Mr. Nuby Means Music and Service
By Starla Vaughns Cherin
Jazz In The House held the last Friday of each month, at the newly built historic Hampton House featured jazz drummer David Nuby who was back home after 50 years. He, Charlie Austin, Eric Knight and Richard Thomas made up the Hampton House’s first house band, playing there six nights a week through the 1960’s.
“He’s a wonder,” says Hampton House CEO Enid Pinkney. “He’s about the only one from that era still playing. Jazz In The House keeps the legacy of music at the Hampton House alive.”
Now 80 years young, Nuby continues the daily grind running his Dania Beach based business Nu-Black Plumbing Services. Working comes naturally to David Nuby, he’s been working since he was 11 years old and purchased his first piece of property at 16. Some might think it’s a wonder he’s still so active, yet when you see the light in his eyes, the quiet and efficient way he goes about his business and his commitment to excellence, you understand, he’s just that way.
Initially a saxophone player, Nuby took a turn on the drums when a piano player from the Sir John Hotel’s Night Beat club came looking for a drummer. “I told him I wasn’t ready yet and he asked me to play during two numbers. The first song was good but the tempo on the second number was so fast I couldn’t keep up,” Nuby remembers. “He said give me two weeks and you’ll see. I was there five years playing six nights a week.”
A haven for African American musicians in the 1960’s, who while working on Miami Beach weren’t allowed to stay in the hotels where they performed, so they came over the bridge to Miami’s Sir John Hotel in Overtown and sat in with other musicians at the Night Beat located inside the hotel. Local musicians like Nuby where able to play with members of Duke Ellington’s Orchestra, Dave Brubeck’s Band, Diana Washington and Nancy Wilson and Ray Charles’ band.
“There is a spirit and a feeling to playing music,” Nuby says. “I was better at fitting into the pockets and the music blended together. You can feel the people you are playing with because you are playing with someone, not playing for yourself.
“I learned more there because so many of the greats came through. I had a feel and I played to get into the singer and the group. I pushed the band and they liked the way I felt. I didn’t play loud. On stage they feel it and the audience feels it too because you see them clapping, snapping fingers and tapping feet.”
In 1959 at the Boca Key Hotel in Fort Lauderdale Nuby and fellow musicians encountered a different type of racism. Scheduled for a six month gig, on their first night the place filled within an hour and the fire department came because there were too many people. The third week the police department wanted to know if the band had ID cards. They said no we have union cards. They and the owners were taken to the police department and charged with not having an ID card which African Americans needed to work in Fort Lauderdale.
Afterwards, the band was given a room where they ate and stayed until the performance. Soon there were good reviews in the newspapers and more people attending. They made $100 a week per man but, union pay scale was $675 per person.
“We met with the owner and said we would do it like this for four weeks and then we expected union scale pay,” Nuby says. “He said the average black man doesn’t make that much money in a week and you make this for four hours. More money than the average black man makes working eight hours five days a week. They never paid and we left. I went back to the Sir John making $500 per person a week.”
Music being his first love he started on the home piano, taking lessons from his aunt Alberta Wright who played piano for the 109 year old St. Ruth Missionary Baptist Church in Dania Beach for 30 years until her death.
“It was a rule in our house that everyone worked. My mom worked as a maid and would sometimes take me to work with her. She told me to pull weeds but, I was sitting on the ground doing it and she said no, you have to stand up and pull the weeds,” Nuby remembers. “In high school I had a job washing dishes and I would clean up a bar in the early morning before school.
“One summer I worked at the drive-in theater in Dania pick up the trash after the movie. I set up the soda and concession stand in the evening working until 10 pm. The owner liked me so well he gave me a jeepster to drive to school. I worked in the morning and go to school and they come back after football practice to get ready for the evening show that started at 7pm.”
He met his wife Constance Nuby through his music. A tenor sax player needed a second man on a date with two sisters. They were married until her death in 1995. She was one of the first African American nursing students to attend Broward Community College when it was housed in the airport. Still encountering racism, Dr. Calvin Shirley had to escort Dr. Von Mizzell into the facility because they wouldn’t let him in, according to Nuby.
Ever the pragmatist, Nuby looked for ways to make money in addition to his music. He worked for Edison Electric gaining electrical knowledge and managed a 96 apartment building for nine years. There he began learning how to fix mechanical problems. “When they came to fix anything, I watched and learned how to do it. I billed the owners less than what the company charged.
“I went into business for myself out of a station wagon I would do electrical
and plumbing work, fix screened in porches. I got so busy I couldn’t do everything
so I decided to focus on plumbing. It was the most lucrative. We started with drain fields and bathrooms. I took guys who weren’t working and put them to work in the drain fields.”
Meanwhile, Nuby performed with Marvin Gaye at one of the first musical award shows held at the Bayfront Park Auditorium. Gaye’s piano player and music director needed a rhythm section and Nuby got the gig. “He was a regular fellow. The Four Tops brought their own band and Nina Simone needed drums so I played with her. They gave awards for the Watermelon Man by Melvin Peebles. Dr. King’s wife Coretta Scott and Aretha Franklin attended.”
Nuby houses his music business with his plumbing business in one building. He has a sound proof room for recording and instruments waiting to be played. He’s busy these days with the plumbing service, employing family and community members. He’s always looking for young talent to work in plumbing or music. He lives by two tenets learned from his family. “The truth will set you free and if you can help someone do it,” Nuby says. While Shine On Magazine interviewed Mr. Nuby at his place of business, the phone was constantly ringing and customers came by, each time Nuby answered the phone with one word, “Service.”