Jerry “Wonda” Duplessis — the producer, songwriter and bassist whose credits include hits by The Fugees, Whitney Houston, Shakira, Santana, Mary J. Blige, Justin Bieber and many others — has joined the board of directors of Newark Symphony Hall. According to a press release, he will assist with the venue’s diversity and inclusion initiatives and chair a new Artist Advisory Board.
The theater was built in 1925 and added to the National Register of Historic Places in 1977. Artists who have performed there include The Rolling Stones, Jimi Hendrix, Bob Dylan, Aretha Franklin and Placido Domingo. It is currently closed, but a major renovation project is scheduled to begin next year, overseen by Taneshia Nash Laird, who took over as president and CEO in late 2018. It is planned for the renovation to be completed by 2025, when the theater turns 100.
“The first thing that we started talking about right now, is working on the sound system,” Duplessis said in a phone interview, adding that he also wants to do a “special event” when the theater reopens, and bring back some of the artists who have played there in the past.
The questions he’s trying to answer, he said, include “How do we bring in culture into that venue? How do we revamp the venue, get it to a level, to get it heard? Because the story of that venue is so special. I want to bring in everybody I have access to, and even bring venture capital into that venue, too, and create a movement in art, culture. It’s a mixed venue: We want to bring every culture into that venue.”
Duplessis, who was born in Haiti and is a cousin of The Fugees’ Wyclef Jean, moved to New Jersey in the early ’80s. He played bass for The Fugees and co-produced their landmark 1996 album, The Score. He has attended Essex County College in Newark and lived in Newark, the Oranges and Irvington before moving to his current home in North Caldwell.
“Jersey means a lot to me, especially when you’re talking about Newark,” he said. “Most of my friends moved to California, Miami, Atlanta. And I said, ‘For me, I will not leave New Jersey.’ There’s something about New Jersey. Straight from Haiti to New Jersey, and it’s my home.
“Symphony Hall is a special venue, and I want to work with that venue, to keep it alive. The train is moving, and I want to make the train move faster.”
Nash Laird — whom Duplessis calls a “powerhouse” — said, in a press release: “We cannot be happier that Jerry ‘Wonda,’ one of the foremost musicians and producers of the past three decades, has been appointed to our board. He’ll advise on a comprehensive program creating live music career pathways both onstage and behind the scenes, while representing our historic venue among scores of iconic ‘alums.’ ”
Duplessis said he first became aware of Symphony Hall decades ago, through the local gospel scene. Wyclef’s father, the late Gesner Jean, was the pastor of the Good Shepherd Church in Newark, and that’s where Duplessis lived when he first came to the United States.
“Twenty of us were sleeping in the church, which was a funeral home that (Gesner Jean) bought,” Duplessis said. “He bought the funeral home and said, ‘We’re going to put the church there.’ So we ended up living there. But this was the place to be. And that’s where we started. And I still go to the same church.”
For more on Symphony Hall, visit newarksymphonyhall.org.
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