More than 20 years ago, Gloria Wheeler sought to create a haven for jazz and blues on Surrey Street. Described as a “silent humanitarian,” she is intertwined with Lafayette’s history. Maybe best known for her work with the Brass Room, she also holds the distinction of being the first Black court administrator for Lafayette City Court.
Gloria and her parents were always deep appreciators of jazz and rhythm and blues. As her parents grew older, however, Gloria noticed there weren’t any venues that catered to the elderly population. What was available was often too expensive, too late, or too rambunctious. She opened up the Brass Room, a place where older folks didn’t have to worry about feeling out of place. Every Monday night, a band of older folks comes in to play some soulful jazz for their peers.
“Ladies dress up in their Sunday best. The men be dressed up. The food is free, and it’s free admission,” she says. “But it’s not about the money for me on Mondays. It’s about the faces of the elderly walking in there, the faces of them walking out and telling me, ‘Thank you so much for everything you do. We’ll see you next Monday.’”
The Brass Room hosts open mic nights, fundraisers and community meetings. Without the Brass Room, there would be no Cupid Shuffle.
Soon after the Brass Room Opened, Bryson Bernard, better known (now) as Cupid, convinced her to let him play on a Thursday night show. The rest is history.
“He talked me into it,” Gloria recalls. “And it went all out, 25 and over, and they would come in and dance. And that’s where the Cupid Shuffle started — at the Brass Room.”
One day, Gloria plans to pass on the torch of the Brass Room, but has no intention of stopping the work. She invites anyone to come to her if they need help.
“My door is always open,” she says. “Contact me. We could sit down and talk. … I can make it happen. The Brass Room can make it happen.”
Celebrate Gloria and the rest of this year’s honorees Dec. 1 at Moncus Park.
Brach, Carly, and Emile
Myers Family Fund