When he was onstage with the musical group Gentlemen of Leisure, Boyse Edwards was a turbanned, tuxedoed, cowbell-ringing, tambourine-banging band director, setting off pyrotechnics to keep the party pumping.
He was trained by the legendary James “Major” Adams, who helped establish the Henry Horner Boys & Girls Club, which offered music lessons to him and thousands of West Side kids, including brothers Verdine and Maurice White of Earth, Wind & Fire.
Mr. Edwards co-founded Gentlemen of Leisure 40 years ago and saw it grow into a 22-member powerhouse group, including seven vocalists, that performed at one of President Barack Obama’s inaugural balls and at the Chicago wedding of George Lucas and Mellody Hobson.
Mr. Edwards, 67, died May 20 at his West Side home in Austin, according to his daughter, Mia Walker.
Mr. Edwards — who grew up in the Chicago Housing Authority’s Henry Horner Homes — was also a role model and community activist who supported food pantries and the Mile Square Health Center, said his friend, Delores Nalls.
Bill Freeman, a retired Chicago cop, said, “He made my job a lot easier because he had contacts with a lot of gang leaders. When trouble came, we could contact some of the leaders, and they’d come together to stop the shooting.”
Ald. Walter Burnett (27th) called Mr. Edwards “one of those guys I could go to.”
At one point, “I had a lady the gangs [were] pushing on, threatening her, selling drugs behind her house,” Burnett said.
The alderman said he went to Mr. Edwards and asked, “Boyse, you know this guy?”
“ ‘I can talk to somebody,’ ” he said Mr. Edwards told him. “He made them go somewhere else.”
Burnett also benefited from Mr. Edwards’ street diplomacy when his shih tzu, Star, disappeared from his yard.
“Somebody stole my dog,” the alderman said. “I’m roaming through the projects, looking for my dog.”
Mr. Edwards assured him: “We’ll get your dog back.”
Soon after that, “Somebody told me where it was,” Burnett said.
After acquiring trumpet skills and civic-mindedness in Major Adams’ Hornets Drum & Bugle Corps, “Boyse became one of the individuals who actualized Major’s dream and vision,” said Howard Lathan of the Chicago Area Project, a network of community groups.
He pushed for vocational training for youths and had enough “street lawyer” savvy to go to court with them if they got in trouble, Lathan said.
When Mr. Edwards was growing up at Henry Horner, “Everything was so clean and neat, and everybody was so talented over there,” Nalls said. “Earth, Wind & Fire came out of there.”
He went to Crane High School. His father taught him to be a barber, and they both cut hair at the Henry Horner Homes, according to his sister, Anastasia Edwards.
He helped produce a rhythm-and-blues group called the Spidells, relatives said. Once, the Spidells played the Keyman’s Club at 4711 W. Madison with some then-little known brothers from Gary, Indiana, Nalls said — the Jackson 5, featuring a young Michael Jackson.
According to Freeman and the 2014 book “Pat and Dick,” the band also played for President Richard Nixon’s wife Pat Nixon. During a trip to Chicago, the book says, Mrs. Nixon “was greeted by the black R&B band the Spidells, singing, ‘Shake it to the left, shake it to the right, Nixon’s got his thing on tight — right on.’ ” The group also performed “a soul-funk” version of “Hail to the Chief.”
In the 1970s, Mr. Edwards co-founded Gentlemen of Leisure with Rudy Jones while they were attending DeVry University.
The band has entertained at the Bellagio and Mirage in Las Vegas, at a Pritzker family bar mitzvah and at the opening of Michael Jordan’s restaurant, according to Jones. And restaurateur Rich Melman “flew our band to Cabo for his daughter’s wedding two years ago,” Jones said.
Mr. Edwards also produced or appeared on talk shows on Chicago Access Network Television / CAN-TV.
He enjoyed Mexican food and Marvin Gaye’s voice.
At his home, “Every room had something with music,” his daughter said, from CDs and LPs to cassettes and 8-tracks.
Mr. Edwards is also survived by sons Jawann Deloney, Reginald Bradley and Fontain Lykes; his other sisters Nedra, Sandra and Brenda and five grandchildren.
Services were held Saturday.