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Charlotte Amalie
Thursday, June 20, 2024


Aug. 1, 2003 — Louis Armstrong, Sarah Vaughn, Dakota Staton, Dinah Washington, Ella Fitzgerald and Stan Getz — often called the greatest of the greats in jazz music — were the early influences in the life of Julia Mae Lowe, one of St. Croix's premier jazz singers.
Born in Montgomery, Ala., young Julia was raised, first in New York and then in New Jersey, by her grandmother, who cultivated her love of music and the performing arts. These early years established Julia's long-lasting love for jazz. Julia's grandmother often took her to the famous Apollo Theatre and Carnegie Hall to see performances. As an impressionable teen, Julia was exposed to acclaimed Broadway shows such as, "Hair" and "The Great White Hope."
"I have been infused with an appreciation of music and I have been blessed to have been exposed to the greatest of the greats," says Lowe; "as a result, I am not only a singer, I am a performer."
"My children have always encouraged me to perform; in fact they wanted me to go professional," said Lowe. She has two children: Shawn, 30, and Kimberly, 24. "But I did not want that life. This business is too hard on a female: Many times you face situations where you have to compromise your morals, and you have to watch out for people who wanted to cheat you or string you out on drugs."
In the early 1970s Lowe moved her family to St. Croix. Janet Rouss (Cochrane) and the late Sheryl Petersen dominated the St. Croix music scene. The "Doc James Talent Show," directed by the late Dr. Randall James, was the vehicle most young Crucians used to break into the music and performing arts scene.
The mid-'70s was a prosperous time for St. Croix. Lowe began to sing with a band called the "Flippers". Many of the band members were from St. Kitts and Nevis. After playing six nights a week on the hotel circuit — Grapetree Beach Hotel, St. Croix By The Sea, Hotel on the Cay and the Island Inn — they would head out to the local hot spot, 2+2 Nightclub, where they would play from 1 to 4 a.m.
At some point in that heyday period, the late great saxophone player, Rudy Schulterbrandt, encouraged Lowe to sing jazz. "You sound just like Sarah Vaughn," he told her. Lowe agreed to sing jazz, backed up by the stirring sounds of Teddy Blackwood on congas, Devin Carrington on bass, Benny Jacobs-El on piano, Larry Bough on drums, and, of course, Rudy Schulterbrant on sax. This group performed at the first-ever Jazz Festival on St. Croix, the "Sea, Surf and Sand Jazz Festival," held at the St. Croix by the Sea Hotel in the early 1980's.
Lowe's stage name, "Black Diamond," was given to her by Florence Close, also a jazz vocalist on St. Croix. Lowe would join Close for Friday night jazz sets where Close worked in a Frederiksted hotel. Lowe recalls these combos being between 1990 and 1993.
Today's Music: Moving Beyond the Islands
"The Virgin Islands has a wealth of talent," said Lowe. "In the future I want to see more interaction between artists in St. Thomas and St. Croix." She was disappointed that the much-touted "V.I. Music Fest," held last month in St. Thomas, neither utilized St. Croix artists nor brought a portion of the show to St. Croix. "A grave injustice is being done to the artists and to the lovers of music in the Virgin Islands by not sharing the wealth of talent we have," she noted.
What is in the future for this versatile woman? Lowe speaks about creating a music "circuit" that would weave music throughout the Virgin Islands to create a fusion and mutual respect for all local artists. She envisions the exposure of local musicians to stateside artists and vice versa.
"Music transcends the world, and marketing music tourism would put St. Croix on the map — but our musicians are not appreciated here. But when we travel, as ambassadors of the Virgin Islands, we are revered by thousands of people."
The internationally known Midnight Band recently performed in Puerto Rico to more than 5,000 people. The fans in Puerto Rico were so enthusiastic they were singing along word-for-word to all of Midnight's songs.
"The answers to the St. Croix's economic growth is sitting right here," says Lowe, referring to the wealth of musical talent.
Performing and Planning
"I just want to entertain," said Lowe. She recently launched a new music venture at Pleasant's restaurant in Christiansted's Kings Alley, where she and her band feature jazz and vocals every Saturday night. Jazz in St. Croix has always been inclusive, and it was no surprise to fans when Lowe asked artists Anisa, with her Billie Holiday style of singing, and Alisa, visiting from Baltimore, whose vocal range put you in the mood of Minnie Ripperton, to join her in a few numbers at her opening performance. Their rendition of "Summertime" brought the house down.
Lowe also does double duty as band manager. She is seeking to put together a group of gifted musicians that would be consistent and create a particular "sound," she explained. Present band members are Mario Thomas on bass, Steve Davis on drums, and Dan Dixon on guitar.
"These are things I wanted to do for a very long time and it has finally come to pass. It's very humbling to see that people come to hear me sing and they are passing the word on to their friends," said St. Croix's premier woman of jazz.

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