Mary Pat Hughes, 1961-1998
by Natalie Davis
A cyclone...an inspiration...a friend. That's how family, friends, and colleagues say they will remember Mary Pat Hughes. The multi-instrumentalist and vocalist best known for her work with jazz/R&B group 2 Funkin' Heavy died June 8 after battling leukemia. She was 38.
"The day after she died...someone in her family asked me, 'She was some kind of celebrity, wasn't she?'" recalls Brent Mingle, a local musician and recording engineer who'd been friends with the Baltimore-based Hughes for 16 years. "I said, 'I don't know about being a celebrity. Mary Pat had a lot of friends.' She didn't have fans, she had friends."
And she made them everywhere. Hughes played for a host of bands, including Girl Friday, Bad Broads of BeBop, and the Bad Broads of the Blues. After earning a degree in bassoon at Towson University, she pursued a symphonic-music career, performing with the Baltimore and the Gettysburg symphonies. But it was 2 Funkin' Heavy, an all-female band Hughes founded in 1992, that took her across the country and into thousands of people's lives. The group played everything from weddings to festivals to events such as ArtScape, Baltimore Gay Pride, and the 1997 Women's Inaugural Ball, moving easily from jazz and funk to blues and Latin-influenced music.
"Mary pat didn't want the group to be pigeonholed as an all-woman band, a funk band, a gay band," 2 Funkin' Heavy drummer Michelle Humphreys says. "She'd encourage us to try new things...We never knew where she would take us next."
Glen Burnie-area tenor saxophonist and longtime friend Ron Holloway remembers Hughes' infectious spirit and accomplished musicianship. "Here she was, a woman, and not that tall...Men were always skeptical when she'd pick up that horn," he says. "But Mary Pat was a cyclone about to be unleashed. And when they'd see her play, their [skepticism] would turn into an, 'Oh my god!' She knew she was having that effect and enjoyed every second of it."
Joseph Hughes recalls a time when his daughter was "grounded" after totalling three cars. She bought a motor scooter, he says, and drove it all the way from her home in Hamilton to her dad's place in Fairfax, VA., "going 30 miles per hour while everybody else was doing 60, 70, and 80. She was determined to do what she wanted to do and she did it...That was just Mary Pat day to day."
And friends say that was Mary Pat last October, when she learned she had leukemia. She endured two rounds of chemotherapy and a bone-marrow transplant, performed as long as she could, and asked friends to care for her father and each other. "She never stopped fighting," Humphreys says.
Laura Tillman, a 16-year friend of Hughes, struggles with the loss. "It's like losing a family member. But she lived a really full life and showed an amazing display of courage," Tillman says. "We're in mourning, but we're also saying, 'Good job, Mary Pat. Good job.' "
Used with permission from Natalie Davis
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