Sterling Magee was a child prodigy and a musical genius. He was real and he was true. He loved people and so many adored him. He touched many lives and brought people together. Sterling preached love and justice and fairness for all. He sang of “Freedom for My People,” and his people were those who struggled in life.
Whether telling stories about his time with Ray Charles, being band mates with King Curtis and George Benson, or talking about what he had for dinner, Sterling was unequivocally honest. You could count on that.
He was not concerned with fame or recognition. I sat with Sterling and musician George Benson, and listened as Benson called him one of the greatest guitar players he had ever known. I walked the red carpet with him when the film “Satan & Adam” premiered at the Tribeca Film Festival in New York, and I’ve sat with him many times when he played and sang just for me. He was always the same person.
Sterling lived in the present, with little interest in the past or the future. What mattered was today. He knew what he knew, and expected that same conviction from those around him. He did not like the word “believe” and did not want it used in his presence. If I slipped, he’d scold me and tell me that “believe” was just a big ole word with a “lie” in the middle of it. He’d say “Don’t believe, but know what you know.” I liked that, and what I know today is that I’ll always miss one of the best friends I’ve ever had.
– Douglas Hudson
September 7, 2020
I moved back up to Connecticut in 2015, and Doug Hudson took over the roadie role, taking Sterling around to a few gigs, music events, visiting with George Benson when he played locally. He did of course play with Adam a few times after that – his 80th birthday at the Hideaway in St Pete, and most notably at the premiere of his documentary at the Tribeca film festival in NYC in 2018, where they also stopped off in Harlem to play by the same street corner where it all started. He was playing his guitar at the nursing home regularly out on the back porch there, but had steadily diminished this past year.
My memories of Sterling, what struck me the most was his respect for others. No matter who, everyone he met was called sir, ma’am, mister or miss. His generosity as well. After his weekly gigs at the Peninsula, anything in the tip bucket was brought back to Boca giving most of it to his “wife” Miss Macy, but if another resident was in need he would give to them as well. Never put on airs, was humble throughout.
He also had a magnetism – no matter where we went, people were drawn to him. They didn’t know who he was, but there was something that drew them in.
I remember once at an airport, three to four different people came up to us. All generally asking “Are you somebody?” When telling them, they all took selfies or had me take pictures of them with him. Sterling took it all in stride.
My most memorable time though has to be when we attended the New Orleans jazz festival. From around 10 years since I first met Sterling – unable to play, sing, or tell me anything about his past – to headlining at NOLA. One of my most proud moments for him. Close to 3000 people giving him and Adam a standing ovation after their set, made all the work previous so well worth it. The filmmakers knew that too, as they were all there, and chose that moment to cap the final scenes of the documentary.
If you have not yet, I encourage you to see the film. It is available on Netflix, Apple TV and Amazon prime.
– Kevin Moore