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Saturday, 26 November 2011

Rent party to help struggling family

The rent party was once a common event in America during the Great Depression. Families invited friends and neighbors to their homes where bands and musicians would perform as party-goers passed the hat around collecting donations to stave off eviction for their host.

On Dec. 2, the proverbial hat will be passed around the Lutheran Church of the Good Shepherd in Blairstown at 7:30 p.m. to help a Sussex County family avoid eviction during the winter months.

The benefit concert is being organized by Tom Bias, of Sparta, to help three generations of women who are trying to make ends meet, but just can't on their three minimum wage jobs.

"This is what we seem to be heading for," Bias said. "This family is working three jobs but just can't seem to dig themselves out, it is scary."

The family consists of a grandmother, her daughter, and a 15- year-old girl. Grandma and granddaughter work jobs in the retail industry, and mom was recently laid off from her teaching job in New York City due to cutbacks. Now the noose is tightening, and the family faces the prospect of becoming homeless during the unforgiving Sussex County winter.

That is where Bias, one of the family's many friends, got the idea to throw a good old fashioned rent party in the tradition of the 1930s Harlem Jazz scene.

"This is a proud American tradition of friends and neighbors coming together to help each other, and having a good time doing it as well," Bias said. "I remember my grandpa talking about rent parties, and how they helped make jazz the true American music."

Bias, an accomplished singer and musician, has assembled a cast of local artists that command marquee billing, but have all come to share the stage for the benefit concert.

Performing at the rent party will be vocalists Carmen Artis and John Hammel, a classical soprano and tenor. They will be accompanied by Nancy Purkiss at the piano who is accomplished in classical as well as Broadway musicals.

Sharleen Leahey, a singer, songwriter and guitarist from Somerville, will be performing original songs from her newly released CD "Rumors of Peace" as well as her covers of Buffy Sainte-Marie, Bob Dylan and Phil Ochs.

The Good Shepherd's pastor, John Welge, a pianist and organist, will also take the stage during the throw-back concert that hopes to raise enough money to keep the local family in safe housing this winter.

If you want to help
What: Rent party
Where: Lutheran Church of the Good Shepherd, 168 Route 94, Blairstown
When: 7:30 p.m. Dec. 2
For further information: Call Thomas Bias at 973-729-4043 or 973-903-8384 or e-mail tgbias@ptd.net.
Cost: A donation to the rent fund of any amount

By STEVEN REILLY

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