Turning Up the Volume on HIV Research Needs

Times Staff Writer

As a child, Daryl Roach loved all the drama and commotion when his family headed south to his father’s rural birthplace. Before they left New York for Dismal Swamp in North Carolina, they’d jam the Lincoln Continental full of food and push all the bags into the trunk, which was already half filled by a big red canister of gasoline.

Roach said he only realized years later why all the provisioning had been necessary.

His father, Max Roach, is a legendary jazz drummer who helped create the bebop style and played with Dizzy Gillespie, Charlie Parker, Thelonious Monk, Clifford Brown and Miles Davis.

But driving through the rural South in the 1950s, Max Roach knew that as a black man he’d be denied service at many a gas station and restaurant.


Over the years, he became a civil rights activist, using his fame to speak out against racial injustice.

“I listened to a lot of ideas, a lot of revolutionary ideas,” said Daryl Roach, now a 56-year-old actor living in Los Angeles.

Activism, it turns out, runs in the family.

On Monday night, Daryl Roach will hold the kickoff event of his new nonprofit organization, Musicaids ... Life Thru Music. At a benefit concert at the Wilshire Ebell Theatre, James Taylor will sing, along with Brandi Carlile, Deborah Falconer and Arnold McCuller. Saxophonist Brandon Field will also perform.


Tickets for the concert, which is called “Songs for a New Resolution,” cost $45 to $65. The event will raise money to help stop the spread of HIV and AIDS through education and research into preventive vaccines and microbicides.

Roach got the idea for Musicaids through years of listening to his close friend Peter Anton, a gastroenterologist, UCLA professor and director of the UCLA Center for HIV and Digestive Diseases.

Anton, who is also a researcher at the UCLA AIDS Institute, would often tell Roach about new studies. The physician told of research finding that as many as one in three young black males in Los Angeles and other American cities were infected with HIV, that two American teenagers were infected each half hour.

Roach was shocked by what he heard about the increase in new infections among black women and the particularly high rate of infection in young black men.


“I was alarmed at what he was telling me. I mean, there are studies that show that the rate of infection for young black men in South-Central Los Angeles is 30%,” Roach said. “The only place with a higher rate is in Botswana.”

He wanted to do something.

He thought immediately of music, which was always a force for change in his family.

“One thing which always got us through was music. It was music which got us through family struggles, which got us through life,” he said.


He also thought of his father, and asked him for his help.

Soon, as in the old days, the talk turned to civil rights.

Max Roach wanted to help, but at first he was worried. He didn’t want to erode any civil rights gains by focusing attention on something negative within the black community.

His son recalls saying to his father, “If we don’t address this problem now, over the next 10 years we’re going to lose all the gains of civil rights, because we’ll lose a generation.”


The debate went back and forth. Finally, son convinced father of the urgency.

Max Roach gave his son access to his extensive mailing list and signed Musicaids’ first letter soliciting donations. Family friends, including Maya Angelou, sent money.

Money raised by Musicaids for research will go to the UCLA AIDS Institute. Unlike government grant money, it won’t be bogged down by seemingly endless restrictions. Researchers will be able to use it to pursue their best ideas, said Edwin Bayrd, the institute’s executive director.

A vaccine to prevent HIV infection is still at least a decade away, Bayrd said, particularly because the virus constantly mutates, creating numerous different strains.


But the institute hopes to soon begin testing another kind of medicine that would slow the pace of infection in people who already have HIV, Anton said.

Researchers are also testing microbicides -- gels or foams that could be applied to skin and that could block transmission of the virus before it reached the bloodstream, Bayrd said.

Safe, effective and inexpensive microbicides could be particularly important in preventing HIV’s spread among women, since it would give them the means to protect themselves, he said.

Max Roach is 81 now. He suffers from hydrocephalus, which affects his short-term memory and his balance. He lives in New York and won’t be at Monday’s concert.


But Daryl Roach said he hoped the event would be one of many that would honor his father’s legacy. He wants to plan more concerts, featuring gospel, rhythm and blues, rap and jazz. He’s hoping to sell concert CDs. He has lots of ideas.

“My father’s life was always about deeds,” he said. “The name of one of his albums was ‘Deeds, Not Words.’ And, really, that’s what this is all about.”