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This year's Juneteenth Heritage and Jazz Festival is already in full swing, with concerts taking place this past weekend at the Backstage Bistro, Spruill's and Library Ltd. But there's plenty more on the schedule -- with a decided emphasis on jazz and some down-home blues.
Juneteenth celebrations, which take place across the country, originated in Texas, commemorating June 19, 1865, the date on which black slaves in Galveston, Texas, were officially informed of the Emancipation Proclamation and the end of the Civil War. Here in St. Louis, Juneteenth has used music as a focus for building an annual event. The 2000 edition of Juneteenth marks the fourth annual festival in St. Louis, and, according to director Curtis Faulkner, the St. Louis Juneteenth observance continues to grow in terms of both attendance and corporate sponsorship.
"We seem to be getting more response from the general public," says Faulkner, "and coverage we received in Ebony magazine seems to be one of the reasons. As a result, we're getting more out-of-town media coverage, as well as inquiries about Juneteenth from people as far away as Houston, Detroit and Atlanta."
But the real cornerstone of Juneteenth's success is the support of local music fans. This year's theme is "Jazz: The Shaping of 20th-Century America." And with a lineup that includes Greg Osby and Jason Moran, the Jazz Crusaders appearing with Bobbi Humphrey, the Roy Hargrove Quintet, South African trumpeter Hugh Masekela and New Orleans-born sax player Donald Harrison, there's plenty to choose from.
Here's how the jazz concerts break down. On Friday, June 16, Donald Harrison performs a free 6 p.m. concert at Kiener Plaza, then hits Spruill's for a 9 p.m. gig. St. Louis native Osby, on alto sax, and pianist Moran (both Blue Note re-cording artists) share the stage at the Backstage Bistro June 16 and 17, with shows at 8:30 p.m. On June 17, the Ambassador at Northland Shopping Center features headliners the Jazz Crusaders with opening act Humphrey in a 9:30 p.m. show. And on Sunday, you can catch Masekela, headlining a free 6 p.m. show at Kiener Plaza that also features the Voices of South Africa Choir and Sibongile Khumalo. It's a Kennedy Center production called the "African Odyssey Tour." The fest concludes Sunday with performances at 8 and 10 p.m. at the Backstage Bistro by trumpeter Roy Hargrove and his quintet.
"We've tried to provide a lineup that provides a real cross-section of jazz styles," Faulkner says. "From the early years up to the 1970s, and from the '70s into the future, you can hear jazz musicians at Juneteenth that represent many aspects of jazz. And we haven't forgotten blues fans, either."
Blues events at Juneteenth include Bobby Rush, playing Spruill's at 9 p.m. June 15, and Off Broadway performances by guitarist Deborah Coleman on June 15 and Long John Hunter the next day. Tickets are available through MetroTix.