A jazz trumpeter in Columbia, South Carolina’s, Orchestra Of Independence, Cynthia Boyd faces the challenge of keeping her talent alive, even in an era of erratic employment. When she was one of 12 high school musicians selected to perform at President Reagan’s first inauguration in 1981, the job was to have her playing something the crowd wouldn’t recognize, but might hear as something they wouldn’t forget.
The President’s Boys Choir performing at Ronald Reagan’s first inauguration.
“It could be anything — a piece by Beethoven, or probably something with words or music,” said Ms. Boyd, now 49. “I sang these solos in a complete cacophony. … It was really disappointing.”
But she enrolled in music education school and got a job playing instruments in a band. From there, she moved on to college bands, honing her skills and giving them lessons. It wasn’t until 1992, when Ms. Boyd, who lives with her family in Gaffney, S.C., took a solo drumming class, that she realized her skills could be used outside the classroom. Soon after, she became a member of a second band, the Riverside Jazz Quartet.
Courtesy of Cynthia Boyd
In June 1993, the Riverside Jazz Quartet became the first women’s jazz band in the state. They have become so beloved that people occasionally donate clothing, food and money to help the women cover expenses — a variation on the army-MBA scheme. The album’s title, “There’s Still Jazz in the South,” was suggested by the co-founder’s mother.
For many years, Ms. Boyd said, “my little money was all I had saved.” She created a jam-packed schedule of events and clubs, from comedy nights to citywide concerts. She works six days a week and sometimes plays six or seven days a week, as she and the band have traveled the state to concerts, universities and elementary schools. That’s why some nights, Ms. Boyd says, the weeks seem longer than the month, or the year.
“I can’t wait to go home and lay down in bed and turn the lights off and stay in the bathroom and watch two episodes of TV before sleeping,” she said. “People assume that when you retire that’s what you’re going to do, but once you stop playing it doesn’t end. It just becomes a larger business, a bigger responsibility.”
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And with so many projects on her plate, Ms. Boyd does her best to enjoy her time outside of the band. In February, she attended a funeral and went to the golf course. Though she says it wasn’t planned, she did think about the new role the music has taken on in her life.
“I live so much on the stage,” she said. “So when I get off the stage it’s just like a giant pain in the ass, it’s like having wings.”
Because she is around so much music, “my whole being is filled with it,” Ms. Boyd added.
“In the band you have all these instruments — stuff that you used to think you were doing, it’s really being used to play music. It’s just a necessity. … It’s really heavy.”
But it’s not all fun and games.
“You feel like you’re laying it on the line,” Ms. Boyd said. “You can’t be lax, because there’s a guy who can’t afford that, or doesn’t have the little rhythm section, that you can’t afford it. … You can’t afford to have a bad night.”
“I don’t like the negative,” she added. “If I was making millions, I would still be doing this. I’m doing this because it makes me happy.”
Courtesy of Cynthia Boyd
As recently as 2015, Ms. Boyd’s husband, Robert Puddester, died. His death forced Ms. Boyd to give up her role as president of the band, and allow her daughter, Emily, to assume that role. The band, which began selling CDs in 2008, doesn’t provide funding for the musicians’ life offstage, as they have been unable to get funding for themselves.
“It’s not easy, because the amount of work involved