It is probably not a typical response that most police officers receive when they stop a motorist for speeding: “Are you one of the singing policemen?”
But for a group of Huntsville police officers, it is a common occurrence. The Blue Notes have been a Huntsville tradition since 2005. Eric Newby, Gerald Johnson, Willie Jordan, Thomas Kelly, Jeffery Rice and Charles Draper make up the popular a cappella group that regularly performs at community events, observances and local churches.
“The Blue Notes will sing for one or 1,000,” Newby said.
“We will also sing for food,” added Jordan.
There was a lot of joking when the Rocket sat down with all six group members, who have worked together for many years. Although their roles ranged from school resource officer to precinct captain, everyone is equal in the group.
“One thing we all have in common is our love for singing, our love for Christ and our love for our community,” Rice said. “This group gives us an opportunity to do that. As I moved up the ranks, the higher up you go the fewer friends you might have. But I am just Jeff when I come here.”
The group likes to give the caveat that they have had no formal training but their talent shines through when they break out in an impromptu song. The members said they honed their voices in the same place that many professionals get their start – church. That gospel influence shines through on many of their selections although they are also known for their stirring rendition of the national anthem that they often perform at local observances.
The group has had many memorable performances but the ones that stood out to the members were any time they had the opportunity to perform for children. The group has sung for kids competing in the Special Olympics at Troy University, and performed at the Greengate School, among many others. Newby said that after their performance at Greengate, the school added music to their curriculum after seeing the effect of the performance on the students.
“One that I remember the most is when we went to St. Jude because one of my academy member’s son was there,” Kelly said. “We drove down and actually we went in the wrong building at first and they told us, ‘They are not going to allow you to sing.’ The fellows were disappointed and I said, ‘We gonna make them kick us out.’ We stood in the middle of the floor, and we started singing – the doctors started coming out, the nurses started coming out, the mothers and other families in there started crying and I said there was no way we weren’t going to do it!”
It is clear they love what they do but the Blue Notes aren’t just entertainment. It is an outreach to a community who might not have the opportunity to see the person behind the badge. Newby said that sometimes their audience is distrustful at first, but by the end of the performance, they see the officers in a new light.
“Music is the universal unifier,” Johnson said.
The group has changed the lives of its members, too. Draper said he had looked for a way to reach out to the community on a different level than his official capacity and that the Blue Notes were “an answer to a prayer.” They said they are often recognized, even by the people they are arresting and that recognition can be beneficial in de-escalating a potentially dangerous situation. Sometimes it might take a little extra though, and the members have been known to sing to the people that they have taken into custody.
“Song puts people at ease,” Rice said.
Sometimes everyone might not be available for a gig. With the nature of their business, it can be difficult to get to an event. While the group has come a long way since their first performance at Kelly’s police academy graduation, they have no plans to stop and are grateful for every invitation – and every song.
“It’s a blessing every time we get a note right,” Newby said.
Needless to say, there have been many blessings over the years for the Blue Notes. And just as many, if not more, for their audiences.