Singer honors friend, victims of Oakland warehouse fire

OAKLAND (KTVU) -- The last time Carletta Sue Kay sang it was before an audience of 3,000 people during a fundraiser on the night of Dec. 14 by Oakland United that served as a tribute concert to the victims of the Ghost Ship Warehouse fire.

Four days later on Sunday, Carletta Sue Kay sang at the Chapel of the Chimes to provide a tribute of her own to the victims who died on Dec. 2 when a fire broke out at the warehouse in Oakland's Fruitvale District.

It was a solo performance, with Kay strumming on a ukulele, but still belting out her reverberating, dynamic vocals. She sang in front of a small crowd, who came to listen to her personal memorial to friend Cash Askew.

"The sweetest, loveliest, lovely human being,” said Kay, whose off-stage name is Randy Walker.

"Very quiet, but super, super talented. If you haven't heard the Them Are Us Too record, I highly recommend it. I've been listening to it nonstop and crying to it nonstop."

Speaking as Walker after the performance, he said he first met Cash Askew as a child in their Lower Haight neighborhood. Some 15 years later, Walker was introduced to Askew the adult and burgeoning musician through her stepfather, Sunnie Haire, who was performing guitar and piano in Carletta Sue Kay’s band.

"The worst thing is crying for a singer,” Walker said. "And I’m having trouble getting through songs without crying."

For four hours on Sunday, artists gave tributes to the 36 people who died in the Ghost Ship warehouse fire inside the many rooms of the Chapel of the Chimes in Oakland.

"This event happened because of what happened with the fire,” said general manager Marcie Russell. "We usually don't have a winter event, so we pulled this together within two weeks."

Guitarist Adam Davis played guitar in front of a black and white photograph of his friend Kioyme Tanouye, who was one of the victims.

"The last time I actually saw her was at this event during summer solstice,” said Davis.

"It feels good [to perform]. I think it'll get a little more emotional throughout the day. She's definitely been on my mind the last couple of weeks."

Other artists said 2016 was marred by negative landmarks including the war in Syria, a contentious presidential election, and the death of many influential artists.

"The question of the responsibility that an artist has to actually voice social concerns is a significant one,” said video artist John Sanborn, who gave political and social commentary over a series of videos and photographs inside a small room in the gardens.

"I'm not completely sure what an artist should do, but if an artist has the ability to articulate something emotional, intellectual, something very passionate...they must do it."

Several artists voice fear that the Bay Area may lose its artistic identity, because of increasing pressure on artist live/work warehouse spaces.

"We are being inspected now,” said singer Hannah Blair, who rents studio space. "Actually, I don't know anyone who has studio space in a warehouse who is not being inspected, last week, this week. Some people have been evicted already. There are a few people whose inspections were on the docket that landlords have been sped up. This is mourning not just those who died, but the spaces and possibilities that are in great danger."

The event curator New Music Bay Area said it reached out to several artists who either escaped the fire or who had close connections to the Ghost Ship. Two artists who escaped the fire performed inside, but president Sarah Cahill said a few artists declined saying it was too soon for them to make music after the tragedy.

“It’s a way for the community to gather after the fire and each performance is going to be personal,” said Cahill. “Music can be so therapeutic and healing for us. There’s one man, John Benson, who has voices of his friends, home videos, of some of the victims. I think for him, it’s a way to share and say ‘These were my friends. These were people I loved.”

List of victim identities released by Oakland, county officials

  • Jason McCarty, 35
  • Wolfgang Renner, 61
  • Billy Dixon, 35, of Oakland
  • Johnny Igaz, 34 of Oakland
  • Amanda Kershaw, 34, of San Francisco
  • Ara Jo, 29, of Oakland
  • Griffin Madden, 23, of Berkeley
  • Vanessa Plotkin, 21, of Lakewood
  • Hanna Ruax, 32, of Finland
  • Nicole Siegrist, 29, of Oakland
  • Alex Vega, 22, from San Bruno
  • Cash Askew, 22, of Oakland
  • Matthew Bohlka also known as Em Bohlka, 33, of Oakland
  • David Cline, 24, of Oakland
  • Micah Danemayer. 28, of Oakland
  • Alex Ghassan, 35, of Oakland
  • Travis Hough, 35, of Oakland
  • Donna Kellogg, 32, of Oakland
  • Edmond Lapine, 34, of Oakland
  • Benjamin Runnels, 32, of Oakland
  • Jennifer Kiyomi Tanouye, 31, of Oakland
  • Chelsea Dolan, 33, of San Francisco
  • Nick Gomez-Hall, 25 of Coronado
  • Michela Gregory, 20, of South San Francisco
  • Sara Hoda, 30, of Walnut Creek
  • Jennifer Morris, 21, of Foster City
  • Justin Fritz of Berkeley also known as Feral Pines
  • Draven McGill, 17
  • Brandon Chase Wittenauer, 32, of Hayward
  • Barrett Clark, 35, of Oakland
  • Michele Sylvan, 37, of Oakland
  • Nicholas Walrath, 31, of Oakland
  • Peter Wadsworth, 38, of Oakland
  • Jonathan Bernbaum, 34, of Berkeley
  • Jennifer Mendiola, 35, of Oakland
  • Joseph Matlock, 36, of Oakland

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