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Wilbert “Wilby” Fletcher Dies October 15 in Wilmington, Delaware

Drummer Wilbert Fletcher, known both professionally and personally as Wilby, died suddenly on October 15, 2009, three days before his 55th birthday. Born and raised in Wilmington, Delaware, Fletcher rose to prominence performing with the bands of McCoy Tyner and Grover Washington, Jr. both of whom had close roots to the Philadelphia are and both of whom often relied on the music scene there for their sidemen.

Fletcher received his early education in Wilmington, Delaware at George Gray Elementary School and graduated from P.S. DuPont High School in 1972. After high school, Fletcher attended The Berklee College of Music in Boston Massachusetts. Fletcher was introduced to the drums at the age of four. He participated in the high school band and was later introduced to jazz by his father.

Fletcher began working as a professional drummer at the age of fifteen. Although underage, he played at numerous nightclubs with bands performing all types of music. Fletcher was a young man when he succeeded Alphonse Mouzon in Tyner’s working group in the ’70s. His first outing with the Tyner’s quartet was at the Jazz Showcase in Chicago with Azar Lawrence and Alex Blake. Although there was no time for rehearsal, Fletcher managed to hold his own thanks to years of listening to his father’s jazz records. He had an ongoing relationship with Tyner for approximately ten years and appeared on one of Tyner’s important recordings of that period, Atlantis. He also toured with Grover Washington, Jr. In both of those groups, Fletcher formed a close musical bond with violinist John Blake with whom he played off and on for many years. Fletcher appeared on Blake’s first two albums, Maiden Dance and A Twinkling of an Eye. Blake said about Fletcher, “Wilby was one of the greatest drummers that I ever played and recorded with. His sensativity and versatility in style was unique. I will really miss him.”

Reflective of his range of talents and interests, Fletcher also performed with pianist Michel Petrucciani, vibist Roy Ayers and singer Harry Belafonte. Over the years, Fletcher toured all over the world, playing with entertainers such as Charles Earland, Lonnie Liston Smith & The Cosmic Echoes, Ahmad Jamal, Dianne Reeves, Ron Carter, Sadao Watanabe, Lena Horne, Herbie Mann, Nancy Kelly and Roberta Flack. In addition to recording with Tyner, Fletcher also recorded with Ayers, Lonnie Liston Smith, John Blake, Ron Carter, Dave Hubbard, Charles Fambrough, John Nyerges, and The Stylistics. Fletcher was the house drummer at the Trump Castle in Atlantic City, New Jersey and worked with the Alvin Ailey Dance Company in New York City. Recently, Fletcher played for church services at Shiloh Baptist Church in Wilmington, Delaware and also gave drum theory lessons to aspiring youth in the community. For most of his life, Fletcher was an active educator, both formally and informally.

Fletcher is survived by wife, Dinah Fletcher; four sons, Jumbe, Jeffrey, Jermaine, and Cheo Fletcher; two daughters Quinn Jackson, and Spencer Hill; grandchildren: Laila and Camille; mother: Mrs. Betty J. Fletcher; sister, Sharon “Kimmy” Turner (Keith); brothers, Anthony C. Fletcher “Artoni” and Jamil Fletcher; and niece, Shayla Mason.

A memorial service will be at 10 am on Thursday, October 22, at the Congo Funeral Home, 2317 N. Market St. There will be no viewing. A musical tribute is pending for November 14, 2009.

Originally Published