Delaware Today magazine 302 First Profile: Lana Lawrence, also known as Mama Mojo, makes cigar box banjos and other musical instruments in Rehoboth Beach

Cigar Box Hero: To Mama Mojo, one person’s trash is another person’s ... guitar.


Published:

Lana Lawrence was looking for a distraction from pain when she went on the Internet a little more than three years ago. What she found was a passion that touched her soul and started a new business.

“I remember just going, ‘Wow!’’’ says Lawrence, who makes cigar box guitars under the name of Mama Mojo.

She was simply looking for a lightweight guitar to play when she ran across a YouTube video of a man playing what she calls “soul grabbing, deep primal Delta Blues” music on a tiny instrument made of guitar string, a piece of wood and a cigar box.

“I gotta’ do that,” was Lawrence’s immediate response.

Cigar box instruments have been around more than 150 years in this country. Plans for a cigar box banjo were published in 1884 by Daniel Carter Beard, co-founder of the Boy Scouts of America. Etchings of soldiers playing cigar box fiddles can be found from the Civil War. They really took off, though, in the 1930s during The Great Depression. People didn’t have the money to buy fancy guitars, so they built their own.

“Musical instruments were beyond the means of most, but an old cigar box, a piece of broom handle and a couple wires from the screen door—and a guitar were born,” according to a posting from the National Cigar Box Guitar Museum in York, Pa. Today these instruments aren’t relegated to the front porches of America’s poor. Cigar box guitar players have included Jimi Hendrix, Ted Nugent, B.B. King and Johnny Depp.

While making such an instrument can be quite simple, most of today’s modern cigar box guitars are a little more complex.

Lawrence said she studied plans, designs and actual instruments for six months before she built her first guitar.

“I didn’t want to start out making junk,” says Lawrence, seated in the Rehoboth home she shares with her partner, Linda Palmer, as well as their dog, Jazz, and two cats named Dylan and Hendrix. Throughout the house are stacks of wooden cigar boxes, containers of guitar string, amplifier pieces and odds and ends she collects to add artistic flare to her pieces.

Lawrence is a recycler’s recycler. She came up with a way to cut plastic to make inlays that look like onyx. Even items like tuna cans spark ideas.

“We have very little trash around the house,” says Nate McCormick, a musician who also lives with Lawrence. “She’ll use a screw she found or a piece of plastic off a bottle. She’s fun and they’re awesome. Every [guitar] is a little different and has its own sound.”

The bigger the box, the better, says Lawrence. She’s used wooden craft boxes, lunch boxes and even a hubcap to make an instrument. Recently she started work on a guitar made from a heart-shaped box. “I try not to build the same thing twice.”

Her instruments are functional works of art. Although she disdains the use of tobacco, she sometimes leaves the logos and names of the cigar companies on the boxes because the artwork is too beautiful to erase, she says. Her three- and four-string guitar designs come with inlays, different stains, brass decorations and frets, and hand-carved necks. Every one is electrified to allow the maximum depth of sound.

“You can do just about anything on these instruments,” she says. “It all depends on how you string them up. I could fill a concert hall with [the sound of] these.” In her music room, guitars hang from every wall—above the guitars and speakers on the floor—and they’re mixed in with vintage posters and signed art from concerts and music venues. There are shelves stacked high with cigar boxes. And lots of other boxes carry extra, and they’re piled near an array of drums, tambourines, mandolins, fiddles and banjos.

Yet, Lawrence does not consider herself a musician. In her heart, she’s a photographer.

For years, Lawrence was a photographer in Washington, D.C. She documented 9/11 at the Pentagon, the anthrax attacks shortly thereafter, and other momentous events. Her work was displayed in the Library of Congress and she was the director of photography at the Sewall-Belmont House and Museum, next to the Senate Hart Office Building.

She’s sure she would still be doing the same work, oblivious to handmade guitars had it not been for her gallbladder. Surgery to remove it in 2007 led to a flesh-eating bacterial infection that left her in constant pain and nearly took her life. Her days often start with painkillers to allow her to function. But that pain led to the guitars.

Lawrence could no longer work as a photographer—carrying three cameras and a bag full of lenses around Capitol Hill was out of the question. Yet, she realized from her brush with death that every moment should be spent doing something she loved. Music was one of those loves. Regular-sized guitars were too painful to play. They rested against her side, which is always sore. But she couldn’t imagine life without a musical release, thus the computer search for a lightweight guitar.

She bought her first guitar online from Shane Speal of York, Pa., the self-appointed “King of the Cigar Box Guitar.” Speal became Lawrence’s mentor, friend and fan.

Speal considers Lawrence a great example of a modern builder, and an asset to the cigar box guitar movement. Once Lawrence began playing and then building her own guitars, she immediately started helping others. She created an online woman’s group to encourage other female artists to build and play, and she is always available with advice and instruction for someone who wants to get into the craft, says Speal.

It’s not about money for Lawrence, it’s about making music available to everyone. While cigar box guitars listed online run from $200 to $2,000, Mama Mojo guitars generally cost under $200, with some as low as $75.

“A lot of people say I charge too little for the work I put in,” says Lawrence, who is considering a high-end model for collectors. Plus, she’s not limiting herself to guitars. She makes canjos (banjo-like instruments made from cans), stomp boxes (small wooden boxes placed under the foot, which is tapped rhythmically to produce a sound similar to a bass drum), and thumb pianos (an African instrument played by plucking different lengths of metal tines fastened to a piece of wood).

When she feels up to it,  Lawrence hosts jam sessions with local friends and musicians. Music is in her soul.

“My mind doesn’t shut off about these instruments,” she says. “If I’m not building them, I’m thinking about building them.”
 

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View map »

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Telephone: 302.368.2984
Contact Name: Richard Field
Website »

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East Coast Garden Center presents: The Spring Festival!  We love celebrating the Spring season, and we invite you to join us! The weather warms, plants break dormancy, and Sussex County becomes...

Cost: free

Where:
East Coast Garden Center
30366 Cordrey Rd.
Millsboro, DE  19966
View map »


Sponsor: Cordrey Companies
Telephone: (302)945-3489
Contact Name: Christine Justice
Website »

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Try practicing yoga in a beautiful garden setting, strengthening your body and spirit. Our yoga class is open to all levels. We will practice slow, easy motions to get into the rhythm of nature....

Cost: $10

Where:
Winterthur Museum, Garden & Library
5105 Kennett Pike
Wilmington, DE  19807
View map »


Sponsor: Winterthur Museum, Garden & Library
Telephone: 800-448-3883
Contact Name: Information and Tours
Website »

More information

Rosemary Castiglioni – Still lifes and interiors painted with a subtle palette; Jim Gears – Vibrant, impressionistic landscapes in oil applied with a palette knife; Richard Hoff – Detailed...

Cost: free

Where:
The Station Gallery
3922 Kennett Pike
Greenville, DE  19807
View map »


Telephone: 302-654-8638
Website »

More information

THE UNIVERSITY OF DELAWARE ALUMNI INVITATIONAL A Group Exhibition March 31 - April 26, 2018 OPENING RECEPTION: Friday, April 6, 2018, 5 - 9 PM during Art Loop, Artist talk at 7:30 PM The...

Cost: FREE

Where:
The Delaware Contemporary
200 South Madison Street
Wilmington, DE  19801
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Telephone: 302-656-6466
Website »

More information

THE UNIVERSITY OF DELAWARE LYNN HERRICK SHARP AWARD EXHIBITION A Group Exhibition March 31 - April 26, 2018 OPENING RECEPTION: Friday, April 6, 2018, 5 - 9 PM during Art Loop The Delaware...

Cost: FREE

Where:
The Delaware Contemporary
200 South Madison Street
Wilmington, DE  19801
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Telephone: 302-656-6466
Website »

More information

TRANSIT by Maryanne Pollock January 27 - April 26, 2018Opening Reception: Friday, February 2, 2018 | 5 - 9 PM during Art Loop On Art:  Wednesday, February 21, 2018 | 5:25 - 6 PM Maryanne...

Cost: FREE

Where:
The Delaware Contemporary
200 South Madison Street
Wilmington, DE  19801
View map »


Telephone: 302-656-6466
Website »

More information

THE UNIVERSITY OF DELAWARE LYNN HERRICK SHARP AWARD EXHIBITION A Group Exhibition March 31 - April 26, 2018 OPENING RECEPTION: Friday, April 6, 2018, 5 - 9 PM during Art Loop The Delaware...

Cost: FREE

Where:
The Delaware Contemporary
200 South Madison Street
Wilmington, DE  19801
View map »


Telephone: 302-656-6466
Website »

More information

This community-curated exhibition brings together three painters—Alan Soffer, Brian Dickerson, and Moe Brooker—who are attuned to harmonies and contrasts in abstract forms. Each artist...

Cost: Free with Museum admission

Where:
Delaware Art Museum
2301 Kentmere Parkway
Wilmington, DE  19806
View map »


Website »

More information

A needle's eye in a pond, a Greek temple in the garden, an Ottoman tent sitting on a hill—these are just a few of the inspirations for our upcoming, first-ever outdoor exhibition Follies:...

Cost: Included with general admission ($5-20)

Where:
Winterthur Museum, Garden & Library
5105 Kennett Pike
Wilmington, DE  19807
View map »


Sponsor: Winterthur Museum, Garden & Library
Telephone: 800.448.3883
Contact Name: Information and Tours
Website »

More information

GUARDIANS OF THE IMAGE MAKER Group Exhibition & Programs Commemorating The 1968 Riots April 6 - June 29, 2018 Opening reception: Friday, April 6, 2018                      5 - 9 PM...

Cost: FREE

Where:
The Delaware Contemporary
200 South Madison Street
Wilmington, DE  19801
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Telephone: 302-656-6466
Website »

More information

THE FIGURE: THE INDICATIVE AND THE ALLUSIVE Group Exhibition  April 1 - August 26, 2018 Opening Reception: Friday, April 6, 2018 | 5 - 9 PM during Art Loop with Panel Discussion: 6 - 7 PM...

Cost: FREE

Where:
The Delaware Contemporary
200 South Madison Street
Wilmington, DE  19801
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Telephone: 302-656-6466
Website »

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The DCAD@20 Art Party will take place in DCAD’s Market Street galleries and on Sixth Street between those two indoor spaces. It will raise funds to support general operations and scholarships at...

Cost: $50

Where:
Delaware College of Art and Design
600 N. Market St.
Wilmington, DE  19801
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Sponsor: Delaware College of Art and Design
Telephone: 302-622-8000
Contact Name: Renee T. Garnick
Website »

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7:30 p.m. Curator Talk | 8:00 p.m. Pyxis Inspired by the exhibition Eye on Nature: Andrew Wyeth and John Ruskin, Pyxis Piano Quartet will perform a chamber concert in the Museum’s magnificent...

Cost: $30 Members, $50 Non-Members

Where:
Delaware Art Museum
2301 Kentmere Parkway
Wilmington, DE  19806
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Website »

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East Coast Garden Center presents: The Spring Festival!  We love celebrating the Spring season, and we invite you to join us! The weather warms, plants break dormancy, and Sussex County becomes...

Cost: free

Where:
East Coast Garden Center
30366 Cordrey Rd.
Millsboro, DE  19966
View map »


Sponsor: Cordrey Companies
Telephone: (302)945-3489
Contact Name: Christine Justice
Website »

More information

Rosemary Castiglioni – Still lifes and interiors painted with a subtle palette; Jim Gears – Vibrant, impressionistic landscapes in oil applied with a palette knife; Richard Hoff – Detailed...

Cost: free

Where:
The Station Gallery
3922 Kennett Pike
Greenville, DE  19807
View map »


Telephone: 302-654-8638
Website »

More information

THE UNIVERSITY OF DELAWARE LYNN HERRICK SHARP AWARD EXHIBITION A Group Exhibition March 31 - April 26, 2018 OPENING RECEPTION: Friday, April 6, 2018, 5 - 9 PM during Art Loop The Delaware...

Cost: FREE

Where:
The Delaware Contemporary
200 South Madison Street
Wilmington, DE  19801
View map »


Telephone: 302-656-6466
Website »

More information

THE UNIVERSITY OF DELAWARE LYNN HERRICK SHARP AWARD EXHIBITION A Group Exhibition March 31 - April 26, 2018 OPENING RECEPTION: Friday, April 6, 2018, 5 - 9 PM during Art Loop The Delaware...

Cost: FREE

Where:
The Delaware Contemporary
200 South Madison Street
Wilmington, DE  19801
View map »


Telephone: 302-656-6466
Website »

More information

THE FIGURE: THE INDICATIVE AND THE ALLUSIVE Group Exhibition  April 1 - August 26, 2018 Opening Reception: Friday, April 6, 2018 | 5 - 9 PM during Art Loop with Panel Discussion: 6 - 7 PM...

Cost: FREE

Where:
The Delaware Contemporary
200 South Madison Street
Wilmington, DE  19801
View map »


Telephone: 302-656-6466
Website »

More information

GUARDIANS OF THE IMAGE MAKER Group Exhibition & Programs Commemorating The 1968 Riots April 6 - June 29, 2018 Opening reception: Friday, April 6, 2018                      5 - 9 PM...

Cost: FREE

Where:
The Delaware Contemporary
200 South Madison Street
Wilmington, DE  19801
View map »


Telephone: 302-656-6466
Website »

More information

THE UNIVERSITY OF DELAWARE ALUMNI INVITATIONAL A Group Exhibition March 31 - April 26, 2018 OPENING RECEPTION: Friday, April 6, 2018, 5 - 9 PM during Art Loop, Artist talk at 7:30 PM The...

Cost: FREE

Where:
The Delaware Contemporary
200 South Madison Street
Wilmington, DE  19801
View map »


Telephone: 302-656-6466
Website »

More information

TRANSIT by Maryanne Pollock January 27 - April 26, 2018Opening Reception: Friday, February 2, 2018 | 5 - 9 PM during Art Loop On Art:  Wednesday, February 21, 2018 | 5:25 - 6 PM Maryanne...

Cost: FREE

Where:
The Delaware Contemporary
200 South Madison Street
Wilmington, DE  19801
View map »


Telephone: 302-656-6466
Website »

More information

This community-curated exhibition brings together three painters—Alan Soffer, Brian Dickerson, and Moe Brooker—who are attuned to harmonies and contrasts in abstract forms. Each artist...

Cost: Free with Museum admission

Where:
Delaware Art Museum
2301 Kentmere Parkway
Wilmington, DE  19806
View map »


Website »

More information

A needle's eye in a pond, a Greek temple in the garden, an Ottoman tent sitting on a hill—these are just a few of the inspirations for our upcoming, first-ever outdoor exhibition Follies:...

Cost: Included with general admission ($5-20)

Where:
Winterthur Museum, Garden & Library
5105 Kennett Pike
Wilmington, DE  19807
View map »


Sponsor: Winterthur Museum, Garden & Library
Telephone: 800.448.3883
Contact Name: Information and Tours
Website »

More information

Glory of Stories introduces young visitors to art and the Museum through a story reading followed by an interactive tour of relevant works of art and a studio art project. This program encourages...

Cost: Free to Members, $5 per child and one adult free for Non-Members

Where:
Delaware Art Museum
2301 Kentmere Parkway
Wilmington, DE  19806
View map »

More information

Mix, Relax, Explore: Live Music and Winterthur Beer Garden Winterthur After Hours on select Friday evenings presents families and adults with an evening opportunity to explore the Galleries and...

Cost: $10 per Member. $15 per nonmember. $5 students. 13 and under are free.

Where:
Winterthur Museum, Garden & Library
5105 Kennett Pike
Wilmington, DE  19807
View map »


Sponsor: Winterthur Museum, Garden & Library
Telephone: 800-448-3883
Contact Name: Information and Tours
Website »

More information

Friday, April 20, 7:00 p.m. Loudis Recital Hall   The U.S. Army Blues, part of the United States Army Band “Pershing’s Own,” is the premier jazz ensemble of the United States Army. After...

Cost: Free

Where:
Loudis Recital Hall
110 Orchard Rd
Newark, DE  19716
View map »


Sponsor: University of Delaware Department of Music
Telephone: 130-283-12578
Contact Name: Megan Everhart
Website »

More information

Meeting every Friday, Bayhealth Kent General Hospital, 640 s. State Street, Dover, 7:30 pm., Private Dining Room #3 in the basement. For those who have, or think they may have a gambling problem....

Cost: 0.00

Where:
Bayhealth Kent General Hospital
640 S. State Street
Private Dining Room #3
Dover, DE  19901
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Telephone: 800-855-2CALLGA
Website »

More information

Rock and Roll Hall of Fame inductee Buddy Guy will perform his Chicago blues at the SugarHouse Casino Event Center on Friday, April 20, at 9 p.m. Guy is one of the most important blues singers and...

Cost: $49-$69

Where:
SugarHouse Casino
1001 N. Delaware Ave
Philadelphia, DE  19125
View map »

More information

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East Coast Garden Center presents: The Spring Festival!  We love celebrating the Spring season, and we invite you to join us! The weather warms, plants break dormancy, and Sussex County becomes...

Cost: free

Where:
East Coast Garden Center
30366 Cordrey Rd.
Millsboro, DE  19966
View map »


Sponsor: Cordrey Companies
Telephone: (302)945-3489
Contact Name: Christine Justice
Website »

More information

Rosemary Castiglioni – Still lifes and interiors painted with a subtle palette; Jim Gears – Vibrant, impressionistic landscapes in oil applied with a palette knife; Richard Hoff – Detailed...

Cost: free

Where:
The Station Gallery
3922 Kennett Pike
Greenville, DE  19807
View map »


Telephone: 302-654-8638
Website »

More information

Join us again this spring and summer for yoga in the beautiful Copeland Sculpture Garden. Beginners, casual attendees, and families are welcome. Bring your own mat or borrow one of ours!...

Cost: Free, $10 suggested donation

Where:
Delaware Art Museum
2301 Kentmere Parkway
Wilmington, DE  19806
View map »


Website »

More information

THE UNIVERSITY OF DELAWARE LYNN HERRICK SHARP AWARD EXHIBITION A Group Exhibition March 31 - April 26, 2018 OPENING RECEPTION: Friday, April 6, 2018, 5 - 9 PM during Art Loop The Delaware...

Cost: FREE

Where:
The Delaware Contemporary
200 South Madison Street
Wilmington, DE  19801
View map »


Telephone: 302-656-6466
Website »

More information

THE UNIVERSITY OF DELAWARE LYNN HERRICK SHARP AWARD EXHIBITION A Group Exhibition March 31 - April 26, 2018 OPENING RECEPTION: Friday, April 6, 2018, 5 - 9 PM during Art Loop The Delaware...

Cost: FREE

Where:
The Delaware Contemporary
200 South Madison Street
Wilmington, DE  19801
View map »


Telephone: 302-656-6466
Website »

More information

THE FIGURE: THE INDICATIVE AND THE ALLUSIVE Group Exhibition  April 1 - August 26, 2018 Opening Reception: Friday, April 6, 2018 | 5 - 9 PM during Art Loop with Panel Discussion: 6 - 7 PM...

Cost: FREE

Where:
The Delaware Contemporary
200 South Madison Street
Wilmington, DE  19801
View map »


Telephone: 302-656-6466
Website »

More information

THE UNIVERSITY OF DELAWARE ALUMNI INVITATIONAL A Group Exhibition March 31 - April 26, 2018 OPENING RECEPTION: Friday, April 6, 2018, 5 - 9 PM during Art Loop, Artist talk at 7:30 PM The...

Cost: FREE

Where:
The Delaware Contemporary
200 South Madison Street
Wilmington, DE  19801
View map »


Telephone: 302-656-6466
Website »

More information

This community-curated exhibition brings together three painters—Alan Soffer, Brian Dickerson, and Moe Brooker—who are attuned to harmonies and contrasts in abstract forms. Each artist...

Cost: Free with Museum admission

Where:
Delaware Art Museum
2301 Kentmere Parkway
Wilmington, DE  19806
View map »


Website »

More information

The DELPEX 2018 Postage Stamp Show features stamp exhibits, 20 stamp dealers, a bid board auction, and free stamps for kids.  Come and meet others who share your interest in stamp collecting. 

Cost: $0

Where:
Nur Shrine Center
198 S Dupont Hwy (Rtes. 13 & 40)
New Castle, DE  19720
View map »


Sponsor: Brandywine Valley Stamp Club
Telephone: 130-232-22719
Contact Name: Bill Clark
Website »

More information

A needle's eye in a pond, a Greek temple in the garden, an Ottoman tent sitting on a hill—these are just a few of the inspirations for our upcoming, first-ever outdoor exhibition Follies:...

Cost: Included with general admission ($5-20)

Where:
Winterthur Museum, Garden & Library
5105 Kennett Pike
Wilmington, DE  19807
View map »


Sponsor: Winterthur Museum, Garden & Library
Telephone: 800.448.3883
Contact Name: Information and Tours
Website »

More information

GUARDIANS OF THE IMAGE MAKER Group Exhibition & Programs Commemorating The 1968 Riots April 6 - June 29, 2018 Opening reception: Friday, April 6, 2018                      5 - 9 PM...

Cost: FREE

Where:
The Delaware Contemporary
200 South Madison Street
Wilmington, DE  19801
View map »


Telephone: 302-656-6466
Website »

More information

TRANSIT by Maryanne Pollock January 27 - April 26, 2018Opening Reception: Friday, February 2, 2018 | 5 - 9 PM during Art Loop On Art:  Wednesday, February 21, 2018 | 5:25 - 6 PM Maryanne...

Cost: FREE

Where:
The Delaware Contemporary
200 South Madison Street
Wilmington, DE  19801
View map »


Telephone: 302-656-6466
Website »

More information

18-HOLE INDOOR MINI GOLF Skyline Church is committed to building community in the Pike Creek area. We have created a unique event that will build relationships with community members, businesses,...

Cost: $7 | $10 | $125

Where:
Skyline United Methodist Church
3100 Skyline Drive
Wilmington, DE  19808
View map »


Sponsor: Skyline United Methodist Church
Telephone: 302-737-9069
Website »

More information

Saturday, April 21, 12:30 p.m. Gore Recital Hall   Clarinetist Jeremy W. Reynolds joined the faculty of the University of Denver Lamont School of Music after performing as principal clarinetist...

Cost: $15 adults; $10 UD faculty/staff/alumni & seniors; $5 students

Where:
Gore Recital Hall
110 Orchard Rd
Newark, DE  19716
View map »


Sponsor: University of Delaware Department of Music
Telephone: 130-283-12578
Contact Name: Megan Everhart
Website »

More information

The Newark Symphony Chamber Series presents ensembles featuring NSO members; & will be joined by UD Singin' Hens.    For information, call (302) 369-3466 or email: busmgr@newarksymphony.org....

Cost: $0 - $20

Where:
Newark United Methodist Church
69 E. Main St.
Newark, DE  19711
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Sponsor: Newark Symphony Orchestra
Telephone: (302) 369-3466
Contact Name: Business Manager
Website »

More information

The next installment in our Inaugural Season of Concerts @ Covenant. Join us as Organist and Musicologist Chad Fothergill, University Fellow at the Esther Boyer College of Music at Temple...

Cost: $15

Where:
The Presbyterian Church of the Covenant
503 Duncan Road
Wilmington, DE  19809
View map »


Sponsor: Concerts @ Covenant Series
Telephone: 302-743-1201
Contact Name: Ryan Pryslak
Website »

More information

Guest Artist Recital Saturday, April 21, 8:00 p.m. Gore Recital Hall   American classical guitarist, Xavier Jara (1993), is the 1st prize winner of the 2016 GFA International Concert Artist...

Cost: $15 adults; $10 UD faculty/staff/alumni & seniors; $5 students

Where:
Gore Recital Hall
110 Orchard Rd
Newark, DE  19716
View map »


Sponsor: University of Delaware Department of Music
Telephone: 130-283-12578
Contact Name: Megan Everhart
Website »

More information

It's time for a night of music, prizes, and strikes! Join the ladies of Zeta Phi Beta Sorority Inc., Epsilon Rho Zeta Chapter for their Bowling Extravaganza. On April 21st starting at 9pm, meet us...

Cost: $25 per ticket; $120 per teams of 6

Where:
Pleasant Hill Lanes
1001 W Newport Pike
Wilmington, DE  19804
View map »


Sponsor: Zeta Phi Beta Sorority, Inc. Epsilon Rho Zeta Chapter
Telephone: 302-715-1920
Contact Name: Michelle Mack-Williams
Website »

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