By Harvey Overton

We are proud to present A Death in the Family, a poem about Hall Overton by his younger brother Harvey.  We have two versions here; a video of Harvey reading the poem made by JLP Research Associate Dan Partridge in Chicago in 2002, and the text of the poem below.  Harvey was born in 1921 in Bangor, Michigan, the second of the three Overton sons.  For several decades he taught in the humanities department at Western Michigan University before retiring to Chicago where he still lives today – S.S.

A Death in the Family by Harvey Overton from The Jazz Loft Project on Vimeo.

From Harvey Overton’s volume of poems, Hanging Out in Space – Album in Black and White (1992)

A Death in the Family

Seduced from the detritus of boyhood
by a siren ear,
your untutored hands startled octaves;
your gift enlarged under the masters
of counterpoint,
you set notes for searing strings,
a lapidary engraving chambered sounds.

You also heard another voice who spoke
to you
in hot and cool and blue through keyboard
riffs in clubs of smoke and saxophones,
and there, booting the tempos of your
joie de vivre,
you chimed chords with celebratory horns.

Then in your metered years,
after the accolades, in haste to measure
scores against your measured time,
you waited for your temptresses
to collect their dues.

That night the chain stitch pulled,
unraveling arteries,
that night physicians cried,
and in the waiting room we turned
our faces to the wall to say
too soon, too soon.

* For a video of a JLP program on Overton at NYPL for the Performing Arts last spring, click here.

* For Sara Fishko’s JLP radio series episode on Overton at WNYC, click here.


  1. James Williamson Said,

    August 9, 2010 @ 10:45 am


  2. Frank Amoss Said,

    August 9, 2010 @ 2:34 pm

    Dear Harvey,

    This poem is the most beautiful summation of the life of a musician I have ever read or heard.

    Your brother is blessed.

    Frank amoss