Debbie McClain espouses the notion of giving back to the community in grand style — something she and her family have been doing for generations. She is the owner of Brownstone Jazz at Sankofa Aban Bed & Breakfast in Brooklyn, New York, a booming little enterprise that celebrates the rich history of music and people in the culturally diverse section of Brooklyn’s Bedford-Stuyvesant community. Once boasting the largest jazz neighborhood in Brooklyn, Bed-Stuy was home to such jazz greats as Thelonius Monk, Randy Weston, Miles Davis, Max Roach and Hank Mobley.
Derived from the Twi language of Ghana, Sankofa loosely translates to “Go back and get it.”
“Brooklyn is one of the most culturally diverse and prosperous meccas for Black Americans in the country,” McClain said in a recent interview with The Network Journal. “My business celebrates the history of the community by going back and giving back.”
Sankofa loosely translates to “Go back and get it.”
McClain opened her B&B in 2008. The bed-and-breakfast features several rooms in the 19th-century brownstone townhouse that has been in her family for some six generations. Classical jazz artists, directed by accomplished bassist and Brownstone Jazz partner Eric Lemmons, perform every weekend at the venue. Guests come from near and far, eager to hear the classic sounds of what some have called Brooklyn jazz and vivid tales of the swinging old days recounted by Lemmons.
“We are a total jazz experience, a house of jazz,” McClain said. “We provide cultural events that recognizes our community.”
Combining history and business has worked well for McClain. For example, she operates the business on property that is located in a historically designated district that includes the Brooklyn Academy of Music, Brooklyn Botanic Garden and Prospect Park. Property located in historic districts appreciate in value, by as much as 20 percent over several years. “Owning a business or home in a historic district preserves the culture of a community and that’s what my business is all about … history,” McClain asserted.
“We are a total jazz experience, a house of jazz.”
A custom that has become a staple of Sankofa and its jazz nights is Fish Fry Friday. The mouthwatering aroma of breaded fish fillets cooking in a big black steel frying pan is a weekend fixture at the inn. “Fish was normally the tradition at homes throughout many homes in Brooklyn on Friday,” McClain said. “We have included that long-standing tradition with our weekend fish fry.”
McClain spends most of her time out and about in the community and is indeed the face of the business. “I meet and greet and wine and dine with many of my guests,” she said. Sankofa has dozens of loyal and repeat customers — including several celebrities. McClain said NBC News anchorman and occasional musician Lester Holt is a frequent customer. “We were featured on a segment of his program and he has played the bass guitar here a few times,” she said.
For a list of upcoming events and guests at Brownstone Jazz and Sankofa,
visit the business website at “https:/ / sankofaaban.com/”https:/ / sanko
(Article written by Glenn Townes)