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Nat Dove (June 30 July 4)
Nat Dove, “The Texas Boogie King,” is an internationally acclaimed blues pianist, producer, arranger, recording artist, and performer. Born in Mumford, Texas, in 1939, Dove was playing piano by the age of four and later mastered the bass, trumpet, and drums. By the 1960s, he was in Los Angeles performing and working as a studio musician. Among the recordings he can be heard on is Little Johnny Taylor’s 1963 best-selling hit, “Part-Time Love.”
Dove has toured all of the major capitals of Europe, Asia, and the United States and shared the stage with such blues legends as Pee Wee Crayton, Willie Mae “Big Mama” Thornton, Freddie King, and Robert Cray. In the 1970s Dove moved to Paris where he played at the Olympia (the oldest and largest concert venue in Europe) and became the Composer-In-Residence at the American Culture Center. He also taught and performed for a number of years in Japan, where his album Deep Blues Experience was a top-seller. He composed the music for a French play, Sail to Everest, as well as the score for the film Petey Wheatstraw (1977). Later in the 1970s, he even ventured into disco/funk with the Most Requested Rhythm Band with considerable success.
Dove’s rich experience, along with his understanding of African American music history and commitment to its preservation, make him a much sought-after essayist, speaker, and educator. He is the founder and director of the Bakersfield Blues Preservation Society in California and has been involved with numerous educational forums including “Blues Alive,” a radio program on blues history; the “Blues in Schools” educational program; “The Nat Dove Blues Music Master Class,” a music appreciation workshop; and the International Blues Competition.
Nat Dove was recently honored as an inductee into the West Coast Blues Hall of Fame and continues to perform around the globe while writing his memoirs, The Blues and I (Memoirs of a Bluesman).
*(Indicates local backing band)
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- Nat Dove, keyboards /vocals
- *David Cole, guitar
- *Emory Diggs, bass
- *DeAndrey Howard, drums
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Robert “Captain Fly” Frye, Radio Personality (June 30 July 11)
Native Washingtonian Captain Fly has been telling his listeners to WPFW to “get on board” every Saturday since 1995 with “The Oldies House Party,” featuring soul and R&B music. He has toured internationally with Patti LaBelle, James Ingram, among others, and has recently produced a DVD entitled All Star Legends Revue Presents the DC All Stars, which covers the D.C. Black music scene from the 1950s to the 1990s. He is also lead singer of the Intruders Review tribute group.
The Funk Brothers (June 30 July 4)
The Funk Brothers are the Motown Records studio musicians who helped define the sound of some of the best-known rhythm and blues recordings between 1959 and 1972. Although they were vital architects of the “Motown Sound,” band members received little or no credit outside of the studio. The core group and a cast of others helped to catapult countless artists to the top of the charts, including the Supremes, the Four Tops, Gladys Knight and the Pips, the Temptations, and Stevie Wonder. They were not credited on an album until Marvin Gaye’s 1971 masterpiece What’s Going On. A year later Motown relocated their entire business and production to Los Angeles, and the group was dissolved.
The Funk Brothers’ defining contributions to R&B have been recognized in recent years, especially with the release of Allan Slutsky’s book Standing in the Shadows of Motown (1989) and Paul Justman’s 2002 documentary film of the same name. It is welcome recognition for those members featured in the film, but unfortunately many pioneering members passed away before the filming and prior to its release. According to the film, these talented musicians played on “more #1 records than the Beatles, the Beach Boys, the Rolling Stones and Elvis Presley combined.”
The Funk Brothers group participating in the Festival is led by veteran members bassist Bob Babbitt and guitarist Eddie Willis. Joining the Funk Brothers as a guest vocalist is former Motown recording artist Kim Weston. Weston had a number of high-charting hits with Motown in the 1960s including “Take Me in Your Arms (Rock Me a Little While)” and “It Takes Two,” a duet with Marvin Gaye. The Funk Brothers have been referred to as “the greatest hit machine in the history of pop music.”
- Bob Babbitt, bass
- Eddie Willis, guitar
- Kim Weston, guest vocalist
- Donna Curtin, vocals
- Rob Jones, keyboards
- George McGregor, guest drums
- Ray Monnette, guitar
- Delbert J. Nelson, vocals
- Kenneth “Spider Webb” Rice, drums
- Treaty Womack, conga
- *Wondel Brown, trombone
- *Clarence Knight Jr., tenor saxophone
- *Keith Mathis, trumpet and flugelhorn
(*Indicates local horn section)
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Carroll Hynson, Jr., Radio Personality (July 7, July 8, July 11)
Carroll “Mr. C” Hynson was a prominent DJ in the Baltimore/Washington, D.C., area from 1965 until 1978. Today Hynson can be heard every Saturday on WHUR’s show, “The Time Tunnel,” which plays music from the 1960s through the 1980s. He has also produced albums for Chuck Brown and the Soul Searchers.
The Jewels (July 7 July 11)
The legendary Jewels are D.C.’s homegrown doo-wop divas. Sandra Bears, Grace Ruffin, Marjorie Clarke, and Carrie Mingo started singing at local talent shows while attending Roosevelt High School in Washington, D.C., in the early 1960s. They soon met R&B artist Bo Diddley and began singing as his backup vocalists on recordings in his D.C. home studio. They released a string of single records that were popular in the D.C/Baltimore/Virginia area and even sang backup for Billy Stewart’s (who is Ruffin’s first cousin) “Reap What You Sow” (1962). After this run of local successes, Martha Harvin stepped in to replace Carrie Mingo. Their biggest hit, “Opportunity,” came after signing with the Dimension label. It reached number 64 on the pop charts in December 1964.
The girls began performing at major theaters on the R&B circuit including the Howard Theatre in D.C., the Uptown Theatre in Philadelphia, the Regal Theater in Chicago, and the Apollo Theater in New York City. There they impressed the “Godfather of Soul,” James Brown, and were invited to join him on his “James Brown Revue” tour. The Jewels toured with Brown across the United States, Canada, Mexico, and the Caribbean from 1964 to 1965. Unfortunately, despite the glamour of the tour, due to racial politics of the day and lack of promoter spending, they often experienced poor or unsafe living conditions. After an exhausting year, they returned home to D.C.
The Jewels have continued to perform as a group for almost 50 years, and they reunited with Mingo in 1985 to re-record their classic hits for their self-produced album Loaded with Goodies. The group has been honored by a number of institutions, including the Schomburg Center for Research in Black Culture, a Washington, D.C., Annual Mayor’s Arts Awards, and a mayoral proclamation that designated November 22nd, 1997, as “The Jewels Day.”
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- Sandra Bears, vocals
- Marjorie Clarke, vocals
- Grace Ruffin, vocals
- Ronald Campbell, bass
- Ronald Ford, drums
- Joseph Phillips, guitar
- Ron Reace, keyboards
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Dr. Mable John (June 30 July 2)
Mable John is a vocalist who has been a lead and backup singer during her career. Born in Louisiana, she moved with her parents to Arkansas and then Detroit, where she completed high school. In 1959 she began her recording career in Detroit, becoming the first female vocalist signed to Berry Gordy’s Tamla label. Her 1960 release, “Who Wouldn’t Love A Man Like That,” was her most successful release with the label. Beginning in 1962, she spent several years backing Ray Charles as a Raelette and also working with her brother, the famous rhythm and blues singer “Little Willie” John. She signed with Stax Records from 1966 until 1968. Her first single with Stax, “Your Good Thing Is About To End” (1966) reached the top ten on the R&B chart. She released other singles on the Stax label as well as the album Stay Out of the Kitchen. From 1968 to 1976, she rejoined Ray Charles and was the leader of the Raelettes. After this she left secular music and began working with gospel groups. Currently she is running her charitable organization, Joy Community Outreach. In 1993 Mabel John received a Doctorate in Divinity. In 1994, she received a Pioneer Award from the Rhythm & Blues Foundation.
Fernando Jones (July 7 July 10)
Fernando Jones is a celebrated 21st-century bluesman from Chicago, Illinois. Jones has received numerous awards for his work, including the 2008 “Keeping the Blues Alive Award” from the National Blues Foundation in recognition of his educational activities. Jones is a professor at Columbia College Chicago and director and founder of the Columbia College Blues Ensemble. He is founder of Blues Kids of America, an interdisciplinary, artist-in-residence music program for children, and has been featured in a number of television and video programs including the Travel Channel’s “America the Right Way” and Eric Clapton’s “Crossroads.” Jones is also the author of I Was There When The Blues Was Red Hot (1998), a book resulting from more than ten years of interviews with Chicago blues artists.
Jones was raised on the Southside of Chicago by parents who had come from Mississippi in search of work. They passed along to him their love of the blues, which was reinforced every summer when Jones visited his relatives in the South. A talented musician, Jones was teaching himself the guitar by the time he was four years old. When he was six, his uncle bought him his first guitar, a brand new Sunburst Teisco. Jones was the last musician mentored by Chicago Bluesman Willie Dixon, who asked Fernando to “keep the blues going.”
Jones has been referred to as an artist on the “cutting edge” of blues music. An extraordinary musician, educator, and innovator, Fernando Jones leads us into an understanding of modern blues music while keeping a solid footing in its historical roots.
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- Fernando Jones, guitar/vocals
- Roy Boyd, drums
- Herman “Chip” Ratliff, bass/vocals
Shirley Jones of The Jones Girls (June 30 July 4)
Shirley Jones is one of three members of The Jones Girls, a female vocal group known for their soulful ballads and disco dance hits. Daughters of Mary Frazier Jones, RCA Record’s first Black gospel singer, sisters Shirley, Brenda, and Valorie, had their musical start singing backup for their mother at church services. As teens they segued into rhythm and blues in their hometown of Detroit. Gaining recognition as the local opening act for such artists as the Four Tops and Little Richard, they were also highly sought after as backup singers.
In the mid-1970s, the girls moved to California and began recording with Holland-Dozier-Holland, developing tight harmonies and strong vocal delivery while singing backup for a variety of artists including Aretha Franklin, Helen Reddy, and Cher. In 1976 they were chosen to sing backup for Diana Ross and toured with her for three years. During one concert, Ross suggested that they present a solo song while she did a costume change; they chose “If I Ever Lose This Heaven.” This exposure led to a contract with Gamble and Huff’s Philadelphia International Records (PIR) as The Jones Girls. In the late 1970s and early 1980s, they pumped out such hits as “You Gonna Make Me Love Somebody Else,” “I Just Love the Man,” and “Nights Over Egypt,” and they became a live disco sensation performing in clubs like New York City’s Studio 54. After shifting labels to RCA, the group eventually disbanded in 1985.
Kenneth Gamble invited Jones to PIR as a solo act, and her song, “Do You Get Enough Love,” peaked at number one on the R&B charts for two weeks in the summer of 1986. She also continued to perform with her sisters until the tragic passing of Valorie in 2001. Shirley Jones released a solo album in 2010 entitled Feels Like Heaven.
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- Shirley Jones, vocals
- Farnetta Baker, backup vocals
- Anissa Hargrove, backup vocals
- Lorree Slye, backup vocals
- Keith Busey, bass
- Charles Deas, conga/percussion
- Jeno Meyer, keyboards
- Derrick Tobias Northan, guitar
- Arthur Scribner, keyboards
- Kevin Sykes, drums
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Herb Kent, Radio Personality (July 2 July 4)
Herb Kent, known on air as “The Cool Gent,” has been a disc jockey in Chicago since 1944. He began his experience in radio with the Chicago Board of Education’s station WBEZ. He started his professional radio career in 1949 on WGRY in Gary, Indiana and as an actor in radio dramas. In the 1950s, Kent moved to Chicago’s largest Black-oriented station, WGES, where he was mentored by pioneering African American DJs Sam Evans and Al Benson. Kent is credited with popularizing such iconic rhythm and blues songs as “The Girl’s Alright With Me” by the Temptations, “Tracks of My Tears” by Smokey Robinson, and the rhythm and blues version of “Watusi” by the Vibrations. His remarkable career in radio paved the way for other African American disc jockeys and led to his induction into the National Radio Hall of Fame & Museum in 1995. He currently hosts a Saturday morning show on WVAZ in Chicago.
The Monitors (July 7 July 11)
The Monitors, from Wilson County, North Carolina, are grounded in the musical traditions of the region; a region where gospel rhythms have long influenced many talented musicians from the funk-playing brothers Maceo and Melvin Parker to jazz legend Thelonious Monk, to the Monitors’ very own Bill Myers. Myers, born in 1932, grew up listening to the music of Louis Armstrong and Duke Ellington. He showed an early aptitude for music that his grandmother recognized and encouraged by enrolling him in piano lessons. Myers later joined a marching band and taught himself to play the drums. On a school trip to New York City, Meyers saw a saxophone player perform at the Apolloand from that day on, he dedicated himself to learning the sax. By the time he was a teenager, he was playing with bands in all the big clubs in Greenville, North Carolina, and had picked up the nickname “Popeye.” After college he enlisted in the military and was sent to Korea, where he played his saxophone for parties and church services, and also backed up movie stars like Rita Moreno and Judy Collins when they came to perform for the troops.
After his military service, Myers became a teacher in the rural town of Elm, North Carolina. There he worked to enhance the music department, and he became the first minority assistant superintendent in Wilson County. He continued to play music, and in 1957, he co-formed the Monitors with Cleveland Flowe. The band was quickly in demand for local and county events. They also served as a backup band for guest performers such as Otis Redding, Millie Jackson, and the Dells. Roberta Flack, then a music teacher in the town next door, was their very first vocalist.
While the group primarily plays R&B and jazz, it presents a versatile program that can include country-western, classical, and blues. As the Monitors celebrate their 54th year together, their music is receiving much-deserved recognition for its contribution to regional culture and national R&B history.
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- Bill Myers, keyboards
- Willie J. Dupree, saxophone
- Gerald Hunter, guitar/vocals
- Mollie Hunter, vocals
- Robert James Knight, trumpet/vocals
- Samuel Lathan, drums/vocals
- Jerome Morgan, bass
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Deanie Parker (July 1 July 4)
Deanie Parker’s involvement with Stax Records began in 1963 when her high school vocal group, the Valadores, won a talent show and audition for label owner Jim Stewart. Initially writing two songs released on the Stax/Volt label, “My Imaginary Guy” (1963) and “Each Step I Take” (1964), she began working in the office as director of publicity with her role expanding into artist and community relations. Parker quickly became an indispensible employee. She continued songwriting and working at Stax until it closed in 1975. Afterwards she served as vice-president of communications and marketing at the Regional Medical Center in Memphis. Parker was a leader in establishing the nonprofit Soulsville Foundation, founded to operate Stax Museum of American Soul Music and the Stax Music Academy. She served as the Foundation’s President and CEO until 2007.
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Bob Porter, Radio Personality (June 30 July 4)
For more than thirty years, Bob Porter has been heard on Newark’s WBGO with “Saturday Morning Function,” a show that plays a combination of rhythm and blues, classic soul, and blues music. A discographer, record producer, and prolific writer, Porter has garnered a multitude of awards and honors from his work with blues and jazz, including being inducted into the Blues Hall of Fame in 2009. He has produced more than 200 re-issues of blues and jazz in his capacity as re-issue producer for Savoy Records from 1975 to 1980 and for Atlantic Records from 1986 to 1991.
The National Hand Dance Association (June 30 July 4)
The National Hand Dance Association (NHDA) was founded in the summer of 1994 to preserve, educate, and promote “hand dancing,” an original Washington, D.C., tradition. An offspring of the Lindy Hop, hand dancing developed in the 1950s. The dance is unique in that the partners keep their hands in contact while following a basic swing dance structure enhanced by “smooth footwork and hand-turns” (Manriquez, The History of D.C. Hand-Dance, 2010). In 1993 the Smithsonian recognized hand dance as a national art form. In 1999 it was declared by the city council to be the official dance of Washington, D.C.
Beverly Lindsay-Johnson is the acting president of the NHDA. In addition, she is an Emmy award-winning television/film producer. Her 2007 documentary Dance Party: The Teenarama Story, which traces the success of an African American teen dance television program, gained national recognition and a number of prestigious awards. Lindsay-Johnson also works to preserve and promote early rhythm and blues music or doo-wop.
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Sonny Til’s Orioles (June 30 July 4)
The Orioles formed in Baltimore in 1947 under the name the Vibranaires. At the time, the big band sound dominated the radio, but the Orioles created a unique musical presence by using only their four voices and a guitar. They have been called “the first R&B vocal group,” and they pioneered the popular shift in post-World War II music to small vocal harmony groups. Their many honors include their induction into the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame in the “Early Influence” category.
The Orioles were led by the charismatic second tenor Earlington Tilghman (Sonny Til) with vocal harmonies by George Nelson, Johnny Reed, Alexander Sharp, and Tommy Gaither on guitar. They started singing on street corners where they were “discovered” by their future manager Deborah Chessler. As their manager, Chessler booked them at the Apollo Theater and on Arthur Godfrey’s talent show, and they were offered a recording contract with It’s a Natural Records (later known as Jubilee.) The Orioles enjoyed their greatest success from 1948 to 1954 when “It’s Too Soon to Know,” “Tell Me So,” and “Crying in the Chapel,” all reached number one on the R&B Billboard charts.
By 1955, after several years of turnover, the original Orioles group had disbanded. Sonny Til recruited new members, including current Orioles leader Diz Russell, from a group called the Regals that he had seen when they performed at the Apollo. Sonny Til passed away in 1981. The last original member, Johnny Reed, lived long enough to accept the band’s Rock and Roll Hall of Fame induction in 1995. Today Diz Russell keeps the Orioles’ legend alive with his modern-day version, Sonny Til’s Orioles. Current members, several of whom are former members of other well-known harmony groups, also include Ray Allen, Clark Walker, and David Warren.
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- Albert “Diz” Russell, vocals
- Ray Allen, vocals
- Clark Walker, vocals/guitar
- David Warren, vocals
- Sam Paladino, keyboards
- Gary Smith, bass
- James Thomas, drums
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Smooth & EZ Hand Dance Institute (July 7 July 11)
The mission of the Smooth & EZ Hand Dance Institute, directed by Lawrence Bradford, is to “enhance local and national awareness of Hand Dance through instruction, promotion, and preservation.” Hand dancing is a unique Washington, D.C., tradition that developed in the 1950s as an offspring of the Lindy Hop. It follows a basic swing dance structure with “smooth footwork and hand-turns” (Manriquez, The History of D.C. Hand-Dance, 2010), and dance partners keep their hands in contact through every movement. While very structured, hand dancing allows for a great deal of partner improvisation and it can be danced to a variety of speeds ranging from 90 to 140 beats per minute. In 1993 the Smithsonian recognized hand dance as a national art form. In 1999 it was officially recognized by the city council as the official dance of Washington, D.C.
Stax Music Academy (June 30 July 4)
Named for Stax Records, the Stax Music Academy (SMA) is a private organization that mentors youth through music. It serves, in particular, the area around Soulsville, the fertile Memphis neighborhood that gave birth to numerous legendary songwriters and performers, including Aretha Franklin who sang in her father’s Metropolitan Baptist Church as a young girl; David Porter, Stax Records house composer; and Al Green, whose 1970s mega-hits were recorded at Willie Mitchell’s Royal Studios. Stax Records, the Memphis-based label that was highly influential from the 1960s to 1970s in R&B and soul music, introduced the world to such legends as Isaac Hayes, Otis Redding, Wilson Pickett, and Booker T. and the MG’s.
The Stax Music Academy (SMA) has a mission to “provide students with music education and unique performance opportunities, with the goals of enhancing their leadership and academic skills and inspiring them to become facilitators for community change.” Stax Music Academy is a subsidiary organization of the Soulsville Foundation. The Foundation operates the Soulsville Charter School as well as the Stax Museum of American Soul Music located on the original site of Stax Records. These organizations work to enhance community progress by preparing youth and preserving the Soulsville historical legacy.
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The Swallows (July 7 July 11)
In 1946 a group of thirteen-year-old boys began practicing their vocal harmony music on the streets of Baltimore calling themselves the “Oakaleers.” Heavily influenced by another Baltimore male harmony group, the Vibranaires (later known as the Orioles), they grew and changed over the next few years. By 1948 Eddie Rich, Norris “Bunky” Mack, Fredrick “Money” Johnson, Earl Hurley, and Herman “Junior” Denby had transformed into the Swallows and were performing at nightclubs and theaters in Baltimore. In 1951 Ike Goldstick, the owner of a local record shop, scored them an audition with King Records in Cincinnati. Their first record for King, which featured the single “Dearest,” reached number nine on the R&B charts. Another of their songs, “It Ain’t the Meat (It’s the Motion),” became a big seller in the South. After two years of tireless touring and five years together as a group, they disbanded in 1953.
In the spring of 1954, Hurley and Rich organized a revamped group of Swallows, who made a record with Harlem’s After Hours label and enjoyed success on their home turf of Baltimore/Washington. In 1958 Rich and Hurley formed another Swallows group for King’s subsidiary Federal label. They found success with their rock and roll cover of Bobby Hendrick’s “Itchy Twitchy Feeling.” Then after more than a decade of making music, the group disbanded again.
Today, original member Eddie Rich performs with a group of new Swallows and continues to captivate audiences with their timeless repertoire of doo-wop melodies and smooth harmonization.
- William “Til” George, vocals
- Leroy Miller, vocals
- Eddie Rich, vocals
- Clarence O. Robinson, vocals
- Johnny Styl, vocals
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Fred Wesley and the New JBs (July 7 July 11)
Fred Wesley Jr. is a legendary trombone player, who has performed with and composed for some of R&B’s most successful artists. Raised in Mobile, Alabama, he has described himself as a “jazz snob” who grew up listening to Nat King Cole, Duke Ellington, and the likes. He first started to learn the trombone at the request of his father, the leader of a big band, who needed a player for his band. As a teenager, he played trombone in a band for Ike and Tina Turner, but he attributes his most important musical training to the time he spent in the U.S. Army, playing in the 55th Army Band in Huntsville, Alabama.
From 1968 to 1975, Wesley was music director, arranger, trombonist, and a primary composer for James Brown’s band, The J.B.’s. He is credited with helping the band to shift its sound from soul to funk, a style that would soon become dominant in R&B music. In 1976 Wesley and fellow horn player Maceo Parker left Brown’s band to join another artist on the cutting edge of funk, George Clinton. They worked with Clinton to create such influential Parliament-Funkadelic albums as The Mothership Connection and The Clones of Dr. Funkenstein.
Wesley has also played in Bootsy Collins’ Bootsy’s Rubber Band, Fred Wesley and the Horny Horns, and returned to his jazz roots to play in the Count Basie Orchestra. He has arranged, collaborated, and/or written for an extensive “who’s who” of artists including Ray Charles, Curtis Mayfield, Van Morrison, Cameo, and Lionel Hampton. Wesley shares his wealth of experience in his memoir Hit Me, Fred: Recollections of a Sideman (2002). Today, he continues performing with his band The New JBs and collaborating with a variety of artists, including Abraham Inc., a klezmer/funk/hip-hop ensemble. In a 2003 interview for the radio series “All Things Considered,” Wesley stated, “I’ve accepted my position as a funk trombone player, so even when I play jazz now, I don’t suppress the funk.... I’m a funky player who can play jazz.”
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- Fred Wesley, trombone/vocals
- Bruce Cox, drums
- Dwayne Dolphin, bass
- Ernie Fields, sax/flute/bagpipes/vocals
- Freddie Hendrix, trumpet/vocals
- Barney McAll, keyboards
- Reginald Ward, guitar
Kim Weston (June 30 - July 4)
Kim Weston comes from a background of gospel. She started singing in her Detroit church choir at the age of three; and by the time she was a teenager, she was touring with a gospel group called the Wright Specials. Weston joined with a young Motown Records in 1963 as a solo artist and released such hits as, “Love Me All the Way” and “Helpless.” In 1965 she released “Take me in Your Arms (Rock me a Little While)” which reached number four on the R&B charts. A decade later the Doobie Brothers released a successful cover version of the song.
Weston is perhaps best known for the duet album that she made with Marvin Gaye. It included the upbeat “It Takes Two” which numbered on charts worldwide and reached number fourteen on the 1967 Billboard Pop Chart. Weston left Motown in 1967 and released albums with a number of other labels over the next few decades. In 1970 she released a popular version of the Black National Anthem, “Lift Every Voice and Sing” and in the early nineties became the first of many Motown artists to re-record her work for British producer Ian Levine on the Motorcity label.
Kim Weston joins the Funk Brothers for the first week of the Folklife Festival.
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Jerry “Swamp Dogg” Williams (June 30 - July 4)
Jerry “Swamp Dogg” Williams is a celebrated songwriter, producer, singer, musician, and performer who has left an eccentric mark on R&B history. He first emerged on the scene in the early 1950s as “Little Jerry Williams” and recorded his first album at age eleven. His unusual family band consisted of his mother on drums, his stepfather on guitar, his step-uncle on bass, and Williams crooning and rocking on the piano. Williams found considerable success recording and playing gigs in his hometown of Portsmouth, Virginia. After high school he recorded with a number of labels and had a regional Midwestern number one album called I’ll Always Remember (Chapel on the Hill).
In 1969 Williams unleashed the wild, alternative performance personality that he calls “Swamp Dogg.” Under his new name, he released a series of albums bubbling over with “social satire, hypocrisy, political awareness, surrealism and adult relationships in all its forms, spiced with more than a dose of humor.” Their musical style ranged from “raw funk to country-soul to blues.” (Ellis 2007). His album covers were equally outlandish. His first, Total Destruction To Your Mind, displayed a photo of the artist sitting in a junkyard in his underwear with a tin pot on his head; his second, Rat On!, showed him riding a gigantic white rat.
Meanwhile Williams was also writing and producing hugely successful hits for such artists as Z.Z. Hill, Irma Thomas, Patti LaBelle, and Solomon Burke, among others. In 1971 the song, “She’s All I’ve Got,” which was co-written with Gary “U.S.” Bonds for the soul singer Freddie North, reached the Top Ten. A cover version of the song released by Johnny Paycheck was named Song of the Year at the 1972 Country Music Awards. Now based in Southern California, Swamp Dogg has continued to make albums, thrilling audiences and reinventing himself.
(*Indicates local horn section)
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- Swamp Dogg, keyboards/vocals
- Billy Haynes, bass/vocals
- Craig Kimbrough, drums
- Vera Lee, vocals
- Lucky Lloyd, guitar
- Moogstar, keyboards/vocals
- Michael Murphy, keyboards
- *Terrell LeVaughn Ambrose, tenor sax
- *Doug Gilchrist, trombone
- *Gilbert E. Pryor Jr., trumpet