A glimpse of art and culture: Talent within our Black community

Bay Shore Historical Society presents profiles of Black artists


During a Bay Shore Historical Society meeting, Deanna Watts led a powerful presentation in which she reintroduced the influential artists and performers that impacted and built the local Black community.

“The history of Bay Shore is unknown to many people, and once they explore it, they find out how vibrant this community was,” shared Barry Dlouhy, president of the Bay Shore Historical Society. “The Black involvement in the community is very often under-explained, and this is an opportunity to share it in greater detail.”

Watts is the perfect person to do the explaining, as she was formerly the director of Affirmative Action/EEO for Central Islip and Pilgrim State Hospitals for over 34 years, and led previous Black History Month presentations for the historical society in 2022 and 2023.

The meeting convened in the Bay Shore-Brightwaters Public Library on Thursday, Feb. 15, at 7 p.m.

The Beaman Singers were profiled first—a musical family turned gospel group from Bay Shore. Mr. and Mrs. Beaman taught all of their children to sing gospel music, and the talented family went on to sing spirituals across the United States.

“When you hear spirituals, they were messages during slavery days. They helped the slaves get through good times, bad times, joyous times,” shared Watts. “Spirituals were accompanied by everything from washboards to spoons from the dinner table, and later on they eventually added on the guitar.”

While the group disbanded and retired in 2011, children of the group still sing to this day, including Lydia Beaman, who performed around the world with the Harlem Gospel Singers.

As the discussion of the musical group came to an end, Valerie Brown channeled the Beaman Singers as she sang a stunning medley of spirituals, with many attendees joining in the soulful singing.

Edward Cornelius, a charter member of the Bay Shore Historical Society who worked at the Bay Shore Theatre for over 60 years, was the next performer to be highlighted. Cornelius created the musical group known as the Ed Cornelius Orchestra, which was widely popular during the Prohibition and Jazz eras and performed throughout Long Island and New York City.

Edward Cornelius went on to work at the Bay Shore Theatre for over 60 years—which has since been repurposed as the YMCA—where he took great pride in taking great care of the luxurious theater and its attendees, before he died in 1998.

While Mary A. Baird originally hails from Spanish Harlem and the Bronx, she had an inspiring impact on the Bay Shore community. After moving to the Wyandanch/North Babylon area, she was surprised to find the lack of activities available for children, inspiring her to open her own dance studio, Venettes Cultural Workshop, in 1976.

Teaching classes ranging from toddlers to adult women, Baird demanded excellence from her students, inspiring them to build a foundation for success from a young age.

“She did not just teach dance. She taught charm, modeling, etiquette, and self-awareness,” Watts shared. “She was a strict teacher and required good grades from her students. One of her students said to me, ‘You are not a Venette if you did not have good grades.’”

Her students have gone on to achieve greatness, including Briana Gobourne, who became the assistant choreographer for Beyonce’s “Renaissance” world tour, and Robby G Bayer, who performed with Janet Jackson in her “Together Again” tour.

Did you know that Grammy award-winning singer Patti Austin grew up in Bay Shore? Austin was born to be a star, as her father was a jazz saxophonist, and her godparents were Quincy Jones and Dinah Washington. Austin began performing at just 4 years old.

In addition to a radiant Broadway career, Austin has amassed seven Grammy nominations and won the Grammy for Best Jazz Vocal Album for her album “Avant Gershwin” in 2008.

Another familiar face was profiled during the meeting: Reynard Burns.

Born in Harlem in 1946, Burns has followed a path that has been rewarding, inspiring, and always moving forward. He taught music at Bay Shore schools and at the college level before retiring in 2002. Burns is a composer and music director, whose compositions have been performed across the United States and abroad.

“Music has been a big part of my life from the beginning. No matter what happens, my music has always been something I could fall back on,” explained Burns. “There’s that place you can go and seek solace in, and music has always been that for me.”

Burns served as the public relations officer for the Claude B. Govan Tri-State Chapter of Tuskegee Airmen Inc. for many years, and in 2017 won the Golden Eagle Award for preserving the legacy of the Tuskegee Airmen. He also won the 2022 Legacy Award for Community Service from the Islip Town Branch of the NAACP.

To learn more about the Black history of Bay Shore, visit: 


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