Gregg Wright and Marcus L. Miller

Gregg Wright and Marcus L. Miller

*Los Angeles – The William Grant Still Arts Center presented “I Got My Pride”-The Blues Tales of Leadbelly exhibit with an Opening Reception and Concert on Saturday, March 1st, from 3:00PM-6:00PM.

This exhibit is part of the 6th Annual African-American Composers Exhibition and Music Education Series. The exhibit is on display through June 7, 2014.

(Source-Wikipedia, the free encyclopedia) Huddie William Ledbetter (January 20, 1888-December 6, 1949) was an American folk and blues musician, and multi-instrumentalist, notable for his strong vocals, virtuosity on the twelve-string guitar, and the songbook of folk standards he introduced.

He is best known as Lead Belly. Though many releases list his name as “Leadbelly,” he spelled it “Lead Belly.” This is also the usage on his tombstone, as well as the Lead Belly Foundation. In 1994, the Lead Belly Foundation contacted an authority on the history of popular music, Colin Larkin, editor of the Encyclopedia of Popular Music, to ask if the name “Leadbelly” could be altered to “Lead Belly” in the hope that other authors would follow suit and use the artist’s correct appellation.

Although Lead Belly most commonly played the twelve-string guitar, he could also play the piano, mandolin, harmonica, violin, and accordion. In some of his recordings, such as in one of his versions of the folk ballad “John Hardy,” he performs on the accordion. In other recordings he just sings while clapping his hands or stomping his foot.

The topics of Lead Belly’s music covered a wide range of subjects, including gospel, blues about women, liquor, prison life, and racism: and folk songs about cowboys, prison, work, sailors, cattle herding, and dancing. He also wrote songs concerning the newsmakers of the day, such as Franklin D. Roosevelt, the Scottsboro Boys, and Howard Hughes. In 2008, Lead Belly was inducted into the Louisiana Music Hall of Fame. (From Wikipedia)

The late great blues musician Willie Dixon summed it well when he stated “the blues is a fact of life.” I’m sure that people who didn’t show up for the Opening Reception and Concert could relate to this statement, since the weather factored into their plans.

Blues lovers from near and far were present to enjoy an intimate concert (similar to a rent party), light refreshments, all framed by archival footage of Leadbelly.

Leadbelly’s music served as the perfect soundtrack as art patrons and blues lovers browsed the gallery that consisted of several books about Leadbelly, extensive collection of album records and other recordings, his FBI File, articles from magazines Blues Revue Quarterly, Downbeat, Living Blues and Blues & Rhythm: The Gospel Truth, as well as newspaper articles, photographs and other art work of Robert Johnson, Blind Lemon Jefferson and Lightning Hopkins.

Blues Band

Blues Band

The concert program got under way with an acoustic set of blues featuring Gregg Wright on guitar with Marcus L. Miller on cajon. This was a nice pairing, since many early blues guitarist would tap or stomp their feet for added rhythms. The cajon complimented this acoustic set on the tunes “Bourgeois Blues,” “Gallows Pole,” “Rock Island Line,” “Midnight Special,” “House of the Rising Sun.” These are original compositions by Leadbelly, who also influenced various interpretations of tunes by Led Zeppelin, Johnny Cash and numerous other pop and rock musicians. The acoustic set also featured an original tune by Greg Wright entitled “Between Heaven and Hell.”

The second half of the program featured a full band joining Gregg Wright on guitar, Eric Garcia on guitar, Al Threats on bass, Bobby Bryant on sax, and Marcus L. Miller on drums. This tight band revved up the throttle during this lively, electric set of blues.

The band performed the same compositions from the acoustic set so that the crowd and I could hear different interpretations/perspectives of the original compositions that were recorded by countless blues, pop, and rock musicians.

The electric set consisted of the spiritual tune “We Shall Walk through the Valley” with a sing-a-long audience participation. I’m sure you find yourself singing or humming the lyrics of “Goodnight Irene,” and “Midnight Special.” For an encore, the band performed “Bourgeois Blues” with several people dancing throughout the gallery like the atmosphere inside Babes and Ricky’s Inn or the famous 54 Ballroom back in the day.

The music of Leadbelly is also being presented in conjunction with The Department of Cultural Affair’s African American Heritage Music Education Program. Through this series, the William Grant Still Arts Center focuses on teaching music and cultural history to beginning and intermediate students of all ages through practice and playing experience via the works of groundbreaking musical innovators in the tradition of the Arts Center’s namesake Dr. William Grant Still.

A culminating youth and community concert featuring student performances of compositions influences by learning Folk and Blues traditions through the work of Leadbelly, will take place on April 26, 2014.

The William Grant Still Arts Center is located 2520 West View Street, Los Angeles, California 90016. The gallery hours are Tuesday-Saturday, 12noon-5PM. Contact the William Grant Arts Center for more information (323)734-1165 or http://wgsac.wordpress.com

Ricky Richardson is a Southern California based Music Reviewer, Writer and Photographer. contact him via: [email protected]