by Steve Suffet
The first thing that people noticed about Ray Korona was his smile. It was unmistakably big and contagious. When Ray smiled it was very difficult not to do the same.
Ray, as most of us know, was a union brother who was proud of his membership in Local 1000. He never missed an opportunity to put in a good word for our union, whether it was among fellow musicians or among venue operators, of which Ray was one. (For the past three seasons, Ray and I did most of the booking for the Peoples’ Voice Cafe in New York City.)
What many of us might not know is that Ray had been an attorney. He gave up practicing public interest law, however, to pursue a career in progressive political folk music, writing songs, performing them in public, and leading the Ray Korona Band. Since that is not the road to riches, so to speak, Ray supplemented his income by running a fully equipped recording studio out of the basement of the house he shared in Jersey City, NJ, with his life partner Ruth Indeck. Many independent musicians in the New York – New Jersey metro area made their way to Ray’s Hobo Star Music Studio, and from that modest space many fine CDs were born.
In addition to Local 1000, Ray was an active member of the People’s Music Network, and over the years he helped organize several PMN Winter Gatherings in New York City, including the one that took place in January 2014. However, Ray’s primary identification was with the Peoples’ Voice Cafe, the politically progressive coffee house that is now celebrating its 35th anniversary. Ray joined the cafe in the early 1980s, and he soon became a key member of the volunteer collective that runs it.
Ray, who was always robust and healthy, fell ill in the fall of 2013 with what turned out to be peripheral T-cell lymphoma, a type of lymphatic system cancer. He underwent a course of chemotherapy as part of a clinical trial along with other treatments, and for a while it seemed that the disease was in remission. However, the cancer returned this past August, and his doctors tried a different chemo drug. At first it appeared that Ray was responding well, but in early October Ray took a turn for the worse. With his immune system compromised by both the cancer and the chemo, he was unable to fight off an overwhelming infection, and on the evening of October 16 Ray passed away at the Hackensack University Medical Center in New Jersey. He was 68 years old. In addition to Ruth, with him were his sister and his brother, their spouses, some nieces and nephews, and several close friends.
The Community Church of New York, which is where the Peoples’ Voice Cafe currently meets, will host a memorial service for Ray Korona early in 2015. Then on Saturday, April 18, the Peoples’ Voice Cafe will present a Ray Korona Celebration and Tribute Concert, featuring the members of the Ray Korona Band and others.
Meanwhile, the best ways to honor Ray are to continue making music, to continue struggling for peace with justice, and to continue supporting the union.