Filed Under:  Entertainment

Tributes and celebrations take center stage

27th February 2017   ·   0 Comments

By Geraldine Wyckoff
Contributing Writer

Betty Shirley — “From Betty to Bessie”

“I’ve been doing Bessie Smith since I studied music in college,” says vocalist Betty Shirley, who pays tribute to the legendary blues singer at shows she’s dubbed “From Betty to Bessie.” Shirley was born in Mississippi, raised in Chicago, studied and furthered her career in New York before moving to New Orleans in 1990. Backed by musical director and pianist William Thompson, drummer Geoff Clapp and bassist Joe Butts, Shirley will be focusing on the music of Smith at her performances at Dos Jefes on Saturday, March 4, and at Snug Harbor on Sunday, March 5, 2017.

Shirley is not just a singer, she’s a jazz singer and, of course, the blues is the foundation of jazz. She could also be considered a Renaissance woman as her talents include jewelry making and folk art with a specialty in sand artistry.

“I like jazz,” Shirley has declared. “It’s our heritage. While I was comin’ up, I realized this music, it tells a story, it has feelings.” Presently, she also works with the Young Audiences program, an after-school and summer course of study for elementary school-age children.



Shirley began to further dig into the music of Bessie Smith, often called the Empress of the Blues, last year when she performed on a program, “Juke Joint” at Pennsylvania State University. She and her band enjoyed concentrating on the extraordinary blues vocalist, who rose to great fame with hit recordings like 1923’s “Gulf Coast Blues” and “Downhearted Blues.” Now Shirley’s ensemble makes Smith central to its shows. There will naturally be some bebop in the mix too.

“My favorite tune of Bessie’s is “If You Don’t, I Know Who Will,” says Shirley. “It says that you don’t have to be stuck in one situation – there’s always someone that can love you. It’s a woman’s world.”

Silver Anniversary for the Louisiana Music Factory

The Louisiana Music Factory, which is celebrating its 25th anniversary, has always been much more than a record store since it opened its doors in February 1992. It became and remains central to the New Orleans music community. Specializing in the homegrown music of Louisiana, it’s where musicians, loaded down with boxes of their latest projects, head. These artists, many of whom produce their own work on independent labels, know that locals and visitors, including those from abroad, looking for recordings specific to the state – traditional and modern jazz, Cajun and zydeco, rhythm and blues, gospel, funk, Mardi Gras Indian, swamp pop and more – will make a stop at the Factory.

Barry Smith and his partner Jerry Brock, who co-founded another New Orleans institution, radio station WWOZ, first opened the Factory in a small building on North Peters Street in the French Quarter. Interestingly, the two entrepreneurs met when both worked at Record Ron’s, another notorious record shop in the Quarter. The Louisiana Music Factory’s hipness was immediately apparent as the great guitarist/banjoist/vocalist Danny Barker showed his support of the store by making an appearance there. He charmed the overflow crowd.

Four years later, the Factory moved to a much larger, two-story building at 210 Decatur Street, a more prominent locale across the street from the House of Blues. The second floor was home to used and new vinyl and soon there was a stage for the Saturday afternoon in-store performances. An incredible array of New Orleans finest musicians played for free at the shop, again to show their appreciation of the facility as well as to promote their recordings. A short list of the hundreds of artists that boarded the small stage includes pianists Allen Toussaint and Ellis Marsalis, guitarists Snooks Eaglin and Clarence “Gatemouth” Brown, trumpeter/vocalist Kermit Ruffins and the Rebirth Brass Band. During Jazz Fest, the schedule exploded to multiple, all-day events.

On Saturdays, the Louisiana Music Factory resembled a club house of sorts for members of New Orleans’ musical family. Beyond the artists, many deejays from WWOZ like John Sinclair and Bill DeTurk would regularly turn up and the print media was also well represented by Jay Mazza and yours truly. The music lovers, who frequented clubs all over town, would, of course, also be on hand.

Abita beer, which was esta-blished in 1986, was still a fledgling company so in promotion of its product, it supplied free brew for the in-stores. The bottled beer was kept cold in a big, plastic trash can filled with ice. Folks sometimes referred to grabbing a brew as “diving for beer.” Later, the Factory gave out discount coupons for beer purchased at several nearby bars and restaurants.

The beat goes on at the Louisiana Music Factory that since 2014 has been doing business at another prominent location, 421 Frenchmen Street, in the heart of the busy Frenchmen Street entertainment district. Since Brock’s departure from the store, Smith remains the Factory’s sole owner and continues to be surrounded by several longtime, helpful employees who know their stuff.

On Saturday, March 4, the Louisiana Music Factory will celebrate its 25th anniversary – a milestone these days for a brick-and-mortar record shop — with music and wine. Sponsored by the Pontchartrain Vineyards, the party begins at 1 pm with the Smoking Time Jazz Club followed by the Iguanas, Johnny Sansome and ending with a performance at 4 pm by Little Freddie King.

This article originally published in the February 27, 2017 print edition of The Louisiana Weekly newspaper.

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