Mr. Kay

He's Miami's own Blind Lemon Jefferson, a musician extraordinaire

Soon Kay married a gospel singer named Juet and started a family. Together they had two blind daughters and a sighted son. During those years, Kay says, he sat in with jazz greats like Lionel Hampton, Louis Armstrong, and Coleman Hawkins. He worked the road as a sideman.

"He could teach and play twelve instruments," Juet remembers. He worked swanky supper clubs on the Upper East Side and bought real estate. His son recalls his father owning apartments and commercial buildings in Harlem and Brooklyn.

During the Sixties, the couple bought property between 123rd and 124th streets on Seventh Avenue. They ran a record store on one corner and a bakery on the other. He played supper clubs and sold bean pies to his Black Muslim neighbors. "I was a wild rabbit. I bought six cars and had six chicks drivin' 'em." He even bought his family a house in Miami.

Jimmy Kay at home 
on his keyboard
Ivylise Simones
Jimmy Kay at home on his keyboard

In 1974 he suffered three heart attacks. Juet picked him up from King's County Hospital and drove south. "I didn't want no doctors," Kay says.

In Miami, he explains, he established a comedy routine with Flip Wilson at the Sir John Hotel in Overtown and played songs poolside at the Fontainebleau. "There were always cats in my house," recalls his son, Rodney. "Shit, I remember when Barry White borrowed $60 from my father."

Then in 2000 Juet left, she says because she got sick. "I needed special care, so I returned to my people in Philadelphia."

Rodney moved to New York, married Diana Ross's oldest daughter, and began a career as an accomplished pianist. Kay's two daughters left for school. One of them, Aida, works as a secretary for the Miami Lighthouse for the Blind, a Little Havana program for the visually impaired.

Kay was alone.

In solitude he found the Lord, filed for a license to make his house a church, and married a gospel singer named Joan. Together they formed the Spirit of Truth Singers.

These days the walls of his house on NW 95th Terrace are lined with religious record covers and biblical quotations. A clarinet, a Hammond organ, and a beat-up piano crowd one room's cracked linoleum floor.

But at age 79, Kay has big plans. He needs a booking agent, a bodyguard, and a biographer.

He sits down at the broken piano and takes a request. With a flutter of fingers, he bangs out a quick "Honeysuckle Rose" and then decides he's in need of some church music. Hopping back toward the living room, he slides behind a large, slouching synthesizer that was just shipped down from New York (all of his instruments, he says, are gifts).

He still hasn't quite figured out the apparatus. He fiddles with a pad of buttons and it booms with a techno reverberation. He launches into a gospel roll that sounds as if it is blasting from a Martian pipe organ.

His wife sits quietly in a wheelchair in a dark corner of the room. She lost her sight about four years ago and has been confined to a wheelchair following a stroke. Kay cooks dinner for her every night. "Sing somethin' pretty, baby," he calls out.

Joan lifts her head and begins belting out exultation. Kay swipes a broken volume knob into upper registers — and every dusty particle in the hot room is suddenly shaking with a huge, fantastic force.

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