Blues Pioneer Mamie Smith Getting a Headstone – After 68 Years
Major blues musicians and singers are coming together for a six-hour music event that pays loving tribute to blues legend Mamie Smith (1883-1946)and raises funds to erect a monument at her unmarked grave.
They’ve joined in the effort launched in early 2013 by blues writer Michael Cala to bring this forgotten, but all important blues pioneer to center stage once again. Ms. Smith’s 1920 hit “Crazy Blues” made American music history and led to the discovery of icons like Bessie Smith, Ma Rainey and Louis Armstrong.
The six-hour “Blues for Mamie” show, hosted by WFDU-FM deejay and singer Nikki Armstrong features some of the biggest names in blues and jazz, including Michael Hill, Rob Paparozzi, Dave Fields, Robert Ross, Michael Packer, Queen Esther, Cat Cosmai, Blues Ball, Hot Monkey Love, Regina Bonelli, Jim Koeppel, Frank Mirra, Wayne Livingston and some surprise guests.
In addition, spoken-word artist Mo Beasley will perform a tribute to the incredible life of Mamie Smith, who left Cincinnati at the age of 10 to join a touring vaudeville troupe, ended up in Harlem where she was discovered by composer Perry Bradford, and with his mentoring and persistence, wound up selling records by the millions.
Under the musical direction of bassist/composer Pete Cummings, concert-goers will get a rare chance to hear some of Mamie’s best-known recordings arranged for a contemporary audience. Musical styles range from acoustic delta blues to electric Chicago blues, as well as original jazz and blues pieces by the artists.
Tickets are $20 at the door or $14 in advance at http://mamie.bpt.me. The site also has a complete description of the concert, performers and a link to the venue.
Proceeds from discounted advance ticket sales, as well as the $20 per person gate admission and the ongoing indiegogo fundraising campaign (http://igg.me/at/mamie3) will help pay for the completion of the three-foot-tall granite monument to Ms. Smith now in production. It features an etched photographic portrait of the singer and a fitting epitaph noting her major contribution to recorded American music history.
The monument will be unveiled at a graveside ceremony this coming Sept. 13, just three days before the anniversary of her death in 1946 at age 63.
In addition, donations and ticket sales will help cover the cost of establishing a maintenance fund for her grave and others in need at the all African American Frederick Douglass Memorial Park in NYC’s Staten Island, where Ms. Smith has remained in an unmarked grave for nearly 68 years.Some members of the stellar lineup include:
Michael Hill, the lead guitarist and vocalist of Michael Hill’s Blues Mob (Living Blues Critics and Debut Blues Album of the Year winner), whose latest release on JSP Records is “Goddesses and Gold Redux.”
Paramount recording artists “Blues Ball,” who’ve opened for Iron Butterfly and The Youngbloods, perform the music of greats like Muddy Waters and Howling Wolf.
Harmonica player and singer Rob Paparozzi, who toured with the original “Blues Brothers Band,” and was lead Singer for the legendary “Blood Sweat and Tears.”
Best Blues Artist winner Robert Ross, whose original song “Sittin’ in the Jailhouse” was recorded by David Winter.
Blues Lifetime Achievement Award winner Dave Fields, a performer with Hubert Sumlin and who opened for The Yardbirds, among others, has had international success with his two CDs,”Times a Wastin’,” “All Wound Up” and “Detonation.”
Michael Packer, a blues staple since his first gig at the Bitter End at age 15, has toured extensively since, performing at the Chicago Blues Festival and Buddy Guy’s Legends, most recently.
Queen Esther, an award-winning vocalist, songwriter, playwright and actor who exploded onto the Austin music scene as a member of Ro-Tel and the Hot Tomatoes. An original cast member of the Broadway musical “Rent,” she headlined at The Apollo Theater with her musical “The Billie Holiday Project.”
The concert venue, Killmeyer’s Old Bavaria Inn on Staten Island (see www.killmeyers.com for directions) is itself an eclectic relic from the past. Said to be the oldest continuously operating bar on Staten Island, concert-goers can verify that fact by checking out the ornately carved 1890 bar which still features wooden refrigerated compartments and a vast array of beers both on tap and bottled.
Killmeyer’s has generously donated its outdoor space for the “Blues for Mamie” concert. It features a full covered bar and casual seating with limited tables. A drink and food menu is available, but orders are not included in the ticket price. In the event of rain the area will be tented or moved indoors.
Throughout the performances, concert-goers can buy raffle tickets for several Mamie Smith-related items that will be on display.
One is a framed 28-by-32-inch acrylic painting by artist Barbara Beyar. In her highly stylized technique that merges modernism and deco, Mamie Smith and her band, “the Jazz Hounds,” are depicted at the height of their careers.
In addition, blues and jazz collector Rich Maxson is going to surprise us with some rare pieces of Mamie Smith ephemera that will also be raffled.
The discovery was made by Cala, also a Staten Islander, in the course of researching a book on the recording industry’s “race record” phenomenon.
“This is a worldwide fundraising effort to publicly memorialize her gravesite,” he said. “It is our way of acknowledging how one woman threw open the doors so that posterity could enjoy the thousands upon thousands of blues and jazz recordings that may never have been made without Mamie.”