Oscar “O.S.” Grant left his mark not only in jazz music, but in his efforts to make his native Gonzales a better place.
After Grant’s death on Dec. 5, 2020 at the age of 80, The Inquirer solicited comments and memories about him from the community.
Fellow Gonzales native David Tucy spoke of Grant as a friend and mentor. His fondest memory of Grant was listening to him play his song, “Tanya,” in Seguin on the night of his wedding in 1982.
“He basically played our wedding song, you know,” Tucy said. “I mean, it just goes on and on. He recently played at the MLK (Martin Luther King, Jr. Parade) twice in a row. He was always willing to help provide entertainment free of charge.”
Grant was born in Gonzales on March 18, 1940. He graduated from the segregated Edwards High School in 1960. During high school, he was also an athlete in many sports, including football and baseball.
But music was the true passion for the self-taught saxophone player.
As a member of O.S. Grant and the Downbeats, Grant released several singles on vinyl in the 1960s and 70s. According to his obituary, he was also a songwriter. He performed with greats like Etta James.
According to Tucy, Grant also worked for local radio station KCTI, which signed off in 2015, and even ran a record store. The Inquirer could not independently confirm that Grant won a Grammy Award, although several people – and even past articles in The Inquirer – referenced him as such.
His performances weren’t limited to his touring. He performed at many local venues and events, including the Come and Take It Festival and the Long Branch Saloon.
Former Long Branch proprietress Karen Jacobs said Grant performed at her venue on multiple occasions and said her friend would rarely allow her to compensate him.
“I had to fight him to take money for it,” Jacobs said. “He just loved to play. He practiced every day. We were lucky to have him.”
Jacobs said her favorite memory of Grant was listening to him talk about the people he had met and played with in the music industry.
“I won't name drop because the family can do that much better than I can,” Jacobs said. “I don't want to get it wrong. One night, we were doing karaoke. And he brought his sax in and he and I did Ella Fitzgerald’s version of ‘All of Me,’ with him playing the sax, that was just phenomenal.”
She shared another story of Grant performing — this time, with the Inquirer involved.
“When Terry (Fitzwater), the former publisher of the paper, had his Come and Taste It Festival, he booked O.S. for the first act,” Jacobs said. “There weren’t very many people there, but O.S., he was professional. He got up there, and he entertained. He made sure everyone that was there had a great time.”
A fellow musician, Gonzales local Brandi Behlen, said Grant supplied valuable criticism at the start of her own country music career.
“When I first started playing live music around town Mr. Grant would come to some of my shows and give me constructive criticism which I valued very much,” Behlen said. “I was just starting my music career so I had a lot to learn. I loved listening to his stories of his musical background.”
“I remember he even gave me a signed headshot of himself at one of my shows I was playing at The Long Branch years ago. I wish I could've heard him play.”
On a personal level, Tucy remembers Grant as someone who actively tried to improve his community. In a 1990 letter to the Inquirer, which he supplied for the purpose of this article, Tucy wrote that Grant had created a community basketball tournament program to occupy local youth.
“In an effort to get the young people off the streets, Mr. Grant developed the slogan, ‘Get out of street gangs and into street games,’” Tucy wrote. “Well, as it turns out, the street games are three-on-three weekend basketball tournaments. I was fortunate to observe one tournament, and I was extremely impressed.
“Not only was I impressed with the outstanding organization of the event, but I believe that a powerful message was being sent to the youth, and to older people as well. In a world that is filled with difficulty and uncertainty, it’s a comfort to know that in spite of adversity, there are people willing to make a difference in the life of a young person.”
Tucy described Grant’s legacy as being “one man who cares.”
Grant is survived by five children: Oscar Grant III, Russell Grant, Yvette Grant, Mark Grant, and Marian Williams, and his former wife, Jennie V. Grant. He had 18 grandchildren and 34 great-grandchildren.
Grant was buried Dec. 11 at Elm Slough Cemetery.