If there was ever a place you’d be sure to hear a story it’s a barbershop; making it a perfect location and theme for the third installment of our Terminal Milwaukee series. The series’ central figure, Tom Crawford, seemed right at home at Satin Wave Beauty Salon and Barbershop, our chosen location. No wonder; his father was a barber and owned his own shop, another reason we were gathered among sinks and hair dryers on Friday, September 9th.
The series celebrates Tom’s life and storytelling skills throughout the Milwaukee neighborhoods in which he has lived and worked. While Tom’s connection brings us to each location, his spotlight is always shared with the community and those who have and continue to make it vibrant. Friday’s event highlighted the Capital Heights neighborhood, but it also featured the community of barbers and stylists that has grown in, around, and through Satin Wave, located at 6446 W Fond Du Lac Ave.
Throughout the night historian John Gurda shared historical insight on the neighborhood and the African-American community in Milwaukee.
Satin Wave is a family business, started by current owner Ronnie Sherrill’s grandfather, the first black Master Barber in Wisconsin. Ronnie, and his family, including his sister Dianne Pratt and her husband, former acting mayor of Milwaukee Marvin Pratt, shared the history of the establishment, their family and their involvement in the neighborhood.
Ronnie’s other family, the men and women who have worked at Satin Wave, gave their perspective on the business. Toby Harrison, Jackie Brinson and Omar Mustafa told of their starts behind the chair and the ups and downs of their careers. Penny McGee of a nearby salon told the story of starting her business and confirmed a rumor about stylists for the audience. “The thing I love about being a hair stylist is working with the community,” she said.
It was no surprise that several stories offered by audience members were about the unease of childhood haircuts. Ex Fabula’s Leah Delaney told of a father/daughter bonding experience at the barber that resulted in something like a pompadour on her head. Nathan Kilen explained the science of getting the right place in line to get the good barber versus the distracted barber, and the sacrifices his dad’s hair made to that end. Connie Moreadith, in town visiting from North Carolina, recalled her brother’s fear of the clippers. From his screaming, the whole small town knew when he was in the barber’s chair. “It was not the happy scream of a pig who fell in fresh mud,” she explained. Dianne and Marvin Pratt’s granddaughter, 12-year old Ayanna (our youngest storyteller to date) told a captivating and humorous account of her first relaxer and “the way of the salon.”
As in all Ex Fabula events, stories also touched on the odd and the touching. Bob Pothier shared tales of unfortunate haircuts in Samoa. Michael Heider’s father had grown up in the neighborhood and spent his childhood playing along Mud Creek. When Michael’s father died he scattered his ashes in the creek. “That was his idea of heaven and that was the best I could do to get him there,” he said. Lamont Smith wrapped up the community storytellers potion of the evening with an homage to barbershops saying what we had all come to believe throughout the night, that the barbershop is always somewhere real personal and a barometer of the community.
The evening culminated with Tom Crawford telling of his father’s career as a barber. From his basement to his own shop, we learned how Tom’s father navigated life behind the chair and Tom’s ever changing hairstyles.
Don’t miss the next installment of Terminal Milwaukee, Saturday November 5, 8 p.m. at Sherman Perk coffee shop. The theme will be “Intersections.”