‘We’re Not Dead Yet’ — how 16 residents at Mission Square senior living center formed a band during COVID-19

MIssion Square band

Sixteen residents of Mission Square independent senior living center in Mission came together during the COVID-19 pandemic to form a band, calling themselves the We're Not Dead Yet Mission Square Meerkats. Most of the group plays on percussion instruments. They've already played one public gig and have at least three more performances booked. Photo courtesy Vicki Hutchens.

Dean Jernigan says he was bored during the COVID-19 shutdowns last year.

Jernigan lives at Mission Square, an independent senior living community in Mission near Lamar Avenue and Johnson Drive.

A percussionist himself, Jernigan knew of a couple other Mission Square residents who were musically inclined: one who played the bass drum, and another who had once played with an orchestra in Parkville, Mo.

Jernigan got them together and suggested they play some Samba, a music genre that originated in Brazil in the 1920s.

After gathering some Samba instruments like surdos, a bass-type drum, and repinique, a two-headed drum made of metal, Jernigan and a few other Mission Square residents began practicing in a garage at the community.

Dean Jernigan, Mission Square Meerkats founder
Dean Jernigan, a Mission Square resident, created the We’re Not Dead Yet Mission Square Meerkats during COVID-19 out of boredom, he says. Now, he and 15 others play Latin music — mostly Samba — at local events like Mission’s mobile food pantry.

More residents joined, Jernigan said, “because music is so therapeutic — especially when you’re locked up.”

“During COVID-19, we were bouncing off the walls,” he said. “So [the band] really helped out our mental state a great deal. And it’s grown and carried on, so it’s evolving.”

The group now has 16 members, and they’ve dubbed themselves the We’re Not Dead Yet Mission Square Meerkats.

The members play a variety of instruments, and not just for each other. The Mission Square Meerkats have done a live performance outside their residential community.

The group performed at a mobile food pantry event on May 28, and they have at least three more future gigs scheduled.

That includes the 10 a.m. opener slot at the Mission Business District’s Sidewalk Sale on Saturday, June 19, Jernigan said, as well as an upcoming block party.

Jernigan said the band landed on their name not only because the group’s average age is 82, but also because meerkats stand in a crowd looking in different directions — and that’s what the band sort of looks like while performing.

More than that, though, he said the band has formed a sort of meerkat family.

“It’s been remarkable,” Jernigan said. “The people who joined [the band] and stayed with it the whole time, they seem to be enjoying it. You have the whole thing about activity and music and coordination, and that type of thing — which we benefit from physically — that’s a good thing, too.”