Tag Archives: Ronald Reagan

Carol Rogers

July 17, 2015 by
Photography by Bill Sitzmann

This article appears in July/August The Encounter.

Something in Jeanne Rogers broke. It fissured slowly, building and building until it exploded into one moment. That moment came in 2007 in the piano room, where she had sat side by side with her daughter, Carol Rogers, for so many years.

“At last, my love has come along/my lonely days are over/and life is like a song.” The Etta James music drifted over Carol with an ironic sort of hopelessness.

Her mother was not playing the requested song.

A look of incredulity and sorrow passed over Rogers’ face. Jeanne noticed, and her fingers stopped on the keyboard.

“Guess I’m not good for anything anymore,” Jeanne said. She walked away, shut her bedroom door, and wept.

Rogers’ heart shattered, seeing her once proud mother struggle with the music they both loved. Growing up in north Omaha, their house was a like a “nightclub 24/7.”  Music was a connection in a city filled with prejudice, and people of all races flocked to the Rogers’  home to sing, jam, and dance.

As a Central High student, 16-year-old Rogers flew to the Arctic Circle (“probably as the token black person,” she says, laughing) with the Omaha Can Do Ambassadors tour. She later studied music at the University of Nebraska-Lincoln, but felt she was destined to leave and do something amazing.

Four years later she auditioned for Stevie Wonder. She recorded one song, was not hired, and did not even get to meet Wonder. Depressed, desperate, and distraught, she moved back to Omaha. Rogers heard God’s voice late one night telling her to go back to California, and a week later she packed everything she owned into her Volkswagen to audition for Trini Lopez.

At least that was what she thought. It turned out to be for Brazilian jazz singer Sergio Mendes. Rogers was soon selected to be one of “Sergio’s Girls.” Disciplined and focused—she’ll sing something 100 times just to get to the right spot—Rogers picked up the mixed style with ease.

“He (Mendes) is a genius, and a genius doesn’t let things slide,” she says. “I appreciated that.”

Rogers sang around the world.

“It was my finishing school,” she says. She grew up in the limelight, learning embarrassing life lessons along the way.

Rogers greeted King Hussein of Jordan with a hair pick in her Afro. She laughed so hard she could barely perform.

She jokingly mimicked Frank Sinatra while on a Brazilian state visit at the White House during Ronald Reagan’s term. “I did it my way,” she crooned in a Sinatra parody.

“Psst—Frank. . .look,” one band member whispered.

“Old-blue-eyes has better things to do,” Rogers said. She turned, shocked to see Sinatra standing behind her. He just laughed.

At the same event, she placed her makeup bag and silver stilettos on top of an antique piano. She saw the eyes of the security guards widen and heard audible gasps from the room.

“It was Martha Washington’s piano,” she recalls. “I just felt so at home.”

Rogers called friends in Omaha from the White House but no one believed her.

“If you are calling me from jail, you better not be asking me for bail money.”—Click.

“Are you drinking?”—Click.

She had the chance to again perform in front of Stevie Wonder. Rogers felt she wasn’t worthy to touch the hem of his record sleeve, but after hearing her smooth vocals he wanted to steal her away.

She was surrounded by glitz and glam—John Travolta’s birthday party, Bruce Springsteen’s gala, even getting flown to a private island in a helicopter.

She was also a single mother, and needed at home. So after 25 years with Mendes and 12 releases, including the Grammy Award-winning Brasileiro, Rogers called it quits. She became a vocal instructor to celebrities and continued to record albums.

“She is a real pro, one of the best,” Omaha pianist-composer Chuck Marohnic believes. “I just think she’s a treasure. Omaha is lucky to have her.”

While living a dream life with the stars, she, along with her siblings, kept a close eye on her mother. Rogers didn’t want to “uproot this old tree” and move Jeanne to California. Instead, she came back to Omaha in 2013 to be near her mother, currently at Douglas County Health Center.

Now 60, Rogers has time for herself. Snow showers replaced sunny skies. Her fast-paced, action thriller life became a slow motion picture.

Her hair is a mass of silvery dreadlocks, her posture elegant, and her face still smooth. She even started dating again. Perhaps her “lonely days are over” but Rogers refuses to settle for anything less than the best.

Her jazzy tone now has a gospel-like soul to it. She takes a sip of her Bloody Mary (with a bit of “stank” in it like her grandmother taught her) and smiles. Last night at Omaha Lounge, she sang from the heart. Even though her mother brought her back to the open plains of the Midwest, music will always be the catharsis, the glue that holds everything together.

“Music,” Rogers says, “is the thing that keeps me alive.”

CarolRogers1

The Tavern

March 13, 2014 by
Photography by Bill Sitzmann

Before September, potential patrons looking to get a drink might have stopped just short of The Tavern—not realizing that a bar was down the street. However, after a few renovations and a name change, patrons can now clearly see the updated bar.

Formerly The Old Market Tavern, the bar has changed more than just its name since David Kerr and Dave Haverkamp purchased it in July. One of the most unique changes is the addition of a 105-year-old Brunswick bar.

“It was in the Muehlebach Hotel, and Elvis Presley, the Beatles, and every president from when it was installed until Ronald Reagan stayed at that hotel when they were in Kansas City, so you have to assume that many of them probably sat down at that bar,” Haverkamp says.

Still, the addition of the historic bar was only part of the changes the duo made. In a whirlwind six days, Kerr and Haverkamp closed down the bar to begin renovations that included getting rid of a platform that split the bar in half lengthways, creating a congested area for guests trying to get a drink.

“We had the floor redone as well,” Kerr says, “and we brought in church pews as a part of the furnishings, and we took a wall down as well in the back. It was like a small dart room, so we knocked that wall down, and we renovated the bathrooms as well. It was a diet of pizza and Red Bull just to get through the six days, but it was good.”

Kerr, who has a background in both hospitality and marketing, also decided to light the awning outside and revamp The Tavern’s logo to give the bar a more modern feel. Kerr added a colored, flashing LED light above the logo as well so that patrons can see the bar from 10th Street.

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Both Kerr and Haverkamp took a bartending class in South Beach to revamp their bartending skills. They usually bartend once or twice a week now at The Tavern, but bartending or not, they’re at the bar every day talking to customers. They claim it’s their favorite part of the day. Both owners are proud of their famous Moscow Mule and hope to add more specialty cocktails and perhaps even a food menu. But they’re most excited about the Scottish soda-infused cocktails.

“There’s a soda from Scotland which outsells Coca-Cola, and I’ve had that shipped over from Scotland,” Kerr says, “so we can actually start using it in cocktails. You can’t miss it. It’s bright orange.”

When Kerr and Haverkamp bought The Tavern last July, they ran the bar the way it was for two months to learn about the customers and to get a feel for what changes needed to be made. One result of this observation period was to change the name only slightly from The Old Market Tavern to simply The Tavern. “The reason why we didn’t completely change the name is because we really want this to be kind of a local place to go. That’s how we envisioned it,” Haverkamp says. “Yeah, it’s a neighborhood bar, but we wanted it to be homey. But the products are good, and the cocktails are good, and you know…we offer something a little bit different,” Kerr says.