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Hugh Wyatt, newsman and jazz man, dies at 78

Hugh Wyatt, shown in the 1990s, played the

Hugh Wyatt, shown in the 1990s, played the bass, wrote about music and worked at The New York Daily News for decades.  Credit: Wyatt family

When Hugh Wyatt was 7 or 8 years old growing up in Georgia, he’d don a hat like a hard-boiled newsman: "Press" written in cardboard tucked into the brim. A pencil and notebook in hand.

Then, in his 20s, he tried playing jazz bass as a job — in his adopted hometown, New York City — but couldn’t make ends meet. So he staged a reprise and gave the news business a try for real. He wound up making it his living for more than 50 years.

Wyatt, a New York Daily News staffer and former Sag Harbor resident whose career blended journalism, music, health coverage and advocacy, died Aug 12. He was 78.

The death, confirmed by his widow, Linda Edkins Wyatt, was at the Dawn Greene Hospice at Mary Manning Walsh Home, on Manhattan’s Upper East Side. The cause was metastatic prostate cancer, diagnosed about seven years ago. He'd been doing well until December, when treatments became ineffective, and he developed additional ailments, she said.

Wyatt, who was Native American, Black and white, started at The News in 1965 as a copy boy, later becoming a reporter, health-affairs editor and music columnist.

Linda Edkins Wyatt said her husband recalled how back then, most nonwhites at the newspaper held lower-level jobs.

Writing for The News, he chronicled a range of subjects: How the city’s financial crisis in the 1970s was crippling teaching hospitals; the fusion of gospel and R&B; even the legal definition of death.

He left the paper in 1993 and that year sued the owner of The News and two editors, alleging unlawful discrimination on the basis of race and age. The suit, filed in federal court, was dismissed by a judge.

Hugh Weston Wyatt, known as BooBoo to family and friends, was born in Atlanta on Jan. 26, 1943, the seventh of eight children of William Wyatt, a butcher, and Ruby (Jenkins) Wyatt, a homemaker and cleaning woman, according to his widow.

William’s roots were Cherokee; Ruby was half Cherokee/Muskogee, a quarter Ashanti African, and a quarter Scottish/Irish.

Wyatt grew up in Atlanta, and finished the 11th grade but did not graduate. In 1976, he got a bachelor of arts degree from the City University of New York.

As a teen and in his 20s, he played the bass for work.

"He liked and respected the intelligence and independence of the musicians, the complexity of the music, the creativity, and interpretive aspects of jazz," his widow said.

He served in the Army, from 1960 to 1963, according to his military record. He played jazz while stationed in Germany, his widow said.

Wyatt married Linda Edkins in 1988; the two had met swimming at the Vanderbilt YMCA on 47th Street in Manhattan, she said.

From July 1995 until 2013, the couple owned a house in Sag Harbor, splitting time between Long Island and Manhattan’s Turtle Bay neighborhood.

While at The News, he started sporadically publishing The Medical Herald on the side, beginning in 1986; The Spiritual Herald followed 12 years later, in 1998. Both would become monthlies.

At those papers, Wyatt sought to shed a light on health care disparities, his widow said, to "eliminate the distrust" among minorities.

He organized medical conferences, bringing together Black, Hispanic, Caribbean and South Asian clinicians. He also served political and charitable groups, including a charity of the Shinnecock Reservation and Bridgehampton Child Care.

In addition to his widow, Wyatt is survived by their only child, Amanda Wyatt of Manhattan.

He was predeceased by his siblings except for Hammie Lou Wyatt, who still lives in Atlanta, and Lucius Wyatt, who lives in Tampa, Florida.

Wyatt also wrote a biography of jazz saxophonist Sonny Rollins, who has been called the genre’s greatest living improviser: "Sonny Rollins: Meditating on a Riff," self-published in 2018. Wyatt’s widow said that her husband had been an admirer as a teen, and met Rollins in New York City.

On Rollins’ 1989 album "Falling in Love with Jazz," track 7 is named for Wyatt’s daughter, Amanda.

"I had her in my arms, and it was a big occasion — his first child — so that I didn’t have to think much about it," Rollins, now 91, told Newsday on Tuesday. "I said, ‘Oh, yeah, I’m gonna name this for her.'"

Hugh Wyatt didn’t want a funeral, his widow said: His ashes are to be spread on the Shinnecock Reservation.

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