A Family Bond, Civil Rights, and Jazz
Photograph by Joseph Fanvu.
Sales & Marketing Office Manager
Member since 2011
A Leaders Circle Member since 2011, Elba McIntosh recalls when the SFJAZZ Center opened in January 2013. “They gave us a private tour to experience the seats in Miner Auditorium. Neither the acoustics nor the view of the stage was diminished by where you sat. I was convinced that anyone experiencing SFJAZZ for the first time would be completely drawn in.”
Elba says she loves the venue because “the upbeat energy and camaraderie of the audience is always palpable.”
But there are other reasons Elba has chosen to support SFJAZZ. She remembers when she was 8, standing in front of a movie theater with her father, Cyril Michael, an accomplished amateur multi-instrumentalist. It was August 1953, and the family wanted to catch “Cheaper by the Dozen” while visiting Washington, D.C. The ticket vendor refused them entry because they were not white.
Elba (center) with her father-in-law, W.S. McIntosh (left) and her husband, J.W. McIntosh (right), circa 1970.
“My father said, ‘I’m the district attorney of the United States Virgin Islands, and I want three tickets.’” Elba and her family were allowed into the theater, but when they returned to their hotel room the words “drop dead” were painted on the door. It was Elba’s first encounter with discrimination.
“Where I grew up on St. Thomas most everyone was black – the senators, judges, teachers, everyone,” said Elba. “It felt so strange to be treated like that.”
Elba’s dad had a deep conviction that his children should have music in their lives, and their home was filled with it. Elba and her brother practiced the piano every day; her father regularly played the violin, piano, organ and trombone; and every Sunday they listened to classical music on the radio.
To this day, Elba continues to play for enjoyment, while her older brother Dale Rosario Michael went on to concertize as an accomplished classical and jazz pianist.
She met her future husband J.W. McIntosh, the son of civil rights activist W.S. McIntosh who led one of the first major civil rights protests in the Dayton community.
At 17, Elba enrolled as a junior at the University of Dayton in Ohio. There she met her future husband J.W. McIntosh, the son of civil rights activist W.S. McIntosh, who led one of the first major civil rights protests in the Dayton community in 1961. Tragically, her father-in-law was shot and killed at the age of 54 while trying to prevent a robbery in front of their family store in Dayton in 1974.
It was Elba’s husband who introduced her to the music of Thelonious Monk, John Coltrane, Miles Davis, Gloria Lynne and Sarah Vaughan. On occasion, she and J.W. would bring their infant daughter, Tynnetta, to hear them play live. To honor her husband, Elba joined the Giant Steps campaign. It is J.W.’s name that is etched on the wall at the SFJAZZ Center.
Elba says that jazz is very personal to her, and has helped her celebrate her family and cope with personal tragedy.
After raising her two children on St. Thomas, Elba settled in San Francisco in 1996. The first thing to arrive in her tiny new apartment near Coit Tower was a piano, a miraculous feat requiring a crane made possible by her longtime friend and frequent SFJAZZ partner, Rich Hanif.
“The music settles me. It calms me down,” says Elba. “The music keeps me close to my family. That’s why supporting SFJAZZ is so important to me. By doing so, I honor my upbringing and the people who have meant so much to me. Being a member of SFJAZZ also enables me to continue to grow and learn by introducing me to so many types of jazz – not just the mainstream.”
This article is part the SFJAZZ Leaders Circle stories. The Leaders Circle is SFJAZZ’s premier philanthropic group of individuals who believe in the transformative power of the arts.