A song and a - shine

Otis Hopson, right, and Mario Rodriguez play harmonicas Wednesday at Otis' shoeshine stand in the lobby of the Macomb County Court Building in downtown Mount Clemens.

Macomb Daily staff photo by Craig Gaffield


Shoeshine man helps keep Mt. Clemens courthouse calm with harmonica tunes

By Jameson Cook
Macomb Daily Staff Writer

About once a day, a soothing hum emanates from the shoeshine stand in the county courthouse lobby in downtown Mount Clemens.

The music spouts from the harmonica played by shoeshine man Otis Hopson, 92, of Mount Clemens. He plays songs like "Highway to Heaven," a Christmas carol or "Happy Birthday" for one of his many courthouse friends.

It can calm the nerves of the most anxious or angry soul who finds himself or herself at the mercy of cold-hearted law.

"We all love to hear him play; it's so soothing and nice," said Brenda Musialowski, a court clerk employee who sits among many workers in a nearby office. "He'll play 'Happy Birthday' for you. We've all had it played for us."

"I wish he would play right now," said a frazzled woman filing papers at the counter.

Hopson is the first and only shoeshine man at the courthouse. He brought his harmonica his first day on the job 19 years ago. He's been blowin' ever since.

"Music has a way of lifting you above your problems," Hopson said. "It soothes you. .... I've had some people come down here and thank me, just talking to them. I love the Lord. The Lord has been good to me." Hopson said the urge to play "is in me," and he plays at work, home or out and about.

"I carry my harmonica like a policeman carries his gun," he said. "It's always with me."

Frequent courthouse visitor James Galen, a criminal defense lawyer, said Hopson's harmonica playing and spiritual advice have helped him over the years. Galen invited him to a Christmas party at his house.

"We had 75 people there," Galen said. "He was sitting next to a 90-some-odd-year-old woman. He pulled out his har-monica and played. Everybody in whole house shut up. He was the center of attention and star attraction."

Hopson was recently joined by local harmonica player Mario Rodriguez, who first noticed Hopson 10 years ago and reapproached him when he was on a courthouse visit to "do some business paperwork."

"Once I heard the style of harmonica he was playing, I said, `Wow,— said Rodriguez, a musician and disc jockey. "It's a different style, tongue-stopping style, from the '40s and '50s that some people try to emulate today."

Rodriguez played a tribute song called, "Otis the shoeshine man."

Hopson said he started his shoeshine job at the Gibraltar Trade Center when it opened in 1990. But he wasn't making any money so sought approval from the county to rent a spot at the courthouse. Some officials expressed concerns about him operating there, but thanks to a few supportive commissioners, he was allowed to open, he said. By all accounts, he's been an asset ever since that first day.

"To know Otis is a blessing," said county Clerk Carmella Sabaugh, who recently videoed Hopson and Rodriquez.

"He is an icon at the Macomb County 16th Judicial Circuit Court," Galen said. "He's a sweetheart," added Sandy Achourey. "He likes being around people."