Bluesman Nap Turner's motto was "Don't forget the blues."
Although organizers of the annual Bluebird Blues Festival at Prince George's Community College have informally promoted Turner's cause for the past 12 years by working to keep the blues alive, his slogan will figure even more prominently at the Largo event this year.
That's because Turner, a former disc jockey for WPFW-FM who also co-hosted the festival's blues workshop for the past several years, died in June. Sunday's festival is dedicated to Turner, and one of its three stages has been named after him.
The outdoor event will feature a range of blues performers including the J Street Jumpers, Ruby Hayes, Cephas and Wiggins, W.C. Clark, Little Milton, the Southern Gospel Singers, the Smokin' Polecats, and the Jewels. There will also be a blues workshop and activities and entertainment for children.
"Hearing [Turner's] story is something that will be missed," said Jay Boyar, who, as dean of college life services, has been in charge of the festival since its inception. Turner, a bassist who played jazz and blues for decades in Washington clubs, was 73 when he died.
Boyar said the festival remains committed to teaching audiences about the blues, especially as old-time blues musicians get older.
"The initial purpose of it hasn't changed -- to the keep the blues alive and to introduce it to generations who might not know about it, as well as to attract a more diverse crowd than you typically get at blues festivals throughout the country," Boyar said.
That formula has worked well, attracting audience members from around the region and singers and instrumentalists who differ from year to year and come from around the country. The music is varied, from Piedmont folk to Chicago soul, and many of the groups have long histories.
For 45 years, the Jewels have performed doo-wop music that singer Grace Ruffin describes as "oldies but goodies," an offshoot of the blues.
The group, which also includes Washington's Sandra Bears and Marjorie Clarke, started as the Impalas at the District's Roosevelt High School in the early 1960s. They cut their first recording at Bo Diddley's house, where other local singers of the era rehearsed after school, and also toured with James Brown for a year. After a few years of touring, they came back to Washington and pursued their music in addition to full-time jobs.
"The good part about the Jewels is that we're all original," said Ruffin, now a District Heights resident. "Nothing has changed except for our age. We are very committed to the music, and we are committed to our audience. We like to look good and we like to sound good and we like to make sure that we entertain," she said.
Attracting artists such as the Jewels who have rich musical backgrounds and an allegiance to reviving music that is disappearing with each passing year is how Boyar defines the Bluebird Festival's success.
"Blues people are good people. We've had a couple of hundred blues performers, and there hasn't been a prima donna in the bunch," he said, noting that even big names such as Clarence Carter, who performed last year, are extremely open with the crowd.
That attribute has helped the festival grow and attract more people each year, Boyar said.
"We were kind of novices when this all started," he said. "We've learned much more about the blues than we ever thought possible, and we're still learning."
The Jewels will perform from 4:15 to 5:15 p.m. Sunday at the Bluebird Blues Festival at Prince George's Community College, 301 Largo Rd., Largo. The free festival runs from 1 to 6 p.m. Call 301- 322-0853 or visit www.pgcc.edu/timely/2004/bluebird. The group will also appear alongside the Legendary Orioles at Taste of Seat Pleasant, which runs from 11 a.m. to 6 p.m. Saturday at Goodwin Park on Addison Road between Eads and Crown streets in Seat Pleasant. Call 301-341-3043.