The Mid-Week Beat: The Music of the Civil Rights Movement

Dr.-Martin-Luther-King-Jr-005With Martin Luther King Jr. Day coming up this Monday, this week is a chance for us to remember this great man and the incredible struggle that he helped spearhead: the civil rights movement of the 1950s and 60s.

And, since this is the Mid-Week Beat, it’s also important to remember what a key role music played for those involved in the struggle. When one thinks of the music of the civil rights era, we largely think of so-called “freedom songs”: African-American gospel hymns like “Go Down Moses” or “We Shall Not Be Moved,” that had deep roots in the African-American churches and socially concious folk songs sung by artists like Julius Lester, Odetta and Pete Seeger. The freedom songs were collaborative in nature and they served as a tool to bring people together in the struggle and to gain strength from one another.

Many younger African Americans involved in the movement, however, sought to separate themselves from the old church tradition and wanted music that was more revolutionary in spirit. Music that could be cranked at parties and was more receptive than participatory. Therefore, it was the soul and r&b that was being produced in Detroit by Motown or in Memphis by Stax, that spoke to this, more militant, generation.
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Bellevue Jazz Festival Is Coming. Get Your Discounted Tickets Now!

We’ve featured the Bellevue Jazz Festival before on this blog and there’s good reason.  It always has a stellar lineup featuring top-notch talent and this year they’ve outdone themselves once again with headlining performances by the legendary Booker T. Jones (of Booker T and the MGs), the Grammy nominated Clayton Brothers Quintet and Downbeat Magazine‘s 2011 Flutist of the Year, Hubert Laws. The festival takes place on May 30 to June 3 but they’re offering an exclusive presale offer giving you an opportunity to get tickets at 30% off the general ticket price, a full week before tickets go on sale to the public. They’re offering this incredible deal until Friday, April 13 so head right over here, enter “Presale” as the discount code and get yours right away because these won’t last long.

Personally, I’m excited for Booker T. Jones, the creator of the Memphis-soul organ sound of countless Stax Records hits. Not only did he play on such soul classics as “Green Onions” but he also played on hits from Otis Redding, Wilson Pickett, Sam & Dave, Johnnie Taylor and Bill Withers. Booker T was only seventeen when they released “Green Onions” so he’d already sealed his place in music history before he’d event hit twenty! Not bad. Since then, he’s earned a Grammy Award for lifetime achievement and has played on records by Ray Charles, Neil Young, Drive By Truckers and even, East Bay punk rockers Rancid.

So, not only do you get to see legendary and award winning national performers but you also get more than forty additional performances by regional talent at bars and restaurants throughout downtown Bellevue.  If I were you, I’d clear your calendar for May 30 to June 2 and get your discounted tickets now! If you love great music, you’ll be glad you did. Remember to enter “Presale” in the discount code box!

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Two Tributes to the Incomparable Etta James

Most of you know that the great Soul/Blues singer Etta James died last week. Today, what would have been her 74th birthday, gives us the opportunity to remember and pay tribute to one of the great voices of our time. As a singer, I can’t understate how much of an influence she’s had on me and countless others. She had the rare talent of being able to project attitude and ferocity at one moment and then turn around and sing with tenderness and vulnerability without missing a beat. Her talent was incomparable and she left us too soon.

Etta was born in Los Angeles under the name Jamesetta Hawkins on this day in 1938. Her mother, Dorothy Hawkins, who was only fourteen at the time. She never knew her father but suspected that he might be the legendary pool player Rudolf “Minnesota Fats” Wanderone, who she met briefly in 1987. Her mother, sadly, was mostly absent during her early childhood, and she was raised by various caregivers, many of whom abused her.

She began voice training at the age of five and quickly became a popular singer at her church. In 1950, her mother took her to San Francisco where she was exposed to the early doo wop sound. She formed her first group, The Creolettes, a couple of years later. The group was taken under the wing of R&B singer Johnny Otis (who, strangely, also died last week, three days before Etta) who convinced them to change their name to The Peaches. Otis got them signed to Modern Records and gave Jamesetta the stage name that she would carry for the rest of her life. Her first release as Etta James, “Dance With Me, Henry,” was released in early 1955. The song reached number one on the Hot Rhythm & Blues Tracks charts and earned Etta and The Peaches an opening slot on Little Richard’s national tour.
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