Gilda Downey leaves behind legacy of music, self expression

Feb 14, 2023

MARION — Whether it was her brightly colored hair or her welcoming personality, local legend Gilda Downey, 98, left an impact on her community in the many years before her death on Tuesday, Feb. 7. 

Downey owned and operated Gilda’s Stone Rooster for over 40 years before her retirement in 2017. 

“You can't go to the Stone Rooster without at least knowing who Gilda is,” said New Bedford JazzFest founder Eric Paradis. “She herself is a big part of your experience there.”

Between serving drinks and cracking jokes with customers, Downey offered the Stone Rooster as a “safe-haven” for musicians and music lovers alike. 

The Stone Rooster was known for its live jazz music, becoming a home for the New Bedford JazzFest. 

“She was constantly taking musicians under her wing and giving them an opportunity [and] a platform at her venue,” said Paradis, who knew Downey for 10 years through the JazzFest. 

According to Paradis, platforms for jazz musicians are few and far between in South Coast Massachusetts, making the Stone Rooster a sanctuary.

“It was really special,” said Michael Rocha, a member of the South Coast Jazz Orchestra and friend of Downey. “ She had this ability to bring everybody together, it was something that I've never seen and  probably won't see again.”

According to Paradis, Downey’s dedication to live performances came from her love of the music.

“She loved it. She loved different kinds of jazz,” said Paradis. “Whether it was an avantgarde, aggressive form of jazz or the standards done in a traditional way, she was always very supportive of what the artist wanted to do.”

After the Stone Rooster closed during the Covid-19 pandemic, South Coast restaurateurs John Mello and Joe Sauro purchased the building in 2021.

The pair plan to reopen the bar with the addition of food, which wasn’t previously offered. However, Mello noted in a 2021 meeting of the Marion Select Board that “live entertainment really isn’t part of our business model.”

According to Paradis, Downey and her attitude toward life will be greatly missed. 

“She would dance around the Stone Rooster at over 90 years old in her stretch pants with skulls on them and her red dip  dyed hair,” said Paradis. “It was inspiring.”

Downey’s legacy taught those close to her an important lesson, said Rocha. 

“We're so afraid in this world to be ourselves,” he said. “But Gilda embodied ‘just being yourself.’”