At Arlington, the race won’t start until Bonny Brown blows her horn.
photograph: Saverio Truglia
Bonny Brown on the Arlington grounds
On the morning of August 12th, as sleekly groomed thoroughbreds and their colorfully clad jockeys prepare to run the prestigious Arlington Million, Bonny Brown will slip into her own distinctive attire: knee-high boots, white trousers, a scarlet jacket with golden buttons, and a coal-black top hat. Then she will pick up her silver herald’s trumpet, step out onto the track, and inaugurate the contest with the familiar “Call to Post”-perhaps appending a jazzy filigree at the end.
Since May 2003, when she beat out 25 other contenders to replace Joe Kelly, Arlington Park’s legendary bugler of 22 years, Brown has become the face of the northwest suburban horseracing track. Such is her popularity that the track honored her with her own bobblehead-doll giveaway last September.
So it comes as a small surprise when the 33-year-old admits she had second thoughts about taking the job. A native of Aurora, where she still lives today, Brown had excelled as a trumpeter in high school-winning coveted spots in the Chicago Youth Symphony and the Illinois All-State Honors Band-before earning a B.A. in music performance from DePaul University in 1995. She worked briefly as a receptionist for a real-estate firm, until hearing a version of Stravinsky’s Ebony Concerto while sitting in a downtown coffee shop. “I had played on that recording,” says Brown today, “and so I marched back upstairs and quit.
After that, Brown carved out an exclusively musical career-teaching at suburban schools, performing with the local band Big Fun, and fronting Rhumbuzzz, her reggae-Caribbean-calypso hybrid that last year released its first CD, Just Play. So when the five-person panel at Arlington Park unanimously chose Brown to replace Kelly, she hesitated. “I worried whether this would ruin my credibility as a musician,” she recalls. “But it’s been just the opposite.”
Brown still aspires to her two dream jobs-performing with the Chicago Symphony Orchestra and playing “Call to Post” before the Kentucky Derby. And then there is her grand plan to have Rhumbuzzz open for Jimmy Buffett. Does Buffett know about this? “Not yet,” says Brown with a dazzling smile, “but he will.”