Meeting Clarence Van Hook, a Living Treasure

By Augusta Lee Collins

From left to right: Clarence Van Hook, Pastor Kevin Barnes and Augusta Lee Collins. Photo by Adam L. Turner.

I generally stop by the African American Museum and Library at Oakland (AAMLO) to work on the computer, leave fliers about my weekly performances, look over the fine collections of African American books and chat with the locals/librarians and staff.  
When I arrived at AAMLO, a librarian shouted, “There he is!” pointing directly at me and this cowboy hat wearing, youthful happy looking man, who walked up to me and said, “My name is Clarence Van Hook, and I was trying to get the librarian to let me listen to your CD.”  
“You look like you can play the blues. Are you any good?”  He asked.
 “I can play the blues, and I am ready, and I am hungry,” I told him.
“Where is your guitar?” He asked.
I told him I didn’t have it with me, but Mr. Van Hook said, “I got two guitars out in my truck. Let’s go outside and play”.  
Well, Mr. Hook and I sat on the curb in front of the AAMLO and played for at least 45 minutes.  We shared the blues and began talking about our experiences when we discovered that we both had worked with Lightin’ Hopkins.  
I recognized this man’s history with negro spirituals and the old gospel standards. I was impressed by his knowledge and the delivery of these forms of music not widely being performed here in the Bay Area by Black artists.  
Mr. Van Hook would mix blues and spirituals and gospel standards as I had pictured our ancestors as they performed more than 150 years ago.  This man is one of our living treasures, a window to our past.  
Listening to Mr. Van Hook, I was receiving a real life musical history lesson.  Like I received from Lightin’ Hopkins. I could not let this get by me.  So, we exchanged numbers.  And, we went off in our own directions stating that we would stay in touch.
Weeks later, he showed up at my gig at Pizza Pazza with a huge following of guests, including family and relatives.
We performed together that night with Mr. Van Hook’s 7-year-old godson Markus, who stole the show.  We all had a great time, and the audience went crazy.
Mr. Van Hook has returned three more times to Pizza Pazza, 3905 Piedmont Ave., each time bringing the house down.  What a treasure.