March 11, 2022, by Local Historian Susan Harber
Roland Gresham, born in Nashville, was a highly and talented Murfreesboro icon of jazz music. Many residents remember his fabulous and longstanding music on Sundays at the Boro Bar and Grill in Murfreesboro. Yet, he reached the highest level in his vocation with incredible expertise attained early in life.
Roland’s father was a jazz guitarist and strong influence to his son. Roland began playing the guitar with great skill at a young six years old. As a teenager, he could ‘play by ear’ and shared his musical gift with his local church; and at 20 years old, he was in demand for weddings and banquets. He was a licensed electrician for ten years; yet, he devoted himself to music full time in 1985 while playing in Bermuda and the Caribbean.
When guitar aficionado Jimi Hendrix played in Nashville in 1962 at Club Del Morocco on Jefferson Street, he was taught special skills under Roland’s training. Roland also sang on stage with rhythm and blues singer Etta James, and he was sought after by soul singer Ray Charles for a tour. Roland was a supreme guitarist for the Roland Gresham Trio, widely utilized by the best jazz artists. Currently, 150,000 of his recordings have been sold.
From the 1970s to the 1990s, Roland was a teacher of music to both professional and aspiring guitarists, as well as local folks who wanted to be trained by the enduring jazz stylist. He recorded CDs including ‘Pillow Talk’, ‘Holiday Memories,’ and gospel recordings. Roland’s mastery of chord changes is legendary.
Roland and wife Essie had four sons, including Roland Jr, Reggie, Alan and Melvin. Roland Jr. is a fantastic jazz guitarist in a present day. Roland Sr. was very devoted to church and well-known as friend and giver to all in community. He was a man of many trades and built his own home.
Roland perished at age 78 in 2012 and is buried in Gresham Cemetery. He is remembered for his goodwill and extreme proficiency in guitar and jazz. He taught scores of young and older aspiring guitarists and worked solidly for a lifetime as a jazz guitarist known as the best.