Celtic, Appalachian, Irish, and Cape Breton music in the high energy band Inisheer. My parents always said, “You are never too old to learn.” Thank you Philip and Joel, I've learned a lot while entertaining with you and grown even more as a musician.

In closing, "it's been a great ride." I'm pleased beyond measure to have this opportunity to pay tribute to the rich musical heritage of the Perkins Family.