Pat Hendricks Munson
Special to the Mirror
For Paul Lee Delph’s family as well as thousands of other families represented by the AIDS Memorial Quilt, the colorful panels that make up the massive memorial are more than just a piece of fabric. For many it is the lifeline to the spirit of a son, daughter, brother, sister, mother, father, spouse or companion lost to the rapacious killer that is AIDS.
Paul Lee Delph, like many others, contracted the virus in the early days when the only thing known about HIV/AIDS is that all of a sudden people were dying by the hundreds. Especially, gay white men like Paul, a young talented classically-trained musician, writer, composer who came to Los Angeles in the late 70s to pursue his dream of becoming a rock star. He settled into a cozy apartment in Santa Monica where he lived happily for many years while making his living as a band member, musician and well-respected recording engineer. He was a graduate of the University of Cincinnati College Conservatory of Music.
“He loved rock and was a band member since grade school…he was a very loving person,” said Linda Arnest, Paul’s sister, standing in front of the piano keys that represent her brother’s panel.
On Sunday, May 21st, 10 years to the day of Paul’s death and a month before the 25th anniversary of AIDS in America, Paul’s family celebrated his memory by bringing the AIDS quit to Unity Fellowship Church in Los Angeles where Paul found comfort in his last days. The Quilt covered a long wall inside the church where the family joined in Sunday worship services before the memorial ceremony.
Paul and his long-time partner, Bill Beckman, attended Unity for several years before the disease ravaged his body and he returned home to his family in Ohio.
“Paul found Unity through a friend one year after his diagnosis and three years before he died. He loved Bishop Bean and the choir at Unity,” Arnest added.
Unity was founded by Bishop Carl Bean in 1985 to support gay, lesbian, bisexual and transgender Christians in the African-American community. It is where the young rock music lover from Cincinnati found acceptance and support to be himself. The church provided a sanctuary for many gay young men who, because of their diagnosis, were treated as pariahs by family and friends. Back then, many pastors wouldn’t even allow funerals of AIDS victims to be held in their churches. Unity’s motto is “God is love and love is for everyone” regardless of race, gender, sexual preference or religion.
It was at Unity in August 1996 where the family gathered for a memorable memorial service for Paul. As his dear friend, Paul Marcus, was quoting the line “the lights went out” from a Dylan Thomas poem, a power outage hit Los Angeles, seven other states and Canada. The church was momentarily cloaked in darkness.
“People thought it was staged. But, the lights soon came back on and we were able to finish the service,” said Harold Delph, Paul’s father. “We found out later that the lights came back on in this church only…a sign from Paul that he was okay.”
For Paul’s family, including Arnest, Harold, mother June, two nieces, Kristen and Kaitlin, and adopted brother, Scooter, who came to Unity for this special day, the AIDS Memorial Quilt has brought them full circle to the place Paul so dearly loved.
Before his death, Paul recorded one last CD, entitled A God That Can Dance. This was Paul’s way of dealing with his situation and putting into words his many emotions. On “Mama Don’t Cry” Paul encouraged his mother not to blame herself, that she wasn’t responsible for him being gay or infected with AIDS. As a matter of fact Paul was so concerned about worrying his family that he didn’t tell his parents until five years after his diagnosis. He felt completely responsible and his therapy was writing about his illness, his sister said.
The family not only stays connected with the AIDS Memorial Quilt, but they sponsor a Paul Delph team in the annual AIDS Walk and a music scholarship at Paul’s alma mater.
The Quilt will travel from city to city. Paul’s family may never come back to Los Angeles but Unity will never forget the kindness of a young man who even after his death gave so much to so many. Paul’s musician and recording friends knew how much he loved the Unity choir so they made it possible for the choir to record its first CD. The friends volunteered their time and services to record Unity Mass Choir’s gospel songs of faith, hope and charity. It was a gesture of love from a young, white musician from Cincinnati who found love and acceptance in a high-spirited Black church in South-Central Los Angeles.
To learn more about Paul and his music visit the Paul Delph Memorial Gallery at pauldelph.com.