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September 23, 2004

Post Script: Deaf musician learned early on how to groove with others

From: Virginian Pilot, VA - Sep 23, 2004

By RONNIE RATLIFF JR., The Virginian-Pilot ©
September 23, 2004

PORTSMOUTH — Xavier "Sticks" Munford never heard his own beats. He didn't hear the cheers when people listened to him play. He just saw mouths moving, hands pressed together and excitement in their faces.

Munford was deaf at birth, growing up in a world of hand signals and lip reading. It didn't stop him from playing the drums.

His one-man performances, which included flashing lights, fog machines and balloons, got him a gig with the jazz band, Slam.

Munford died Sept. 14 of lung cancer at age 40.

His mother, Brenda, is a music teacher. Sticks learned to recognize high and low notes at age 10 by placing his hands on the wall of the room where his mother taught. Some of the notes made his fingers tingle, while he felt others all the way down his wrists.

He practiced the drums and piano every day for years. Without discipline, his mother said, he would have produced nothing but noise.

She would give him a thumb's up or down to keep him on beat. He memorized drum vibrations and watched his mother for tempo and cues.

Sticks learned many songs and wrote his own.

"If you didn't know better, you'd think he could hear," said Jalon King, Slam's lead guitar player and Sticks' best friend.

King, who has a deaf brother, asked Sticks to play for his band. It was difficult at first when a couple of band members quit after they refused to learn sign language.

One time, Sticks got through a set relying on a young girl dancing to the music . He just played along with her, King said.

King remembers the way he learned that Sticks could lip read. King told a heckler at one of their first shows he was going to punch him in the face if the guy kept joking on Sticks.

Sticks walked up to King and signed to him not to hit the guy.

"He always surprised people like that," King said. Sticks' mother said that was because he was a Christian.

He read the Bible all the way through five times and said he wanted to minister to the deaf through sign language.

A week before his death, Sticks signed to his mother something she can't forget.

He said "he would one day hear her voice once she joined him in heaven."

The Virginian-Pilot © 2004