Gary B.B. Coleman

Known for producing stars in the music and entertainment business, Paris can claim another top entertainer in the late Gary “B.B.” Coleman, who took his place among the best in jazz before his untimely death in 1994 at age 47.

Interest in Coleman and his connection to Paris piqued earlier this year when The Paris News helped movie studio Paramount Pictures locate a member of Coleman’s family still living in the Paris area. Within 15 minutes of posting notice online, a family member contacted the newspaper to see how they could help. Later in the evening, his daughter, Angela Coleman, called the newspaper.

The Paris News was alerted to the search by Jim O’Neal, the founding editor of Living Blues Magazine, who said Paramount representatives contacted him about the studio’s efforts to locate Coleman’s heirs so it could pay for the use of one of his songs.

O’Neal, who said he knew Coleman and knew he had relatives in and around Lamar County, contacted The Paris News because the newspaper published Coleman’s obituary.

Unfortunately, Coleman’s son and daughter, who both live in Paris, were not able to claim income from their father’s music because the singer sold the rights to his recordings before his death.

“It didn’t turn out so well,” daughter Angela Coleman said last week before she and her brother, Donald Coleman, shared some insight into the life of the jazz musician.

“He was a gentleman of many trades, and a master of all of them,” the daughter said, explaining her father not only was a musician but a mechanic and carpenter as well. “We would go visit him out on the road, but he was not home very often.”

Donald Coleman said once he was old enough to get a driver’s license he drove for his father, traveling from place to place.

“I don’t remember exactly how old I was, but he took me to Oklahoma to get my driver’s license because you could get them younger than in Texas,” he said.

The children’s mother, Arlene Roberts Smith, also of Paris, recalled Coleman as being a jokester and entertaining family and friends with his stories about being on the road.

“He could sit up and tell you stories for days,” she said of the man she called “Boo Boo.”

The couple became close when Arlene Smith was about 15. Coleman, the brother of one of Smith’s classmates at Gibbons High School, played music around town when the couple first met.

“It was later that he became so famous, and I would travel with him to many interesting places,” Smith said.

Perhaps Jim O’Neal knew him best, having written a brief biographical sketch of the musician for the All Music Guide, a trade magazine.

“I knew Gary Coleman through his records but I did meet him,” O’Neal said in email correspondence. “He was truly dedicated to the blues and was not only a solid performer but also a friend and supporter of many other blues artists.”

In his article, O’Neal said Coleman started his career as a local businessman in Paris and blues promoter in Texas and Oklahoma, later recording on his own label before joining the fledgling Ichiban company out of Atlanta, Georgia, in 1986.

“Since that time, both Coleman and Ichiban have made their marks in the blues field: not only did Coleman release half-a-dozen of his own albums, he also oversaw production of the bulk of Ichiban’s hefty blues catalog, bringing to the studio a number of artists he’d booked or toured with in his previous career,” O’Neal wrote.

Coleman released his first album with Ichebon in 1987, “Nothing But The Blues,”and his second album, “If You Can Beat Me Rockin” in 1988. Between 1988 and 1992, he released six records and produced another 30 for other artists.

“He continued to be active until his untimely death, both as a performing and recording artist, as well as a producer,” O’Neal said.

Mary Madewell is a staff writer for The Paris News. She can be reached at 903-785-6976 or at mary.madewell@theparisnews.com.

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