OGDEN — A century in the making, the big day is finally here.
Legendary Ogden saxophonist Joe McQueen’s 100th birthday is today, May 30, and to celebrate that milestone members of the community will be hosting a birthday party on Saturday afternoon.
“It’s just a party to say ‘Happy Birthday,’” explained Brenda Burrell, a member of the steering committee that is organizing the festivities. “We’ve been planning this for six months; it’s open to anybody and everybody in the community. And it’s free.”
The event will be held from 4 p.m. to 6 p.m. Saturday at the Second Baptist Church, 227 27th St., where McQueen is a member of the congregation.
“He attends the 8 o’clock service on Sunday mornings, Burrell said. “I don’t know how he can play music at night and still show up at church that early in the morning.”
Burrell said the congregation at Second Baptist Church celebrated McQueen’s 99th birthday in a much smaller celebration last year. This year, with McQueen reaching a much bigger milestone, the church wanted to invite the entire community, according to Burrell.
“We planned this event with his blessing, he is aware of the event,” she said, adding: “He is unaware of everything that’s going to happen at the party, but he is aware of the event. We’ve got to keep some surprises from him.”
The iconic jazz saxophonist was born May 30, 1919, in Ponder, Texas, and was raised by his grandmother in Ardmore, Oklahoma. He began playing the sax as a teenager, eventually touring the country with jazz bands.
The Ogden origins story is now the stuff of legend: In December 1945, McQueen and his new bride, Thelma, were traveling with a jazz band that made a stop in Ogden. After another band member left town with the group’s money, the couple decided to stay and make a home here. McQueen quickly became a fixture in the local music scene, playing with many of the big jazz names coming through town — Charlie Parker, Chet Baker, Count Basie, Duke Ellington, Dizzy Gillespie, — and touring on and off as a musician.
As big as May 30, June 10 is an important date for the McQueens as well. That day, Joe and Thelma will celebrate their 75th wedding anniversary. Thelma is just five years behind Joe, at 95.
Joe McQueen’s 100th birthday celebration begins at 4 p.m. Saturday with a performance by The Joe McQueen Quartet — ideally “minus Joe McQueen,” according to Burrell.
“We hope to keep him seated,” she said.
Burrell said they’ll discourage the saxophonist and bandleader from taking the stage, telling him to simply enjoy himself, but she doesn’t hold out much hope of that happening.
“We don’t want him to perform, but you don’t tell a 100-year-old man what to do,” she said. “So we do think he’ll probably get up and play. And he lives right around the corner, so if he didn’t bring his horn he can have somebody run back to the house and get it.”
A celebratory program will follow at 4:30 p.m., with “expressions of appreciation” offered from politicians, community leaders, musicians and longtime friends, Burrell said. Following the program, food will be served.
There will also be a large poster for well-wishers to sign, and a slideshow presentation on McQueen.
And after that?
“The rest of the afternoon is just fellowshipping,” Burrell said. “Talking, and taking pictures with Joe, and telling stories about Joe. It’s just a ‘Thank you’ for what he’s done for the Ogden community.”
Burrell said McQueen keeps telling people, “I don’t know what all this fuss is about.”
“But we told him that people don’t live to be a hundred and still be so active — volunteering in the community, driving people to doctor’s appointments, playing music at 100,” she said. “We told him it was a big deal to us, and that he should just go along with it. He’s a very humble man.”
For more information on the event, call the church at 801-393-4814.