Remembering Jack McCray 

In memory of the historian, columnist, and Jazz Artists of Charleston patriarch

I write this with many caveats, as a heart in mourning and through blurry contacts. I am not sure that I have fully realized that my friend, colleague, mentor, confidant, advisor, and father figure has left this mortal world. It has felt like one continuous day since being one of the first to find Jack lifeless, not even one week ago.

I write this in the midst of being intimately involved with his immediate family and his jazz family, in making funeral arrangements, oftentimes working from the same office that we shared, a place that was more a home for both of us than our own homes. His picture proudly anchors the wall and reminds us that he is with us, but it's just not the same. It will never be.

Jack has known me since I was six years old. But it was just in the past five years — what will now be remembered as the last five years of his life — that I have had the honor and pleasure of working every day, side by side, with this gentle man in many different capacities. We worked together, as many in our community did with him, on purposeful and passionate projects. Most often, Jack spoke. I listened. What has become strangely clear in this surreal time is that Jack made me find my purpose. In a time that I struggled with my own identity and place in this world, personally and professionally, Jack stood as a constant in my life, encouraging and steadfast. He was, and forever will be, my family. For this, I am eternally grateful and will spend a lifetime working to fulfill that very purpose he instilled in me. We were just getting started.

Jack McCray did not just stand for something. He lived for everything. He was a walking testament, quite literally, for "carpe diem." Jack knew how to have a grand time and make lasting relationships. He was genuinely human. He was a citizen of the world. He valued time, language, music, and the art of humanity.

He worked to preserve history. He equally worked to create history. Jack was on a mission and, in many ways, I feel as though his mission had just begun.

What Jack has left behind is a massive to-do list — one that is never-ending and, as he would have said, "a constant work in progress." He left us a wealth of knowledge, a physical archive, stories, memories, advice, and blessings. He was a visionary who realized his visions — not by "magic," but by hard, tiresome, selfless work. In our most challenging times, he reminded me that the pioneers are the ones who end up with the dust in their faces. Jack was certainly a visionary pioneer for Charleston, the culture of jazz, and all of life.

The next week and a half will be especially difficult to get through without our Jack. As we move forward, we will do the best we can and rely on our community for strength. We will also find comfort in the very music Jack advocated for, promoted, produced, and loved.

Though I cannot tell you that I am personally finding much comfort at the moment, I do find peace in knowing that Jack fully lived his 64 years of life, blessing us all, just by being himself. Because of that fact, Jack McCray's legacy will never die.

Forward ever. Backwards never.

Leah Suárez is a local musician and the executive director of the Jazz Artists of Charleston.

On Tues. Nov. 15., a funeral procession and parade comprised of local musicians and friends took place in downtown Charleston in Jack McCray’s honor, followed by a funeral and burial service at Mother Emanuel A.M.E. Church on Calhoun Street.

This week, Jazz Artists of Charleston established the Jack McCray Memorial Fund. “In lieu of flowers, the family has requested that donations be made in McCray’s honor to continue his lifelong legacy,” says the JAC.

Checks made payable to the Jack McCray Memorial Fund c/o Jazz Artists of Charleston, P.O. Box 21756, Charleston, S.C. 29413.

Visit thejac.org for more information.


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