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Paying Tribute to Two Outstanding Men – Martin Luther King Jr. and Danny Barker

12th January 2018   ·   0 Comments

By Geraldine Wyckoff
Contributing Writer

Martin Luther King Jr. and Danny Barker, whose birthdays will be celebrated this week in New Orleans, led very different lives though they faced and overcame many of the same obstacles. In doing so, each in their own way and, of course, in varying degrees, influenced generations to come. Perhaps these two men’s commonality can be best found in their love of people and their dedication to furthering humanity.

Organized by guitarist/banjoist Detroit Brooks, the Fourth Annual Danny Barker Festival, which is as diverse as the honoree himself, begins on Tuesday, January 9, and runs through Sunday, January 14, at venues all over town. Barker, who was born in New Orleans on January 13, 1909, embraced music as a guitarist, banjoist, vocalist and composer also excelled as a writer and shared his story in his excellent autobiography, “A Life in Jazz.”

After successfully pursing his musical career in New York, performing with such noted bandleaders as Cab Calloway and Lucky Millinder, Barker and his wonderful and talented wife, vocalist Blue Lu Barker, came back in 1965 to their hometown of New Orleans. His return marked a new phase of his career and brought great changes to this city’s music scene. He observed that the brass band tradition that was once so vital was fading. “There were no kids playing it because they thought it was old men’s music,” Barker once explained.

Upon the suggestion of the minister of the Fairview Baptist Church, Barker started recruiting young musicians to form the Fairview Baptist Church Marching Band that began a new era of brass bands and musical styles on the streets. The results can be realized with the ever-growing number of young groups playing at the Sunday afternoon social aid and pleasure club parades plus the international fame gained by purveyors like the Dirty Dozen and the Grammy-winning Rebirth Brass Band.

Another of Barker’s passions was trying to revive interest in musicians to take up the banjo, an instrument that, to some degree, had lost favor to the more popular guitar. Though born in Africa, the banjo was considered by some to be old-timey. Barker also turned that view around as can be attested by the presence of the many banjoists playing today.

Hip and witty, Barker easily drew young musicians into his realm as he would “hold court” spreading his knowledge and philosophy to another generation. He’d keep his eye on the young cats to make sure they were heading in the right direction.

The many influential sides of Baker, whose music can be heard on the excellent compilation, Danny Barker – New Orleans Jazz Man and Raconteur, are reflected in the programming of the festival. There are clinics for elementary school children as well as high school and college students, some of which focus directly on the banjo and guitar.

A few highlights from years past have been the Second Line for Danny, featuring the Hot 8 and Sons of Jazz brass bands, that takes off from the Old U.S. Mint on Esplanade Avenue at noon on Saturday, January 13 (Danny birthday!) and travels to Bullet’s Sports Bar, 2441 A.P. Tureaud Ave. On its arrival, the music continues with the Danny Barker Showcase of Bands with ensembles led by pianists Mari Watanabe and Steve Pistorious, trumpeters Wendell Brunious and Gregg Stafford, guitarist Les Getrex and drummer Herlin Riley. The number of musicians involved in this extravaganza is mind-boggling. Admission is $15.

Other hot shows include Wednesday, January 10’s International Culture Night at the Prime Example, Danny Barker Birthday Bash on Thursday, January 11, at Snug Harbor and Sunday’s, January 14, grand finale, an indoor and outdoor celebration at the Old U.S. Mint.

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Music, whether secular or gospel, has always been central to the Civil Rights Movement as it lifts the spirit and unifies the people. The 20th Annual Jazz & Gospel Journey Series will pay tribute to Martin Luther King Jr. for two nights at Dillard University’s Lawless Memorial Chapel. A Gospel Journey, Thursday, January 11, features the Dillard University Octet and the Xavier University Concert Choir. The free program begins at 6:30 p.m.

The following night, Friday, January 12, A Jazz Journey welcomes the exceptional vocalist Carmen Lundy to the Chapel. She’ll perform with a sharp band including her brother, bassist Curtis Lundy, pianist Victor Gould, who some might recognize through his work with saxophonist Donald Harrison Jr., and New Orleans own, drummer Jamison Ross who will release his sophomore album, All For One, in late January.

Lundy, a native of Florida who moved to New York and worked with the great Thad Jones/Mel Lewis Orchestra before striking out on her own as a solo musician, presents herself as a true jazz artist through her knowledge, expression and compositions. In early 2017, Lundy, who has also worked as an actress, released her latest, stunning album, Code Noir, on the Afrasia label that she co-founded.

The evening will begin at 6:30 p.m. with a tribute to Martin Luther King Jr., whose date of birth was January 15, 1929. The free concert opens with trumpeter Theo Croker leading a group with saxophonist Irwin Hall Jr., pianist Michael King, bassist Eric Wheeler and drummer Corey Fonville. The music, which is sure to be jazz at its finest, starts at 7 p.m.

This article originally published in the January 08, 2018 print edition of The Louisiana Weekly newspaper.

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