Band of Angels founder Ilanga Scott, who describes the group as a social club, notes that his group was evenly split between men and women and had white and Latino members as well. Standing in the group’s 20-by-20 tent, he reminisced with other Angels about their days hanging out in Madison Park and singing doo wop tunes in the stairwells of nearby housing projects.
The voices of the Angels were so mellifluous, a group of them formed the G Clefs, a successful singing group that went on to tour the world and still performs today, with gigs scheduled this summer at Scullers Jazz Club and the South Shore Music Circus.
Like Ilanga Scott, who went on to dance professionally and lived as an expatriate in Europe and Greece, many of Roxbury’s sons and daughters found fulfilling lives outside of the bounds of the old neighborhood.
Many others found success staying in Roxbury. John Cruz III, who hung out with the Angels, went on to build his father’s construction business into a formidable player in the local development scene.
Cruz said the mentality of his peers growing up in Roxbury helped shape who he is.
“You knew you had to be twice as good to get half as much as white people,” he said. “We knew we weren’t the enemy.”
Like many of those present, Cruz shook his head when asked about the spiraling gang violence currently plaguing teens in Boston.
“There was a respect for your elders and for your peers,” he said. “There was a respect for self. I wish this could be programmed into young people’s brains. You could have a good time without violence.
“We were always too busy experiencing life. We were lovers, not fighters.”
When pressed, Cruz and others admit there were some gangs with a more rough-and-tumble reputation than others.
“We did have some guys,” he said. “The Marseilles Dukes were the baddest. There were the Squires. But none of them ever killed anyone.”
Former Marseilles Duke William “Billy” Celester, who went on to serve as deputy superintendent of the Boston Police Department (BPD) during the administration of Mayor Raymond L. Flynn, denies the Dukes’ reputation as the baddest.
“They were all tough,” Celester said of the gangs, before pivoting around to greet a man who put fear in many a gang member.
“This is Tiny Williams,” Celester said, introducing former BPD officer Joe Williams. “He used to chase me through Washington Park.”
While Williams and Celester found careers in law enforcement, some at the reunion spent many of their productive years on the other side of the law. Some still spend most of their days in Dudley Square.
Also rubbing shoulders with Roxbury’s sons and daughters were a host of politicians, including Gov. Deval Patrick, state Sen. Dianne Wilkerson and state Rep. Gloria Fox, who handed out literature reminding Roxbury residents to vote in the September primary.
“If you want to know what our community is about, you have to come to the Roxbury Reunion,” said City Councilor Charles C. Yancey, who describes himself as a member of the “junior Band of Angels.” “It’s beautiful event. It’s a microcosm of the city of Boston.”