Dedry Jones was not in a band nor could he hold a lasting note but growing up on the Southside of Chicago—he was surrounded by the finest sounds of Black music. Whether it was Chaka Khan, Earth Wind & Fire, The Emotions or Natalie Cole—it was a driving motivator that would carry him into his love of visual art and eventually bring alive the backstories of his music idols.

Having attended Hales Franciscan High School and attending the University of Illinois at Chicago—Jones’ love for art and design landed him a job at RR Donnelly. When he decided to leave the corporate setting to work at a local record store—he was given an opportunity to take a leave of absence for one year if it didn’t work out. He never looked back.

The Music Experience storefront in the South Shore community. Photo credit: Parrish Lewis

Jones owned The Music Experience, a popular independent record store located in the SouthShore community, for the past 16 years and previously Track-One Records for nearly 10 years. He had become one of the leading Urban music retailers for almost over two decades—breaking barriers and carving a niche for utilizing his store as a springboard to help artists.

This past July would mark one year since his television program, Dedry Jones Presents The Experience, debuted on WTTW-Chicago catapulting his brand across PBS stations around the country. Jones had received word from the network on the renewal of Season 2 of the show, and he was excited to take everything to the next level. Friends, family, and supporters were elated for Jones knowing the battles he’s faced in the declining retail world. It was finally his time, people said.

After no word from Jones—a friend who worked at the store part-time hadn’t heard from him for a couple of days, which was unlike him. On a hot summer day in late July, his friend went to his building where he contacted the landlord for a wellness check. It was upon entry into Jones’ place where his body was discovered.

The news of his death traveled quickly. On Facebook, the newsfeed rapidly filled with ‘R.I.P’ and ‘R.I.H’ respectfully tagging his profile. A platform Jones frequently used to promote his events or pay similar tributes to those who have passed on.

The Music Experience inventory. Photo credit: Parrish Lewis

Nearly four months after laying Jones to rest— his family has been going through the tedious process of packing and storing his personal items. Survived by his parents Mr. and Mrs. Lloyd Thames and Joyce Thames and younger brother—his mother has allowed both his aunt, Jean Hernandez, and her daughter, Michele Anderson to take care of this task.

Growing up, Anderson recalls her bond with her cousin as children, “Dedry and I were really close coming up. We used to sit on the bed together, and he had a notepad made up of tissue paper. He was extremely creative, drawing as I sat next to him. When he would draw, and I would try to copy it. He would draw different things.” Being younger than her, she admired his artistic ability as a kid. “I remember he liked some of the people that he was able to service and help out. People like Patti Labelle. He was in love with her. I did see a poster in the store.”

After a few months of trying to manage the store’s rent, both Anderson and her mom began the difficult tasks of trying to liquidate some of the store’s music inventory. It has given them a chance to meet long-time friends and colleagues of Dedry’s including Kelly Robinson.

Anderson says, “It’s great to meet people like Kelly. The few that have come in are still devastated. We’ve had wonderful conversations. The folks that have decided to come into the store have had misgivings and are emotional about it.”

Robinson who at the time, worked as a Local Retail Merchandiser created a bond with Jones. “What made it special working with Track One/ Music Experience? It was an opportunity to work with a person that was passionate about music and engagement with the community. He turned people onto new artists that resonated with appreciation, causing them to come back to shop bringing a new customer,” Robinson remembers. As one of the younger reps at the time, Robison appreciated “his approach to customer service” and “suggestive selling” along with his beautiful smile.

Pictured l-r: Nkenga Mawusi, Joyce Hernandez and Michele Anderson. Photo credit: Parrish Lewis

Surrounded by boxes of CDs and vinyl throughout the store, his family was overwhelmed. Jones’ love of preserving the music is felt. Allowing them time to move his collection out of the store properly— they are grateful to the building’s landlord. Unfortunately, this wasn’t the case at his apartment. The family was abruptly stopped from moving all of his personal belongings from the apartment and the building’s basement.

Anderson recalls the conversation she had with the building owner, Mr. Haywood. “We were given a date of Sept 18 and 19 to move out. But had planned to be finished long before that—instead, he had police officers come and remove us from the premises when we returned. At this point, we had moved 90 percent of Dedry’s items out.”

At 82, Jones’ mother has battled health challenges and sent a written notification to the landlord allowing both her sister and niece to act on her behalf as the Executor of her son’s estate. After several attempts to up nearly 50 boxes of music owned by her nephew, which still remains in Mr. Haywood’s possession, the family has not been able to retrieve his personal belongings.

Working non-stop for three days inside of the apartment, they were told by Haywood to take a break and to return on that Monday, September 17. Mrs. Hernandez refused, eager to move all of the Jones’ possessions from the building.

Leaving the building with her uncle to transfer items and grab her mom a bite to eat, Anderson returned to the building where three Chicago police officers were called to remove Mrs. Hernandez. Briefly, the family was allowed to gain entry to the basement to seal up the boxes of music. Quickly, they said Haywood changed the locks and had not returned any phone calls since mid-September.

Grief-stricken and frustrated, Anderson shakes her head, “We went into expense because we had movers to come and we didn’t think he was going to respond to his phone or open the door.”

Mrs. Hernandez and is not giving up. His store was a few short blocks of her residence. She vowed to protect his legacy because he worked hard over the years to maintain his items. Next steps of recourse against the landlord are imminent if the belongings are not returned to the family.

“Whatever it’s going to take for us to continue that. We will definitely take legal action because that was half of Dedry’s life. He took special care of everything so if something did happen to him, it could be left to his parents. I won’t accept this as a loss! We must retrieve what Dedry has worked for,” says Hernandez.

Bronzeville Life has attempted to contact Mr. Haywood, and our calls have gone unreturned.

Ms. Hernandez tells us, “my sister has had congestive heart failure and recently received a pacemaker. Out of her three sons, she’s lost one son already—her middle son. So, with Dedry passing, she felt there were still things she wanted to do with him even though he was the eldest.” Hernandez says her younger sister is learning how to adjust although it’s a slow process. “Our family is here for her,” she says.

R&B singer, Avery Sunshine visits Dedry Jones at his store in 2012. Photo credit: Mary L. Datcher

Recently nominated for two Chicago Midwest Emmys, Jones has showcased dozens of established and rising stars through his digital magazine sporting the same brand as his store. He’s interviewed past and present artists— George Duke, Will Downing, Common, Kirk Franklin, Donna Summer, Jerry ‘Iceman’ Butler, Eric Benet, Avery Sunshine, Ledisi, Tamia, Lalah Hathaway, Kindred the Family Soul, Donald Lawrence, Terisa Griffin, and countless others.

Chicago Gospel artist, Calvin Bridges met Jones in 2014 at one of his events and the two became steadfast friends. Bridges had just released a new single which was receiving some radio airplay. He tapped Jones for help. “I wanted some insight from him as to how I could further promote the single. Consequently, he liked what he heard and invited me to come by the store. There he gave me an honest, encouraging critique of the project, then graciously and freely shared his knowledge of distribution and promotion helping me create a ‘one sheet’ and sharing contacts which helped to grow my local audience,” says Bridges.

At 86, Hernandez will miss their heart-to-heart talks and cooking for her nephew. “Dedry was always a go-getter. He was a problem solver and a giver. To the extent that he took the short end of the stick. I would tell him to take it easy on himself. But he really enjoyed giving—he enjoyed that immensely.”