Musicians with Disabilities | Friendly Wheels | Issue 44

Posted on Tuesday February 7, 2012

You Don’t Just Give Up on Music

Friendly Wheels, Issue 44
October 2011

Featuring Amigo owner Ernie Douglas, Washington, D.C.

Amigo owner Ernie Douglas, a professional musician of 60 years, found out after high school that, “You don’t just give up music.”

Ernie Douglas early days
Ernie as a DJ in the early years

Born and raised in Topeka, Kan., Ernie contracted polio at the age of three. Growing up, his biggest inspiration was anyone telling him he couldn’t do something because of his weak legs. Then he’d go on to prove them wrong; although he laughs and admits that he never could master roller-skating.

Ernie’s mom, 105 years old and still residing in Topeka, told him to study hard in school and learn to play the piano. She reasoned that he would only need to carry a music book or two, while his musician buddies were hauling multiple cases of instruments. That train of thought never sat quite right with Ernie who went on to learn the vibraphone and ended up carrying seven cases!

Ernie Douglas TravelMate
“I love my Amigo”
Ernie on his Amigo TravelMate

Ernie dabbled in a few short-lived employment opportunities over the years, never giving up his passion for music.  Walking unaided for nearly 65 years, Ernie turned to Amigo six years ago. At the time he bought the Amigo he was actively employed full time and relied on it daily. “I love my Amigo. I’d be dead in the water without it.”

Today, Ernie uses his TravelMate once or twice a week when playing a gig. His Dodge minivan allows him to sit on the back and, using his upper body strength, easily assemble or disassemble the Amigo.

Ernie is “retired” after 33 years of service from the U.S. Postal Service in St. Louis, Mo. When asked about full retirement, he recalls a discussion with a friend who had asked him the same thing. His friend stepped back and said, “Oh, that’s right, you’re a musician…so you’ll play until you die.” Ernie hopes so, too. “Carry me out after playing a happy tune,” he muses.

Ernie Douglas
Performing on the Dandy Dinner Boat

Enjoy a visit to Ernie’s website to see and hear him play! Arranged chronologically by decades, it’s easy to review his long and successful career. He even owned his own restaurant/jazz club called the Catfish Hollow Restaurant in Topeka throughout the 70’s and 80’s. Ernie has three children and is grandfather to five.

If you’re ever in the DC area, Ernie performs for Sunday brunch diners on the Dandy Dinner Boat moored in Alexandria, Va.  The “boat” has proven to be a lasting gig. “I’ve been aboard the boat for 11 years and enjoy being there.”

We’re glad Amigo is able to assist in keepin’ the tunes comin’, Ernie!

Read more Friendly Wheels articles here.

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