Monday, March 30, 2009

A Celebration of John Cephas

I was among those attending the celebration of the life of John Cephas at the Smithsonian's Baird Auditorium yesterday. It was a marvelous salute to one of the finest performers of traditional blues of the past thirty years. XM-Sirius' and (list member) Bill Wax did his usual marvelous job in emceeing this event. Those with remembrances of John included Barry Lee Pearson and Joe Wilson from the National Council For Traditional Arts and Nick Spitzer. Before the program started, there was some music provided by Daryl Davis on piano, Phil Wiggins on harmonica and Mark Puryear on guitar with a bass player whose name I do not remember. Maybe someone can help me identify Harold?.

There was also a number of spirited performances, including a number of "younger performers who were inspired to keep traditional acoustic blues alive. Rick Franklin and Phil Wiggins did a nice "Guitar Rag," while BluesWorks, the trio of Judy Luis-Watson, Paul Watson and Mark Puryear did a marvelous number. Eleanor Ellis mentioned how John Cephas played such an important role in helping keep the music of Skip James alive before doing a memorable "Special Rider." Diamong Jim Greene, another of Cephas musical children, had perhaps the most moving remembrance of his mentor, before launching into "Twelve Gates to the City." The musical highlight was Corey Harris with Phil Wiggins doing "Keep Your Lights Trimmed and Burning," (I am sure I botched the title), and the "Saddle My Pony." The Smithsonian celebration concluded with a trio of bluegrass musicians that had toured with Cephas and Wiggins being joined by Wiggins and Joe Wilson on a gospel hymn. It was a marvelous performance that was followed by a reception, jam at the Westminster Church that I was unable to attend.

A number of blues folks made long trips to attend including M.S.G, the Acoustic Blues Trio; Saffire-the Uppity Blues Women, and Mark Wenner of the Nighthawks. Mary Flower flew in from Portland, Oregon. Warner Williams & Jay Summerour along with Memphis Gold made it there as well as was Annie Raines, as well as countless friends and family. John Cephas will be missed but he left a strong imprint on our lives.

Pictured is Phil Wiggins and Corey Harris.

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