Biography

Anderson "Sonny" Edwards

History

 

Anderson “Sonny” Edwards is a multi-instrumentalist whose beginnings started in 1964 with the piano. Later on, in grammar school, he was introduced to the clarinet, cello, upright/electric bass and drums as well as the choir at church. His influences are varied, having learned gospel music in church, classical music in school and surrounded by relatives with different musical tastes.  As a result, he’s always been comfortable in any arena of music since his early years.

 

Recitals being mandatory with his musical teachers, he learned how to handle public appearances at an early age.   His first recital was at the age of 5.  The first concert that he attended was classical pianist, Andre Watts at Orchestra Hall in Chicago. Starting grammar school at Horace Mann public school, he was transferred at second grade to the University of Chicago Laboratory School where he continued his classical training.   His first recording was on cello at the Midwestern Music and Art camp at Kansas University in Kansas City.

 

At Whitney M. Young Jr. Magnet High School, he was a member of many organizations including the choir, orchestra, jazz /concert and marching bands. His theatrical debut was as “the Tin man” in the school production of THE WIZ and he also portrayed a juvenile delinquent in a training film for the Chicago Police department. He graduated in June of ’79.

 

At Southern University in Baton Rouge, La, under the direction of Alvin Baptiste, he recorded with the Jazz band for the school’s centennial celebration.  In the Marching band under the direction of Dr. Issac Greggs, Anderson had the opportunity to be in the Rose Bowl Parade in ’79, as well as performing at half time for the New Orleans Saints. Upon returning to Chicago, he attended Chicago State University where he was a member of the Jazz Band.  While attending CSU, Anderson performed in school productions of the Dark of the Moon and Godspell.  It was at this time that he began as a working musician in the church starting at New Alpha Progressive Missionary Baptist Church.  Later, he became the organist/Choir Director before moving onto other churches in different denominations.  He finished his formal education at Columbia College where under the direction of Bill Russo he performed in theatrical productions of "the Payoff, I'd Rather be Right and the Anchorman."  He also was member of the Jazz band, which performed with a number of jazz artists including Clark Terry and Wynton Marsalis.  Anderson received a certificate in Sound Engineering in ‘83 and a B.A. in Music Performance in ‘86. 

 

Anderson began working at a number of different companies including Carl Fischer Music Publishing Company while he developed his music clients in the local music scene.  It was here “paying dues” that he began putting his knowledge to work.   Anderson continued working as a pianist/organist in the church while he was the keyboardist with Terry Thompson and the Images of Life band around 1983.  At this point he was developing his Jazz and R&B repertoire.  His first road trip was working for Bobby Hutton in Minneapolis.  In 1986 Anderson met Fran Allen and joined The Voices of Resurrection, a community gospel choir, that later recorded an album called In The Beginning.  Later on Fran began working with Anderson  as his manager and negotiated work for a number of different types of clientele from Soul/R&B artist such as Otis Clay, Barbara Acklin and Willie Clayton to commercials for the Illinois Bureau of Tourism and Sunkist to name a few.   Soon after this Anderson became a member of the Midnight Sun Band.  Up to this point Anderson was establishing himself as a free-lance musician. It was with this band that he gained his understanding of the difference between being a free-lance player and a group member.   During this time he worked at a number of theater houses such as ETA and the Black Ensemble Theater and the Goodman Theater.  He was also held positions as a music instructor with the Chicago Park District, a staff pianist at Columbia College and a substitute teacher with the Chicago Board of Education and a full-time instructor at the Chicago Academy of the Arts.  

 

In June of ’91 Anderson was called to sub for the keboardist with Koko Taylor on a European tour.  This month tour hit many major European festivals like Montreaux, and took him to Spain, France, Switzerland, Finland and Amsterdam.  Around this time Anderson appeared on the Oprah Winfrey Show on a segment discussing "Adult children of divorced parents."  He was also an extra in Oprah's TV production of "There Are No Children Here."  In ‘94 Anderson was called to work permanently with Koko Taylor.  This was his first long-term introduction to the Blues as a working musician.  Working with Koko gave him a historical and a practical understanding of the connection of musical styles.  Koko’s itinerary ushered in the transition from being a local musician to an international musician.  Koko also did a TV segment on BET called BET on Jazz with Ramsey Lewis.  This type of exposure introduced him to a number of artists from Huey Lewis and the News to Jimmy Page and Robert Plant.  From Robert Cray and Buddy Guy to Keb Mo.  Around this time Anderson composed and scored the music for film director Katherine Nero entitled Wedding Bell Blues.

 

 In ’97 Anderson was referred by the Goodman theater (where he worked as audition pianist for the Gospel at Colonus in ‘86) to the Northlight Theater in Skokie, Illinois to be the musical director for their production of Thunder Knocking On the Door.  This play was written by Keith Glover with music by Keb Mo (who Anderson had met previously opening up for Koko Taylor).   After reviewing his resume he was hired as the musical director/bassist/keyboardist.  Soon after this production began, revisions were needed and Keb Mo’s schedule wouldn’t allow him to participate, so Anderson was asked to present some compositions for the revision of the show.    Upon acceptance of the songs, Anderson was asked to stay on with the show and become the co-composer as well. At this point, in between productions, Anderson was called by drummer Robert Reddrick (one of his clients), to work  a club job in Nagoya, Japan.  The timing was perfect.  After working with Robert in Nagoya, he flew to do the next production of Thunder which was at the Gutherie Theater in Minneapolis.  The show moved onto the Arena Theater in Washington, DC and the Cincinnati Playhouse, all receiving rave reviews.  In ’99 Anderson won the Helen Hayes Award for best musical direction of a resident play for Thunder.  He was asked back the next year to be a presenter at the 2000 Awards Ceremony.  Thunder was picked up by NY producer Mitchell Maxwell with the intent to prepare for Broadway.  Zhane Mark was brought in from NY as Musical Director.  The show continued at the Old Globe Theater in San Diego, CA, the Geva Theater in Rochester, NY.  At the Great Lakes Theater Festival (in Cleveland, OH), George Caldwell (at that time the Conductor) became the Musical Director and Thunder moved on to the Stamford Theater in Connecticut.  In the summer of 2000, the producer closed down the show two weeks prior to it's off-Broadway opening at the Minetta Lane Theater due to union problems and artistic differences.  In ’01 the show was picked up by Ted Tulchin and opened in Rochester NY and subsequently opened a 2 month run off-broadway at the Minetta Lane Theater in NY. 

 

 He has worked abroad in Japan and played bass for ( Japanese R&B artist)Tyler’s  CD “Hipstyler” as well as performed on a japanese industrial commercial for American Express.     

In November of '05, he moved back to Chicago and continued to work on musical and theatrical projects in a variety of genres.   He periodically worked with Koko Taylor as keyboardist/bassist until her death in '09, .Blues guitarist James Armstrong from Santa Monica, Ca as well as recording on "GOSPEL SOUNDS" the final CD of Geraldine Gay (from the legenday Gospel group the Gay sisters) along with her brother Rev, Donald Gay.  He was the conductor of the Northlight Theater/Dallas Theater production of Rob Ruggiero's ELLA , which won Jeff awards in Chicago.  He also debued as Musical Supervisor of the production of NINA SIMONE-Between the Keys at the Fleetwood-Jourdain Theater in Evanston, Il.   He continues to work in a miriad of venues from solo piano to Blues concerts around the world.

He is one of the few musicians that is comfortable on any stage or production.  `
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