Organizers of the Seventh Annual Bluebird Blues Festival view the event that joins blues artists and scholars as a way to foster a deeper understanding of the uniquely American genre.
"The blues is medicine for the soul," says Barry Pearson, one of the festival's founders, a University of Maryland at College Park English professor and the author of several books on the blues. He says the blues spans the emotional spectrum while speaking to the historical struggles of the African Americans who created it.
"Blues is both happy and sad," he said. "It speaks to the good times and the hard times. It serves people who picked cotton in the fields and those who celebrated in the weekends at house parties."
The festival began in 1993 as the culminating event of the Blues Project, a series of scholarly programs on the blues. Isa N. Engleberg and Lyle E. Linville, of Prince George's Community College, spearheaded the programs that were backed by a grant from the National Endowment for the Humanities and the Maryland Humanities Council.
The festival was so well received that the college has raised money to continue it each year since then--to rave reviews from the surrounding community.
"It was a way to reach the local community, not necessarily Baltimore or D.C.," Pearson says. "What has evolved is a blues festival in our own back yard."
This year the festival hosts an impressive lineup of musicians that reflects the festival's usual mix of national and local blues artists. Here are the artists (in addition to the Kelly Bell Band) that are scheduled to perform Sunday:
BC & the Blues Crew are relatively new to the Washington blues scene, but already the band won the 1998 Billtown Blues Association talent audition and performed with artists such as Ruth Brown, Son Seals and Bobby Rush. Headed by lead vocalist Bev "BC" Conklin, the band's repertoire includes original tunes and songs by Randy Newman and Aretha Franklin.
After boogie woogie-style pioneer Pinetop Perkins left the Muddy Waters Legendary Blues Band at age 72, he named pianist Daryl Davis his successor. Since then, Davis has proudly carried on the Perkins tradition, holding his own with stars such as Chuck Berry, the Coasters and Elvis Presley's Jordanaires. Davis also played piano on the Cephas and Wiggins' album, "Flip Flop & Fly," which received a Grammy award.
Vocalist Sandra Hall may be known as the "Empress of the Blues," on the international blues circuit, but years ago, the Atlanta native was better known as one half of the Soul Sisters. Hall performed at age 12 with her 13-year-old sister Barbara, opening for Aretha Franklin, B.B. King and Patti LaBelle, among others.
The Holmes Brothers' 1989 debut album "In the Spirit' earned raves from critics and a moment of glory on "Late Night With David Letterman." The brothers, lead guitarist Wendell Holmes and bass guitarist Sherman Holmes played backup for Curtis Mayfield and John Lee Hooker but have been playing together as a group since 1980.
In his 35 years of being a musician, John Jackson's talent has not been contained in one genre. He has played virtually every type of music imaginable, from gospel and ragtime to delta and East Coast blues to mountain hoedown music.
Tom Larsen is known for his ability to play the guitar and harmonica together and was voted "Best Blues Artist of the Year" by the Delaware Valley Music poll for three years in a row.
Latimore, a native of Charleston, Tenn., is best know for crooning the 1970s R&B hit "Let's Straighten It Out." He first sang professionally with the Nashville-based group Louis Brooks and the Hightoppers.
As his show name suggests, Memphis Gold has roots in the musical state of Tennessee. Chester Chandler was born in Memphis and first played guitar when he was 4 years old; by 8, he was playing the city's famous Beale Street. He has since relocated to Silver Spring.
Big Jesse Yawn and His Music Men have performed for presidential inaugurations and for the Queen of England. Jesse Yawn also won Best Artist award at the D.C. Blues Society Competition and reached the finals in the Blues Foundation's Best Artist category.
The Bluebird Blues Festival takes place from 1-6 p.m. Sunday, Prince George's Community College, 301 Largo Rd., Largo. Admission is free. For more information, call 301-322-0853.
CAPTION: In his 35 years of being a musician, John Jackson has played virtually every type of music.
CAPTION: Memphis Gold first played guitar when he was 4 years old. By 8, he was playing Beale Street in Memphis.