Saturday, March 07, 2009

John Cephas

John Cephas
Originally uploaded by NoVARon
I was privileged to know John Cephas for the past twenty or so years and have been a fan of his music for a longer time. Still word of his passing came as a shock, although I was aware that he had announced his retirement from music. The Library of Virginia very recently honored him as an African-American Trailblazer.

I first met John around the time I joined the DC Blues Society at the 1987 Smithsonian Folklife Festival when a number of DC blues performers were featured. He was one of the founders of the DCBS and its first President, and may have played a major role in the Society's fostering of acoustic blues in the early days which gave it a different flavor than the older Baltimore Blues Society had.

John's involvement in its first years was immense, including bring a sound system to the JFK Lounge for shows by John Dee Holeman and Flora Molton. He was also always available for advice.

Of course he is best known as a performer, rooted in the Piedmont fingerstyle guitar tradition and with a young Phil Wiggins, formed a memorable blues partnership. He was also one of the finest blues singers in the acoustic blues of the past fifty years. He may have learned to sing in the church, but his ebullient vocals reminded me of Big Bill Broonzy.

He won many honors, toured the world over and left us with a body of music that will be listened to for decades to come. The picture is from the last time I saw John Cephas performing, along with Phil,Wiggins at a DC Blues Society Festival Fundraiser at the Ratner Museum in Bethesda, Maryland, June 8, 2006.

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