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Dear Friends and Supporters,
Happy Holidays to everyone! The Alabama Blues Project has had an amazing year! Thank you to all who support us and work to make our programs possible.
Best Wishes for a blessed holiday season. We will be in touch in 2009!
We are so excited about our Alabama Blues Blend fair trade organic coffee. A new shipment has arrived just in time for the Holidays! Please consider giving the gift of great coffee to help support our mission - hot coffee and cool blues.
The Alabama Blues Project invites you to join us in presenting our award-winning After-school and Summertime Blues Camps which continue to impact hundreds of children in our community and beyond. We are spreading the word about Alabama blues by bringing it to a new generation – and you can help!
Our blues camps are in their 11th year and we continue to expand the number of students afforded the opportunity to learn harmonica, vocal, guitar and percussion skills from some of the state’s best blues musicians. We make a special effort to reach out to at-risk children who greatly benefit from the ability to express creativity through music.
We are also on the road and have taken the blues into many under served and disadvantaged schools in Alabama.
We've continued our partnership with the University of Alabama on our internship program which provides students with exposure to our organization and Alabama's rich blues heritage. Internship projects currently include; developing new fundraising initiates, improving our publicity and outreach materials, working with us to create an online database of Alabama blues artists, and historic marker campaigns for blues greats Dinah Washington and Johnny Shines.
Continuing and expanding these efforts will require the support of individual donors and the community as a whole. If everyone on our mailing list becomes an official Friend of the Alabama Blues Project, even at the lowest level, we could fully fund two years of After-school and Summertime Blues Camps– imagine all the children who would benefit!
As a non-profit organization, we depend on individuals like you. Your tax-deductible gifts make a huge difference to us, our community and to the children we serve. Thank you!
2009 Spring Blues Camp
February 12 - April 28, 2009
May 1, 2009-
Call (205) 752-6263 or
for registration information.
NEA for Blues Camp!
Bobby "Blue" Bland,
Mose Stovall and
Big Daddy's New Band
at Alabama State Fairgrounds
on Dec. 19 in Birmingham
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ALABAMA BLUES LEGEND WILLIE KING
RECEIVES GOVERNOR'S ARTS AWARD
Old Memphis, Alabama resident Willie King received prestigious Alabama Folk Heritage Award, one of the Governor's Arts Awards presented by the Alabama State Council on the Arts.
The Alabama Folk Heritage Award was established to recognize master folk artists who have made outstanding contributions to their particular artistic tradition. The award honors long-term achievement and mastery of art forms rooted in the traditional or ethnic culture of Alabama.
Past recipients of this distinguished honor include Johnny Shines, Bo McGee and Jerry "Boogie" McCain. Click here for a full list of Alabama Folk Heritage Award winners.
Mr. King was also recently honored alongside Eddie Clearwater, Carey Bell, Jesse Fortune and Joy May by the Mississippi Blues Trail, Macon, Miss. Click here to read more.
ABOUT WILLIE KING
Willie King was born in Prairie Point, MS, in 1943. After his father left the home, Willie and his siblings were raised by his grandparents, who were local sharecroppers. Music was important to the King family - Willie's grandfather was a gospel singer, and his absent father an amateur blues musician. Young Willie made a diddley bo by nailing baling wire to a tree in the yard. By age nine, he had a one-string guitar that he could bring indoors to play at night.
In 1967, Willie King moved to Chicago in an attempt to make more money than he could down South. After a year spent on the West and South Sides, he returned to Old Memphis, Alabama, just across the border from the Mississippi Prairie. A salesman of shoes, cologne, and other frivolities, Willie traveled the rural roads hawking goods and talking politics. Choosing not to work under the "old system" of unequal treatment, King joined the civil rights movement near the end of the decade.
In 1987, a chance meeting at a festival in Eutaw, Alabama, blew Rooster Blues founder Jim O'Neal away: According to O'Neal, King's "juke-joint musical style and political lyrics knocked me down." The two kept in touch for the next 13 years, during which O'Neal relocated his label, and King concentrated on his own community, forging relationships with local youth with a blues education program through his organization The Rural Members Association.
The Rural Members Association has sponsored classes in music, woodworking, food preservation, and other African-American traditions, and has provided transportation, legal assistance, and other services for the needy over the past two decades. In recent years, King has sponsored a festival on the creek in Old Memphis, known as The Freedom Creek Festival. Willie explains, "We was targetin' at tryin' to get all walks of life, different people to come down and kinda be with us in reality down there, you know. Let's get back to reality, in the woods . . . mix and mingle . . . get to know each other. Get up to have a workin' relationship, try to bring peace . . ."
Freedom Creek, Willie King's debut album on Rooster Blues Records, was his powerful introduction into the wider music and blues world. Not only was the album acclaimed by critics worldwide, it also received awards from Living Blues Magazine for Best Male Blues Artist (2001), Best Blues Album (2000) and Best Contemporary Blues Album (2000).
KING TAKES TIME TO JAM WITH REVERED
LAWYER MORRIS DEES IN NEW YORK
Florida Public Interest Lawyer Honored at Skadden
Ben Hallman, AmLaw Daily
Willie King and Morris Dees jam at the 2007 Morris Dees
Justice Awards. Photo courtesy of Julie L. Cohen.
In addition to his day job as one of the best-known public interest lawyers in America, Morris Dees plays a mean harmonica.
Dees, the cofounder of the Southern Poverty Law Center in Montgomery, showed off his "blues harp" skills last night in an unlikely setting—the Times Square headquarters of Skadden, Arps, Slate, Meagher & Flom. Dees was in New York to present an award that bears his name: the Morris Dees Justice Award, an annual prize that honors outstanding public interest lawyers.
The evening began with cocktails and hors d'oeuvres in a brightly lit banquet room. Willie King, an Alabama blues musician flown in for the occasion, entertained the small crowd. As guests chatted, King, who wore a red hat that said “revolution,” wandered the room, playing his vintage Fender Stratocaster to the mostly suit-and-tie audience.
The ceremony itself was brief. Vaughn Williams, a Skadden partner who helps oversee the Skadden Fellowship program, said a few words, followed by Dees. Kenneth Randall, Dean of the University of Alabama School of Law—the sponsor of the event along with Skadden—introduced Florida Immigrant Rights advocate Cheryl Little, the 2008 award winner. After Little spoke, the mood quickly brightened, with Dees on harmonica joining King and his band.
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RIP ODETTA: ALABAMA BLUES
OF BLACK HISTORY & CIVIL RIGHTS
The Alabama Blues Project and music lovers throughout the world mourn the loss of Alabama blues legend Odetta Holmes. She died of a heart attack December 2nd after being hospitalized for kidney failure. Odetta was an instrumental blues women whose music and political activism struck a chord in black history and civil rights beginning in the 1960s.
Odetta was born on December 31, 1930, in Birmingham. Surrounded by a rich musical culture, her earliest exposure to music was at her family's Baptist church. At age six, she moved with her mother and younger sister to Los Angeles, where as a young teenager she began to pursue her dream of becoming a classical opera singer. Her budding operatic aspiration was replaced later in her teens by a love for the folk and blues music that she discovered in San Francisco Bay area coffee houses - a musical style which touched her deeply. She taught herself to play the guitar and sing, and soon became a regular in West Coast clubs with an impressively large repertoire of folk and blues standards.
Her earliest influences included blues greats Alberta Hunter, Sonny Terry, and Leadbelly. Pete Seeger and Harry Belafonte both took an interest in her career and her debut album, "The Tin Angel," was released in 1954. She had her most musically productive decade in the 1960s, releasing sixteen albums, many of which were devoted to the blues. In 1999, she released her first studio album in 14 years. Titled "Blues Everywhere I Go," it was a tribute to the great female blues singers of the 1920s and 30s.
Odetta continued to be a prolific and dynamic performer, having acted in film and theatre, sung with symphony and pops orchestras, performed on the world's greatest concert stages, and even hosted the Montreux Jazz Festival. Her involvement in the social movements sweeping America toward the end of the 20th century cannot be overstated. She marched with Rev. Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr., to Washington in 1963, and again from Selma to Montgomery in 1965. She played for President Kennedy and his cabinet and was appointed an 'Elder' to the 1994 International Women's Conference in Beijing. In 1999, President and Mrs. Clinton awarded Odetta the National Medal of the Arts and Humanities.
Odetta was the artist chosen for the first episode of David Letterman's "Late Show" to air following the tragedy of September 11, 2001. In those challenging times, she expressed an incredible grace, dignity and compassion as sang an inspirational medley of "We Shall Overcome" and "This Little Light of Mine." She later closed the show by performing a rousing and spirited rendition of the gospel classic "Amazing Grace."
Odetta is one of the most influential artists of the 20th century. Her recordings of "He's Got the Whole World in His Hands," "Kumbaya," "Goodnight Irene," "Amazing Grace," and "This Little Light of Mine," made these songs into folk and spiritual classics throughout the world. She was a major influence on many outstanding musicians, including Janis Joplin, Bob Dylan, Joan Baez, Judy Collins, Carly Simon, Sweet Honey in the Rock, Tracey Chapman, Joan Armatradingm, Cassandra Wilson, and Jewel. As well as her worldwide fame as a musician, Odetta has been an inspiration to singers, artists, and social activists for a half a century and continues to make her mark in word and deed as a passionate advocate and activist for human rights.
More About Odetta on the Web
Odetta, voice of American civil rights movement, dies at 77 -
International Herald Tribune (December 3, 2008)
Odetta: Soul Stirrer, 1930-2008 - Time Magazine (December 3, 2008)
Open Salon - To Odetta (December 4, 2008)
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The ABP is proud to present Alabama blues as part of this diverse celebration in Tuscaloosa!
CROWD IDOLIZES RUBEN
New housing community shares spotlight at festival
Photo by Dusty Compton, Tuscaloosa News
Story by Mark Hughes Cobb, Tuscaloosa News
Beauty and harmony weren’t just reserved for the stage at the Community Culture Fest Sunday in the McKenzie Community.
On the west side, white, brown and black faces of all ages gathered to celebrate the new development, to meet some friends and to hear “American Idol” star Ruben Studdard. All that was music to the ears of Brice Miller, who helped coordinate the event.
“It’s what we all wanted: a diverse crowd of African-American, Caucasian, everything; and they all came out and enjoyed it in peace, and that’s a beautiful thing,” said Miller, assistant director of the University of Alabama’s Community Crossroads Center, which hopes to develop more functions like this for under-served communities in West Alabama.
City Councilman Harrison Taylor, like those who lined up to view models on display, was in awe.
“You see the blueprints and the layouts,” he said, “but I still can’t believe it when I see it with my own eyes.”
The area has a long history, he said, with residents who didn’t view it as government-sponsored housing, but as a neighborhood. McKenzie residents have gone on to become Olympic planners, Washington Post journalists, educators, businesspeople and other good citizens, he said.
“If the next 50 years are as good for McKenzie as the past 50 have been, Tuscaloosa will continue to be an outstanding place,” Taylor said.
Anthony Barnes, who attends church at nearby Trinity Baptist Church, was all smiles as the sun eased down over new tile, excited about seeing Studdard.
“I got some of his CDs, and I watched him on ‘American Idol’ as he was rising up,” Barnes said.
But unlike some who arrived later for Studdard’s 5 p.m. show, he’d been around all afternoon.
“A new development means a new start, a place where the people can live in an environment they’re proud of,” he said. “The kids can grow up better, and the parents can feel safer.”
In addition to music, there was food and drink, outreach groups for health, voting and other concerns along with displays from the Tuscaloosa Police Department. A group of kids raced a TPD officer on his Segway. They fought the law, and the kids won.
There were balloon bounces and face-painting. In front of UA’s Creative Campus table, the ground was chalked with names, hopscotch patterns and messages of love.
But many began folding up tents around 4:30, as the biggest attraction came near. Cell phone cameras rose into the air as the slimmer, but still roly-poly “American Idol” winner took the stage, opening with his “Change Me”: “Why you wanna change me/you used to like your big old teddy bear.”
The crowd made it crystal clear they still liked the big old teddy bear, as he mixed in some old school, including Joe Cocker’s “You Are So Beautiful to Me,” the Isley Brothers’ “Footsteps in the Dark” and what Studdard said was his mom’s favorite song, “How Can You Mend a Broken Heart?,” crooned in the style of the Al Green cover rather than the Bee Gees original.
The crowd sprawled over the street, on sidewalks, lawns and balconies, and the Housing Authority estimated about 10,000 people showed up.
“We were trying to bring people in the community who wouldn’t ordinarily come here,” said Chris Hall of the Tuscaloosa Housing Authority, clearly happy with the look of the new McKenzie.
“When you offer people something to be proud of, it changes their whole outlook,” Hall said. “I think we’ve changed the face of public housing in Tuscaloosa.”
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ABP SENDS BLUES CRITIC AWARD
NOMINEE DIEDRA TO THE INTERNATIONAL
BLUES CHALLENGE IN MEMPHIS
The ABP is proud to be sponsoring DieDra Hurdle as our premier act at the Blues Foundation's International Blues Challenge in Memphis. DieDra has been teaching vocals in the ABP's award-winning After-School Blues Camps. DieDra and her band are from the town of Pinson, Alabama, just outside of Birmingham. DieDra is a wonderful soul-blues singer and performs mostly original songs. Her five piece band is made up of her husband and band leader, Keith Ruff and his four siblings - definitely a family affair! Keith has also been Bobby Rush's lead guitar player and has been touring with him for the past 15 years. Diedra and the Ruff Pro Band describe themselves as "a mixture of blues and southern soul with a rock edge."
The 2009 International Blues Challenge will be the 25th year of Blues musicians from around the world competing for cash, prizes, and industry recognition. The Blues Foundation will present the 25th International Blues Challenge February 4-7, 2009 in Memphis, Tenn. The world's largest gathering of Blues acts represents an international search by The Blues Foundation and its affiliated organizations for the Blues Band and Solo/Duo Blues Act ready to take their talents to the international stage. In 2008, 100 bands and 60 solo/duo acts entered, filling the clubs up and down Beale Street for the semi-finals on Thursday and Friday and the finals at the Orpheum Theater on Saturday. There will be at least that many in 2009.
Born and raised in Norfolk, Virginia, DieDra has been singing as long as she can remember. It was a God-given talent that has exploded into a gift that she shares with the world. DieDra was raised by her maternal grandfather, who wrote and sang songs in The Church of God in Christ. Diedra was a part of the family singing group at the age of 8 years old. As the lead singer, she has been inspired by Aretha Franklin, Patti Labelle, and Whitney Houston.
DieDra has spent a majority of her life in Jacksonville, Florida. As an ex-military spouse, she taught herself how to get around the town in search of a manager for her career. In 1996 she met the late Charlie Cross, of Brunswick, Ga. He signed her to his management company and her career began. After opening up for artist such as Al Green, Betty Wright, Avant, Carl Thomas, and Sunshine Anderson, DieDra never gave up on her dream.
In 1998, DieDra was signed to Big East Entertainment in The Bronx, New York with her very first recording contract. DieDra worked hard for 10 years but to no avail. In 2007, DieDra received a call from a producer that was affiliated with Big East but located in Birmingham, Alabama. This producer was the original producer assigned to kick start DieDra’s career back in 1998. In June of 2007, Keithen Ruff, owner of Ruff Pro Productions, signed DieDra to Ruff Pro Records. In less than a month, her CD was completed.
DieDra has an amazing range. She has been put in the category of Anita Baker with her silky smooth approach to slow jams and Patti Labelle with her technique and range. Never wanting to be compared to any other artist, DieDra has her own unique style that will set her apart from any other artist. DieDra's plans are to take the Southern Soul-Blues Market by storm. Once you hear her new CD entitled “Overcoming Hurdles”, you will be convinced that this petite, 5 ft, power house, is on her way to the top.
In addition, DieDra has been nominated as
Best New Artist of 2008 for the Blues Critic Media
Awards. CLICK HERE TO VOTE FOR DIEDRA!
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TUSCALOOSA STREET TO BE NAMED
FOR "QUEEN OF THE BLUES"
The Alabama Blues Project is very happy that Dinah Washington, known as the “Queen of the Blues”, will now have a street named for her in her hometown of Tuscaloosa. The Tuscaloosa City Council renamed 30th Avenue between 15th Street and Kaulton Park as Dinah Washington Avenue.
Dinah Washington was born Ruth Lee Jones in 1924 in Tuscaloosa. Moving with her family at a young age to Chicago , she went on to become one of the most distinctive singers of her time. With strong gospel roots, influenced by Bessie Smith and Billy Holiday, her music covered a wide range of musical styles from blues, R & B, jazz and even pop ballads.
By 1947 Dinah had hits with “Postman Blues,” “Blow Top Blues” and “Evil Gal Blues.” However, her biggest professional triumph came later with blues tinged renditions of pop tunes like the 1959 Grammy-winning “What a Diff'rence a Day Makes", and she topped the charts again with “Baby, You’ve Got What it Takes” a sizzling duet with Brook Benton.
Heavily influenced by the musical talent of her mother, a gospel singer, she became a gospel star at the age of fifteen. She was discovered by the legendary Lionel Hampton at eighteen and performed with him from 1943-1946 before striking out on her own. The rest of her short life was spent largely on tour in clubs and theaters and in the studio --- making the music she loved.
Dinah had a silken soprano and heartfelt voice that was confident, intimate and conversational. She was a distinctive song stylist, crossing over from the "race" music category to the pop and jazz charts. Known in her day as Queen of the Blues and Queen of the Juke Boxes, Dinah was regarded as that rare "first take" artist, her studio recordings reflecting the same passion and energy she brought to every live performance. She was one of the few women of the period to run her own booking agency, Queen Productions.
She was known to make every song her own, having once said, “George Gershwin wouldn't know his own song when I'm through with it. I can't stay hidebound to any melody.”
Ms. Washington died in 1963 at the very young age of thirty-nine. She was in peak musical form at the time of her death, and one can only imagine what magic she would have recorded had she lived longer. Her legend continues through song and through her influence on other singers. She continues to be a huge influence on
R & B, soul, and blues singers who have come to prominence since the mid-1950s, including Ruth Brown, Etta James, Esther Phillips, Diana Ross, Dionne Warwick and Nancy Wilson. Her voice, charm, humor and charisma remain as distinct today as when she recorded the songs that made her the Queen of the Blues.
“The traditions of jazz have always been inextricably tied in with great exponents of the blues. Dinah was the “reigning Queen of the Blues, the Bessie Smith and the Ma Rainey of her time.” 0ct 5, 1952, San Francisco Chronicle, music critic Ralph Gleason.
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ABP BLUES CAMP FEATURED IN
INTERNATIONAL PHOTOGRAPHY EXHIBIT
TERRA DEL BLUES"
In the exhibition "La Terra del Blues" - English translation "The Land of the Blues" - Italian photographers Parmigiani Vilma Ricci and John Grilli traveled the American south to capture the birthplace of the Blues. Ricci and Grilli are also passionate scholars and advisers of American issues. This project is being sponsored by the Associazione Roots & Blues, which is based in Parma.
"La Terra del Blues" portrays scenes in Louisiana, Mississippi and Alabama. The shots include the insignia of the old juke joints, the murals that tell the glories music, and also the daily life of small towns and landscapes.
Ricci and Grilli visited the Alabama Blues Project
during their journey and featured our very own
Blues Camp Kids in their exhibition!
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Our programs are made possible by the generous support of our sponsors, including Children’s Trust Fund of Alabama, National Endowment for the Arts, Alabama State Council on the Arts, Crooks Foundation, Mercedes Benz, Hohner, Alligator Records, Bonnie Raitt, Jim Walter Resources, First Federal Bank, Alabama Credit Union, First United Methodist Church, Covenant Presbyterian Church, Harrison Galleries and Harrison Family Foundation, Nick's Kids Fund, db Tech, Guitar Center Music Foundation, Little Willie’s Jazz & Blues Club, Pollack Foundation, Tuscaloosa Consortium for Higher Education, United Way of West Alabama, Zildjian, and many other kind organizations and individuals.