Musician and mail carrier Harold Lighty Sr. dies at age 90

Jeremy M. Lazarus | 12/28/2023, 6 p.m.
Harold Ronald “Van” Lighty Sr., who often received standing ovations after making his drums speak, was a fixture on the …
Mr. Lighty

Harold Ronald “Van” Lighty Sr., who often received standing ovations after making his drums speak, was a fixture on the Richmond jazz scene for more than 60 years.

“He was the drummer of choice for a number of combos,” said B.J. Brown, executive director and co-founder of the Richmond Jazz Society.

“As a leader of his own combos, he introduced jazz to such places as Bogart’s Back Room and Sam Miller’s,” Ms. Brown stated.

Along with his talent, he also was known for his “his cool demeanor and hip-talking cadence,” she said.

The mark he left on the local music community is being remembered following his death on Sunday, Dec. 10, 2023. He was 90.

Family and friends gathered at March Funeral Home on Wednesday, Dec. 20, to provide a fitting sendoff for the man that fans described as a dynamite performer. He was buried in the Virginia Veterans Cemetery in Amelia County.

Born in Richmond during the Great Depression, Mr. Lighty became enamored with jazz as he grew up and started playing the drums.

After graduating from Armstrong High School, he served in the Naval Air Force, where he earned a Presidential Unit Citation and then returned to earn his degree in music at Virginia State College, now university, and also met his wife, Mabel Victoria Lighty, who survives him.

At the school, he perfected his talent in performing in the marching band as well as the concert and jazz bands before securing his degree.

During the 1950s and and 1960s, Mr. Lighty was a regular at the Market Inn in Richmond’s Washington Park that, at the time, attracted touring notables such as Redd Foxx, Della Reese and Ruth Brown. The venue no longer exists.

Likened to jazz drumming great Max Roach, Mr. Lighty went on to play at various performance spaces with other top Richmond musicians such as Joe Kennedy Jr., J. Plunky Branch, Dave Williams, Nathaniel Lee, Dr. Joseph Liberti, Skip Gailes and Herbert “Debo” Dabney III, Ms. Brown said.

Like many of the area’s top musicians, he worked full time to support his family and mostly played on the weekends.

Mr. Lighty was a mail carrier and so well liked on his route that the West End residents he served threw him a party when he retired after more than 30 years.

He went on to serve as a substitute teacher in Henrico County Public Schools, mostly becoming the temporary teacher in exceptional education classes.

Maria Luzzi, a teacher at Tuckahoe Middle School, wrote, “My kids loved having him. He had such a rapport with the students. All of the kids respected him, and that’s quite a feat, both as a substitute, and with middle schoolers. He brought light wherever he was.”

Later, he taught youths the art of drumming as a mentor for the Richmond Youth Jazz Guild that jazz performer Ashby Anderson founded and heads.

In 1994, Mr. Lighty appeared in a movie, “The Foreign Student” that was partly filmed in Richmond. The film featured Robin Givens and Charles Dutton and Mr. Lighty performed the juke box scene with three other area musicians, Bobby Poindexter, Phillip “Muzi” Branch and Clemente Burnette.

Mr. Lighty joined the Richmond Jazz Society soon after it was organized in 1979 and remained a supporter until his death.

“He challenged us to continue preserving Richmond’s jazz history and highlighting the area musicians who dedicated their lives to the music,” Ms. Brown said.

Along with his wife, survivors include his daughter, Shan Lighty.