Growing up in St. Michaels, Anthony Cannon learned the joys and challenges of working the water from his father, Wilson “Turk” Cannon.
From a young age, Anthony and his four siblings were out on their dad’s workboat Doris N. sorting the day’s catch of crabs and tonging for oysters.
Yet, Anthony said he didn’t start to realize the full impact that the iconic waterman made across generations in the local community until his death in 2014 at the age of 80.
“I knew my father was well-known and liked in St. Michaels, but Dad didn’t talk about the stuff that he did,” Cannon said. “Half the stuff, I didn’t know he did until he had passed. People would just come and talk about my father. I didn’t know. He never talked about it.”
That family history explains why Anthony Cannon, now a nationally recognized smooth jazz saxophonist known by the stage name Anthony “Turk” Cannon in homage to his father, is so proud and excited about his upcoming performance at the Chesapeake Bay Maritime Museum on Dec. 2 as part of the Grand Opening for its new Welcome Center.
During the celebration of the transformational new building, Cannon will take the stage with his five-piece jazz ensemble overlooking Fogg’s Cove adjacent to the Oystering on the Chesapeake exhibition that houses the skipjack E.C. Collier that Turk Cannon crewed on for years as well as a life-size cutout picturing and quotes from the waterman who was a primary source during the construction of the display.
Now living in Pennsylvania, Cannon said it’s always special to perform on the Eastern Shore, and even better that this gig is just a stone’s throw from the house on Lee Street where Cannon grew up that remains in his family and continues to feel like home.
“I’m most comfortable every time I come across that Bay Bridge,” Cannon said. “Playing (at CBMM), I feel like I’m supposed to be here. You’ll hear it, and you’ll see it. We’re going to have a lot of fun.”
The Cannon family has quite a story to share.
Turk Cannon was the son of a farmer who grew up near Crisfield before marrying his wife Doris and relocating to St. Michaels at the age of 18 to seek a career on the water. The Cannons were married for 61 years, raising five children along the way.
Turk Cannon was a fixture in St. Michaels Harbor with his boat moored at the Honeymoon Bridge adjacent to CBMM’s campus. He was happy to share his passion with his kids but also sure to encourage them to find their own paths.
It was a tremendous point of pride for Turk that none of his children became watermen and three of them earned college degrees.
“We saw how hard he and my mom worked, and we just didn’t want to disappoint them,” said Anthony Cannon, who earned baseball scholarship to Howard University and went on to a professional career in cybersecurity.
Cannon said his unlikely music career is a reflection of that upbringing. He took up the clarinet at St. Michaels Middle School before quitting in eighth grade to focus on baseball, and he didn’t pick up the saxophone until he was 33 years old.
Long a jazz fan, Cannon got the motivation that he needed to pursue his dream at a music festival in the 1990s when renowned jazz saxophonist Donald Harrison encouraged him to “go get a horn” and start playing.
Just like that, Cannon enrolled in music theory classes at a local community college and began his journey. Today, he plays alongside a who’s who of world-renowned musicians, has endorsement deals for his sax, mouthpiece, and ligatures, and his original compositions are featured on all the major music streaming platforms.
Ultimately, Cannon believes the confidence and drive necessary to launch a successful music career from such humble beginnings comes from his father’s constant encouragement.
“This is a guy who didn’t go to college or even high school, but he never said no to us trying to be better,” Cannon said. “He always used to say, ‘If you’re going to do it, do it. Don’t play around with it.’”
That sentiment explains why he added his father’s nickname to his stage. Most of his friends in the industry now call him Turk, just like all the watermen used to do with his dad.
“I was so proud of his life,” said Cannon, who also has a forthcoming song called “Turk.” “When he passed away, I wanted to make sure I kept his name out there and people didn’t forget him.”
At CBMM, Turk Cannon’s memory is alive and well through the Oystering exhibition. The waterman was part of E.C. Collier’s crew when it ceased operation in 1983 with the death of Capt. John Larrimore, and when the dredge boat became part of the exhibition in the early 1990s, he served as a primary source describing life on the vessel.
Turk Cannon was honored by the Talbot Watermen Association during Watermen’s Appreciation Day at CBMM in 2012, and because he faithfully took Doris N. around Navy Point and out on the Miles River almost daily well into his 70s, he’s still fondly remembered by many local residents.
No doubt many of those friends will be on hand for Anthony Cannon’s performance at the Welcome Center Grand Opening on Dec. 2. It’s fitting that a son of St. Michaels will help usher in the next chapter in CBMM’s history with a nod to the past and his family’s rich legacy.
“We’re going to get it,” Cannon said with a wide smile. “We’re going to play some cover tunes. We’re going to play some of my original stuff. It’s going to be a good day.”
Guests can get more details and RSVP now to join in the fun at this free community event at cbmm.org/WelcomeCenterGrandOpening.