OGDEN — The 100-year-old man sat comfortably with his wife, 95, absorbing the adulation of a community deeply in love with the pioneering jazz saxophonist who landed in Ogden in 1945.
Joe McQueen turned 100 Thursday and his Second Baptist Church congregation threw him a packed party Saturday afternoon.
Hundreds of people swayed to “I Got A Feeling” performed by the church choir, the Joe McQueen Quartet (without McQueen this day) and jazz tunes by the quartet and others.
Speaker after speaker said McQueen is an inspiration, not just for his musicianship. They lauded him for breaking barriers during segregation, playing in any clubs he could, and helping generations of younger musicians learn how to play and be good people.
Paris Brown, a friend, said McQueen helped guide him in his formative years and has demonstrated “loyalty to his friends, his community and his people.”
“Joe is the perfect mix of salty and saintly and knows what you’re thinking sometimes before you open your mouth,” musician Brad Wheeler said before the party.
“It’s truly amazing to watch him navigate this part of his life,” Wheeler said. “When most people are slowing down in their twilight years, Joe seems to be speeding up.”
McQueen and Wheeler became friends in the Ogden music scene. Wheeler, a harmonica player, is more than 50 years younger than the centenarian.
In a 2016 interview, Wheeler said, “I learned to think about other people from Joe. His whole life is doing things for other people.”
Wheeler told the audience Saturday that McQueen had him help pour cement on the day they met. Only later, after accompanying McQueen on other chores and jazz gigs, did he realize “Joe wasn’t working me, he was working on me.”
Brown and other speakers also praised Thelma McQueen, who came to Ogden with Joe in ‘45.
“You don’t get to be 100 years old without someone there with you,” Brown said.
Don Kiepp, a member of the McQueen quartet, said “all of us look forward to every gig” with McQueen, still a frequent performer.
The program also included remarks by masters of ceremony John and Barbara White, state Rep. Sandra Hollins, Ogden NAACP President Betty Sawyer and Weber State University President Brad Mortensen.
Sawyer said McQueen has been “an ambassador of freedom, hope and unity, connecting us with music.”
McQueen was born May 30, 1919, in Ponder, Texas. He and Thelma, will celebrate their 75th anniversary June 10.
The McQueens were traveling with a jazz band that stopped in Ogden in December 1945 and decided to stay. McQueen became a stalwart in Ogden music and played with many big names over the years, including Charlie Parker, Count Basie, Duke Ellington and Dizzie Gillespie.