Who on Earth was Eric Dolphy? (And why does he get a statue?)
Now that Dolphy Day has come and gone, I feel the need to ask a couple of questions: who is Eric Dolphy and what does he have to do with Dolphy Day? The funny thing is, no one really knows who he is, yet we have this huge celebration that’s allegedly held in his name.
In fact, I remember going on a Le Moyne tour as a prospective student that just happened to have occurred the morning after Dolphy Day. The tour guide indicated sidewalk chalk that read “Happy Dolphy Day” and refuse from the previous night’s fireworks, all evidence of the activities of a celebration of a man named Eric Dolphy.
I had to ask: “Who was Eric Dolphy?” Rather than the answer I’d expected, such as “He’s a big donor to the school” or perhaps “He was a famous student with a historic impact on the campus,” my tour guide informed me, “Eric Dolphy is… uh, he’s… y’know, I don’t know who Eric Dolphy is.”
I was really surprised that this otherwise knowledgeable tour guide couldn’t tell me a thing about this “Dolphy” character. I thought to myself, “If you don’t know who he is, then why does he get this huge annual party?” It really made no sense to me until I enrolled as a student here and realized that other than the statue of Dolphy in the quad, the Le Moyne student body had not been informed of who Eric Dolphy was, let alone his connection — if any — to Dolphy Day.
The plaque beneath his statue reads, “Eric Dolphy Jr. (1928-1964) internationally acclaimed Jazz Musician. Dolphy’s name inspired a unique Le Moyne College tradition, an annual campus-wide spontaneous celebration of spring first held in April 1971. Some claim Dolphy’s music playing in the quad was the inspiration; others tie it to a Frank Zappa song, ‘The Eric Dolphy Memorial Barbecue.’ Either way, Eric Dolphy Day was shortened to Dolphy Day and remains a day to relax, celebrate and listen to vibrant music and enjoy the company of fellow Dolphins.”
This is the single most valid source of information that can be found regarding Dolphy on campus, and I’m pretty sure that very few people have actually stopped to read it.
Furthermore, other than that, Eric Dolphy has no obvious connection to Le Moyne College. In fact, he did not even attend Le Moyne; Dolphy studied at Los Angeles City College more than 3,000 miles away!
I find it odd that we have a statue of an phenomenal jazz musician (which sometimes sports ridiculous hats or accessories) on our campus along with a campus-wide celebration named after him.
It makes me wonder if Dolphy would even want a statue of himself at Le Moyne. Likewise, if we’re going to have a statue of an individual on campus, then we should at least receive some rationale and be educated about his or her identity. At least with the names of the campus’s various buildings, we can know that persons named Foery and Reilly had some relation to this institution. Sure, I couldn’t tell you their life stories either, but at least I know that they stepped foot on these grounds, which is more than I can say about Eric “enshrined on campus” Dolphy.