Though he began his career as an opera singer, the venerable Chief Bey's
claim to fame is as a living repository of African drumming traditions: "He's the oldest African-American drummer standing right now. He's 90 years old." That's how Duke percussion instructor Bradley Simmons describes his mentor and former teacher, whose weeklong visit to the university culminates in a concert this Friday, Nov. 14 with the African and Afro-Cuban Drumming Ensembles. Bey, a priest of Shango in the Yoruba religion of Nigeria, once sang in the historic 1950s cast of Gershwin's Porgy and Bess
, which starred William Warfield and Leontyne Price. Now a spiritual leader and teacher, Bey is an expert on the ashiko drum, the shekere, and other West African and Afro-Cuban percussion styles. Simmons first studied with Bey at the age of 14 in New York City, and calls it a "great honor" to be able to invite Bey to Duke to play with another generation of students. "He was the one that taught me to play the shekere, and then we worked together in some Broadway shows," Simmons reminisces. "If it wasn't for him and a few other teachers that I had, I wouldn't be doing what I'm doing now." This rare concert event is open to the public, and starts at 8 p.m. in Baldwin Auditorium (off Markham Ave.) on Duke's East Campus. Free.