Mharlyn Merritt is a vocalist with roots in Jazz, R&B and Classic Soul who has lived in London and New York and now creates music, novels and poems in her hometown of Philadelphia, PA.
In addition to collaborating with her brother Michael Merritt (formerly part of The Basic Cable Band on Conan O’ Brien’s TBS comedy/talk show) on the CD Alone Together, current projects include: the release of the cabaret EP, Jukebox Reveries: Love Songs from the American Songbook (feat. John Di Martino on piano); re-release of In The Ghetto, a psychedelic tribute to Elvis Presley and an EP of original R&B inspired genre bending tunes entitled Forgiveness, as well as Whosoever an EP of Ambient/Chill/Trance music all available on this site, iTunes and CD Baby.
Daughter of world-renowned Jazz bassist/composer, Jymie Merritt (Art Blakey and The Jazz Messengers, Max Roach, Dizzy Gillespie), Mharlyn Merritt is the recipient of a National Endowment for the Arts (NEA) Fellowship in Jazz Performance and an Interdisciplinary Arts Fellowship from the Pennsylvania Council on the Arts. With the band Messenger, led by guitarist/composer Richard Lee Steacker (Grover Washington Band), Mharlyn opened for Hugh Masakela, Eddie Palmieri, and Richard Belzer among others. During the disco-era her voice graced the background of numerous sessions at Philly’s legendary Sigma Sound Studios, including Fat Larry's Band.
Mharlyn has an MFA in Creative Writing (Fiction/Poetry)from Fairleigh Dickinson University.
AGNES ROBINSON MERRITT
HER LIFE CENTERED AROUND EDUCATION AND MUSIC
This is a Happy Birthday and Happy Mother’s day to my paternal grandmother Agnes Merritt, known to her grandchildren as Mom Mom. She taught us French. She taught us the piano. She encouraged us to read. When she was a young woman she went to California to study with Mr. Martindale, the founder of a natural health movement and the health food stores that bare his name. She made her own yogurt and juiced carrots and this was in the 1950’s!
When she was in her 80’s she took up disco dancing and flew to Hawaii on a whim with a friend, which startled my grandfather who, like most men of his generation, expected dinner on the table at 6PM every night.
After a recital at the Curtis Institute when I was nine or ten she introduced me and my eldest brother to the legendary Leopold Stokowski, conductor of the Philadelphia Orchestra at that time I never forgot this momentous event, because I knew Stokowski from the Bugs Bunny cartoon and from Walt Disney’s animated film Fantasia. Years later, I mentioned how thrilling it was to meet him and that I didn’t know that she knew Stokowski. She replied, “ I didn’t know him. I just thought that you should meet him.”
When I was sixteen Mom Mom gave me a copy of the album Equinox by John Coltrane and said: “You should listen to this.” It changed my life. I shared it with some friends at a listening party and about thirty years later at a ceremony at the University of the Arts, honoring my father, bassist/composer Jymie Merritt and the late great Trudy Pitts, Charles Fambrough, an extraordinary bassist in his own right, introduced my father.
What happened next is all the more memorable because sadly, Charlie is no longer with us. We had been friends in high school. He said that Jymie Merritt’s daughter had turned him on to Equinox by Coltrane when he was a teenager, and that’s what inspired him to play the bass professionally. This was Agnes R Merritt at work, her influence stretching out its tentacles to encourage and inspire.
She fought a long hard battle, which I witnessed as a youngster, to get the National Piano Guild to recognize her pupils from Upper Chichester’s, Excelsior Village, through participation in the National Piano Playing Auditions, which gave formal testament to the skills achieved by its participants. The majority of my grandmother’s pupils were African-American children, and as far as I know, there had been no African-American participants until that time.
Finally, in 1969 the auditions were held in Agnes’ home in Excelsior Village before the National Judge, Catherine Hormsby from Rhode Island and the National Chairman for the Student Appraisal Program Stanley Spenager. Thirteen of my grandmother’s pupils won national awards.
Agnes R Merritt was barely five feet tall yet she was a towering presence in her humble, quiet way. She was a child prodigy who often played piano to accompany her neighbor, young Marion Anderson. Agnes did not let it get her down when her school mates would tell her she had washer-woman hands. Not even a disfiguring accident caused by a trolley car when she was a young attractive woman, could stop her. After graduating from Philadelphia Teacher’s College known as the Philadelphia Normal School, she taught reading in the Philadelphia School System for several decades, dedicated to teaching those students who had been deemed “unteachable.”
When she passed away from a stroke in 1998, I found this quote about her:
“...an unfailing positive person with a wonderful sense of humor and a great belief in the ability of people to rise above misfortune, no matter what the cause with the aid of love and guidance from others and from communion with God.”
That was and always will be my Mom Mom.