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Mo Pleasure at GHS to Benefit ABC

Long before he was playing alongside Michael Jackson; Earth, Wind & Fire; and other industry greats, Morris "Mo" Pleasure was a kid growing up in Guilford.

On Saturday, Feb. 12, for the second time, Mo returns to front an instrumental tour-de-force at Guilford High School (GHS), featuring some of his talented friends. The show supports Guilford's A Better Chance (ABC).

Mo's dad, former educator and principal Robert Pleasure, began with Guilford Public Schools in 1969 and continued for some 35 years.

"He's well-remembered here and was highly instrumental in bringing ABC to town," says Mo, interviewed by phone from his home in Atlanta, Georgia.

The Feb. 12 show benefits ABC's Robert Pleasure Endowment Fund. It's also Mo's way of "trying to keep my dad's memories alive and my grandmother's," Celestine Pleasure, he says.

"She was well-known by everybody, a very active senior citizen and in our church, First Congregational," he says.

There's another reason Mo puts Guilford ABC on his busy schedule: his wife of 15 years, Lori Pleasure.

"When ABC started, I totally remember it, because my wife was one of the first ABC students. If it wasn't for ABC, I wouldn't have met my wife," he says of Lori (née Harris), GHS Class of '78.

Mo graduated from GHS in 1980. Back then, ABC helped bring diversity to "an incredibly welcoming," but not-so-diverse town, says Mo.

"I can't venture to say how many black families were living there, maybe four or five at the time, and from what I've seen it hasn't changed all that much. So we'd sort of stand out," he says.

What really made Mo stand out was his talent. Mo performed classical piano at his church and the day's best sounds at school dances.

"No question, since I was four years old, music was going to be the major part of my life. When I was 14, I went to an Earth, Wind & Fire concert and I said, 'That's what I'm gonna do.'"

He thanks Guilford pianist Carol Wright for teaching him to play piano. Wright, an ABC Advisory Board member, helps organize Mo's benefit Guilford ABC concerts. The first, two years ago, sold out.

"Carol Wright works so hard to put these together. She's been like a second mom. She was my piano teacher from seven 'til I graduated high school and now we're great friends-she's just wonderful."

A talented multi-instrumentalist, Mo played keyboard, trumpet, and guitar with Michael Jackson's final touring band in 2009 and is also often called on for his bass guitar playing. Mo played a number of instruments at GHS, too.

"In high school, if you name it I did it… I played trumpet in the band, I played violin [and piano and trumpet] for musicals. I also had my own band-The Pleasure Band-a seven-/eight-piece band."

Mo graduated from UConn, at which he started out as an engineering major.

"Everybody was telling me you can't make any money in music. But after two years, I became a music major," he recalls. "I wasn't the greatest student, but I got my degree and I won the concerto competition."

In Mo's senior year, he landed on Ray Charles's world tour. He's since worked with plenty other big names-from Roberta Flack to Janet Jackson; Earth, Wind & Fire to Michael Jackson; and, most recently, Christina Aguilera and David Foster. Mo also made a name for himself as keyboardist and musical director with the artist Najee. Mo is an accomplished soloist whose sound has been described as organic, sophisticated, and funky.

Mo's bringing some of his talented friends to Guilford Feb. 12. Omar Hakim, the legendary Weather Report drummer who played with Miles Davis, Hank Jones, Sting, and David Bowie, is among them.

"On keyboards is Rachael Z. I played with her in the '80s with a guy named Najee…and I'm bringing a guy I play with a lot, Rick Waterford, a great guitar player down here in Atlanta," Mo says.

Although he no longer has family here, Mo says he's always welcomed back to Guilford.

"The people that come to the show are some you wouldn't actually think of...like 70- and 80 year-old ladies that remember me playing at church," he says. "Guilford is my home and they've always welcomed me back. I'm really honored."

Morris "Mo" Pleasure returns with "Mo and Co. II" for one benefit show at Guilford High School, 605 New England Road, Feb. 12, 8 p.m. Tickets (starting at $20 for adults/$10 students) are available at The Hole in the Wall Consignment Shop, 35 Boston Street; Breakwater Books, 81 Whitfield Street; and at www.guilfordabc.org. Proceeds benefit the Robert Pleasure Endowment Fund of Guilford ABC and GHS music programs.

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