Finding Space in Music

Despite the racial tensions on campus, Rocky was able to create a space of belonging and connect with his background through music.

Rocky’s music career began during his early years of high school. A member of the youth choir, boys glee, and a participant in several music courses offered by Eastside, Rocky formed a band with fellow classmates called the Fantastic Gems. Rocky’s father acted as their manager, facilitating shows at various venues, most notably the Apollo. They were even offered a record deal that they decided to pass on. It was an experience that Rocky credits with teaching him about the music industry at a young age.

Rocky brought his musical passions to Dartmouth, forming a band called the Green Dream. He connected with his bandmates during his favorite Dartmouth course, Music 7, led by Professor Robert Northern, nicknamed "Brother Ah" by the band. The course explored musical awareness and the concept that all sounds had musical potential. In turn, the students experimented with unconventional instruments and sounds to compose original work. After connecting in the class, the band played in and around campus, as well as at nearby colleges.

The rest of the band graduated a year before Rocky, but that did not keep them from making music. After Rocky realized his freshman year that Hanover winters were not for him, he began spending his winters in California with the Tucker Fellowship and an exchange program at UCSD. Here, he studied music and recorded with the Green Dream, who then took on the name Mantis. As outlined in the Redding Report, off-campus programs, specifically those sponsored by the Tucker Foundation in the East Bay and Jersey City areas, were of special interest to Black students, as they afforded them opportunities to “return home” to communities with larger Black populations.

While finding a comfortable space on campus was a challenge, Rocky was able to connect to his background and cultural identity through his musical pursuits, which primarily focused on Black genres such as soul, jazz, funk, and rhythm and blues. Parallel experiences have been recorded, such as in Woody Lee Forrester’s [‘68] oral history interview, where he discussed the feeling of comfort he experienced after hearing James Brown while walking the Green.

“There were almost no Black students on the campus. Ed Holley [Edgar Holley ’66] who was a member of the football team, [...] was in a fraternity and literally the first thing I heard walking onto the Green was “Papa’s Got a Brand New Bag” — James Brown — and he was playing it from his window, blasting out across. James Brown. I thought this cool, I picked the right place after all.”

- Woody Lee Forrester



After the band split, Rocky moved to Washington, D.C. He naturally fell into another performing group and, outside of his professional work, played at local restaurants, clubs, and bars. Now, in Charlotte, North Carolina, he sings with his church's choir and a 21-piece jazz band. The band has several smaller components, including an R&B unit and a Latin jazz ensemble, where Rocky performs songs entirely in Spanish. Much like Forrester's experience that day on the Green, Rocky found positive reinforcement when he walked into his first day of choir practice.