It doesn’t really matter to professional cellist and artist Jerome Wright what people may think. Secured away and sheltered in his Lancaster City home, the animated introvert has made peace with a life of tragedy and triumph, and he damn well doesn’t care what anyone thinks about any of it. That’s not to say the musician—who believes age is irrelevant—is a gruff man. Quite the opposite, Jerome is a boisterous and fun soul. He just tells it like it is.
“I call it good, bad, or ugly. Because that’s life, too,” says Jerome, as he sits behind his circa-late 1600s dining room table on a recent afternoon. “The most I ever learned is from the failure, the drama, and the trauma. That’s why I celebrate every moment. There’s no right way or wrong way. There’s just ways.”
Born in Richmond, Virginia, Jerome grew up an “Army brat” and lived throughout Europe— mainly France—under the rule of Charles De Gaulle. Eventually, he found his way to the streets of Baltimore; there he witnessed the ugly and also a lot of bad first hand. At the age of 13, he contemplated murder as a means of escape from a family that showed him no nurturing, except for his sister.
“I survived a lot of things,” says Jerome, his voice taking on a more solemn tone. “I’m a survivor of abuse on all the ugly levels of it. I am proof that you can move on.”
Leaving home, he moved onto the streets. Drug use was rampant in the “hood” and he was forced to use heroine—once. School counselors stepped in with connections to a church group who provided the then homeless Jerome with shelter and helped him graduate high school. Through everything he clung to a vision.
“When I was suffering the abuse, I had a spiritual awakening. I was beaten so bad my blood was splattered up on the wall. I was whipped raw with an electrical cord. My jaw was swollen; I was a punching bag. I was ready to give up.”
He saw the Madonna in blue, and she encouraged him to go on with life. Jerome carries the message with him every day. He never needed confirmation of hope more than the day he lost his sister. An innocent victim, she was decapitated during a crash resulting from a high-speed police chase. Jerome had to claim the body.
“She was the only one who understood me,” says Jerome of his sister, who he leaned on for support when things got bad in his family.
His father died in 2016. Jerome hadn’t talked to him in 40 years.
Today, Jerome uses sound to occupy his once troubled mind. As we talk around his mammoth table, classical music plays in the living room. In the kitchen, the television set is on. Having an aversion to all things flying about, Jerome keeps a device in the dining room to chase away bugs; it clicks and chirps as I turn the conversation to music.
His calling in music came as a young child in Paris.
“We went to the symphony… and all of a sudden I heard the cello,” says Jerome. “It was so mesmerizing that I literally went into a trance. There was something holy about it, something sanctifying about it.”
Youth orchestra led to Beethoven, which turned into acceptance at the Duke Ellington School of the Arts in Washington, D.C. He moved to Brazil for five years to play with the Orquestra Sinfônica do Estado de São Paulo and upon his return, he joined the U.S. Army. After retiring from service, he made his way to California and then Pennsylvania. He was drawn to Lancaster for its art scene.
He recently fielded a call from his alma mater. DESAP board member Peggy Cooper Cafritz would like to display a concert poster from Jerome’s recent Carnegie Hall performance at the school. On April 28, 2017 Jerome presented Beethoven’s complete sonatas for cello and piano with Glenn Sales to a sold-out audience.
“I’m no different than anyone else. Lots of people have had trying lives. I’m one of the guys who can say, ‘The arts really saved me,’” says Jerome. He knows he can never change the past and he has used it to build a bright future. “It’s a painful reference, but the past is just a reference.”