NEW ORLEANS (WGNO) - Bruce "Sunpie" Barnes one of our most versatile musicians, mastering the harmonica, the accordion and the occasional turn on the washboard. But as we found out, "Sunpie" has always been much more than just a musician.
Barnes first heard the magic of music from his dad's harmonica. "I was born in Benton, Arkansas. My lil' community outside of Benton, where I was raised was called Gravel Hill, but it's Benton-Benton, Arkansas," says Barnes. "I came here in 1987. So right at 28 years." LBJ: "And what brought you here?" Barnes: "Toyota Corolla. (laughs) I came down to play some music or try and become a musician, a real one, and to be a park ranger."
Yes, Barnes, who's also a former NFL player, just retired after 30 years with the National Park Service. He's also a member of the Black Men of Labor Social Aid and Pleasure Club, and one Mardi Gras mornings he can be found with the Skull and Bones Crew, reviving a tradition from generations gone by.
Like his dad, Barnes was a harmonica player when he came to New Orleans, and then he had a spiritual revelation:
According to Barnes, "I had a series of dreams where I was playing accordion. I dreamed the same dream 5 nights in a row, and I walked in Werlein's to get some harmonicas and when I was buying the harmonicas, I saw the accordion that was in the dream hanging on the wall, and I ended up walking out that door with the accordion."
You could say the rest is history. We all have Barnes' dreams to thank for his incredible work on the accordion. Today he heads Sunpie Barnes and the Louisiana Sunspots as one of the busiest outfits in Louisiana music.
"I call what I'm doing really Afro-Louisiana music. The historical part of it is very important to impart that on people and have them understand and know the difference between different styles of music," says Barnes.
He's toured over 50 countries and toured with a host of the world's greatest musicians, including Sting and Paul Simon but loves sharing his history and that of the music with audiences.
Says Barnes, "It's really a spirit transfer for me to do that. Wonderful times and moments I've had with people, like to keep it alive. That's how it came to me as a little child, and listen to my family members say, 'Hey, we don't have any money to give to you, but we can tell you who you are."