Locals honored for contributions to culture
R & B singer Jaheim Hoagland, known for his 2001 album "Ghetto Love," is carrying out a family tradition. The New Brunswick native is the grandson of Victor Hoagland, also known as Hoagy Lands, a '50s and '60s soul singer."Victor Hoagland was my mentor," singer Rudy Rollins said. "When I was little, I sat on his front steps, and I would imitate him." Rollins, who grew up on Richmond Street next door to Victor Hoagland, attended the reception Sunday for the New Brunswick African American Heritage Committee's Black History Month exhibit at the New Brunswick Free Public Library.In their display "From the Streets of New Brunswick to the Roads of Stardom," the committee honored Rollins, the Hoagland family and about 20 other black people for their varied contributions to American culture in art, music and theater.University alumni were also represented including Paul Robeson, who graduated in 1919. Robeson was an international actor, singer, political activist, scholar and college athlete, according to the display.The exhibit also featured Bill Bellemy, a comedian, TV personality and graduate of the University."They not only have some of the great figures in black history, they have some of the local figures," said Bob Belvin, the director for the library. "It makes people feel connected."He said residents connect with these local figures because they either know them personally or have family members who know them.Rollins said he had his 15 minutes of fame in Europe, shortly after he got out of the military. In 1966, Rollins signed with RCA Italy and toured Europe with his group, The Four Temps.Rollins grew up with many of the people featured in the exhibit. In high school, he formed a singing group, The Realistics, with Victor Hoagland's nephew Francis Hoagland. They won a state singing championship and recorded a demo tape before Rollins was drafted to the military."At that time, there were singing groups all over New Brunswick," Rollins said.Joyce Stateman, who sang in the group The Barefoot Contessas, lived across the street from Rollins. He said the group was popular around the city when he was growing up.Stateman, who also attended the reception, said music was a family affair when she was growing up. Stateman's mother taught her, her sisters and her one brother how to sing from a very young age."We all could sing except for one brother. He couldn't. I guess he just listened to us," Stateman said.After forming The Barefoot Contessas with her sister and a friend, Stateman said the group recorded an album and went on tour."We toured a lot. We could have made it big ... [But] we had a lot of fun," Stateman said. "My poor mother had to baby-sit for 12 kids [while we were on tour.]"Since her days in the group, Stateman has continued to live in the city. She said it has changed a lot since she was younger."Now there are drugs, violence, gangs," Stateman said. "We were like a family. You could let your kids play outside. They were the good days."After his days in Europe, Rollins has moved back to New Brunswick where he is now retired and works as a part-time barber. He said he loves the city but misses the days when there was a concentrated black neighborhood.Ed Spencer, vice president of NBAAHC and long time resident of the city, said all of the people on display, including Rollin and Stateman, have made contributions to the community. Spencer said Gladys Saunders, the NBAAHC founder, saw the need to preserve these contributions of people. The committee eventually hopes to establish a museum in the city, where these exhibits and others can be displayed year-round."All we're doing is contributing to her vision," Spencer said of the committee's founder.Belvin said since the committee was formed in 2001, he had been looking for an exhibit for Black History Month. The exhibit has been held at the library ever since."It's an education of all," Spencer said. "It shows that anyone and everyone can ascend to the same level and set their footprints in New Brunswick."