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A New York tribute to Mississippi bluesman Robert Johnson to be held on Tuesday–featuring an eclectic bunch of musicians ranging from rappers to an R&B star–had a nearly two-decade-old gestation period. Veteran actor and director Joe Morton sought the backing of Columbia Records for a play about Johnson in the early 1990s. Steve Berkowitz, a music executive who then oversaw Columbia’s legacy recordings, was keenly interested, but the deal ultimately fell through. Around May 8, 2011 — the centenary of the birth of Johnson — Messrs. Morton and Berkowitz, who are co-producing the show at Harlem’s Apollo Theater, began discussing a tribute concert.
The duo and two other co-producers — Patricia Watts, a Broadway producer, and Michael Dorf, the owner of New York music venue City Winery —began calling artists. One by one they signed up acts like the Roots and Elvis Costello, plus Macy Gray, Betty LaVette, Living Color and Todd Rundgren (who recently recorded an album of Johnson covers), and others.
The Apollo show will incorporate sketches from Mr. Morton’s long-ago play, with Johnson depicted by Jeffrey Wright, who also played Muddy Waters–another Johnson admirer–in the 2008 movie “Cadillac Records.” By doing so, the producers will try to add some texture to the myths associated with Johnson’s short, checkered and largely unknown life, which ended at the age of 27 under mysterious circumstances in 1938.
Rev. Steven Johnson, the bluesman’s grandson, will open Tuesday’s show with a prayer. The musicians will interpret 24 Johnson songs, including one, “Hell Hound on My Trail,” which will be sung separately both by James “Blood” Ulmer and Taj Mahal.
The concert is a benefit for the Blues Foundation, which is raising funds to build a Blues Hall of Fame across from the Civil Rights Museum in Memphis, Tenn. “It will be like the singer and the song standing side by side,” Mr. Morton said. The producers hope to raise at least $50,000 for the museum, as well as share some proceeds with the Robert Johnson Foundation.
Read more at The Wall Street Journal.
The Mississippi House has voted to name part of Interstate 55 for blues great Robert Johnson, whose most famous song is about a crossroads. House Bill 166 would designate a 13-mile stretch in Copiah County as the Robert L. Johnson Memorial Highway. Johnson was born in the county in 1911.
Legend says Johnson gained extraordinary guitar skills by selling his soul to the devil at a crossroads. Some versions name that corner as U.S. highways 49 and 61 in the Mississippi Delta, some 200 miles north of Copiah County.
Read more at The Associated Press.
All-Star Tribute To Robert Johnson At 100 Adds Macy Gray, Chuck D, Living Colour, Robert Johnson’s Grandson Rev. Steven Johnson And More, At Apollo Theater March 6
The Robert Johnson at 100 tribute at the Apollo Theater March 6 has added more A-list talent to the bill for the centennial celebration of the legendary bluesman including Macy Gray, Chuck D, Living Colour, James Blood Ulmer, Savion Glover, Pedrito Martinez Group, Otis Taylor, Sarah Dash, Dough Rollers, Sugar Blue, The Harlem Blues Choir, and The Rev. Steven Johnson, grandson of Robert Johnson. They’re joining previously announced artists The Roots, Shemekia Copeland, Bettye LaVette, Taj Mahal, Keb’ Mo’, Sam Moore and Todd Rundgren. Directed by Joe Morton, the night will be lead by Musical Director Steve Jordan and special guest Jeffrey Wright.
President Obama recently honored Robert Johnson himself singing a rendition of ‘Sweet Home Chicago’ at The White House’s Black History Month celebration, filmed for the PBS Special “In Performance at the White House: Red, White and Blues,” to air Feb 27. See the whole song here: http://youtu.be/hhO1DnNKYbo
Speaking about the tribute, producer Joe Morton explains, “This unique concert, steeped in the tradition of a barrelhouse, is an interweaving of Robert Johnson’s genius as a musician with bits and pieces of his bedeviled life into a multi-faceted fabric laid out by a diverse group of impassioned artists.”
Produced by Steve Berkowitz, Michael Dorf, Joe Morton and Patricia Watt in association with The Blues Foundation and Legacy Recordings, proceeds from the concert will go to The Blues Foundation and The Robert Johnson Foundation to provide funding for the building of The Blues Hall of Fame in Memphis. More info on the Hall here: http://www.blues.org
- To order VIP ticket packages, go to: http://www.robertjohnson100.com
- Regular tickets, in person at the Apollo Theater Box Office or http://www.apollotheater.org
- By phone call Ticketmaster 800.745.3000
- Online at Ticketmaster.com: http://www.ticketmaster.com/event/00004784C4A79135
Patrick Droney, who won the Robert Johnson Blues Foundation’s New Generation Award in 2006, has a new single! Check out “Heartbreaker” in the video below, along with a recent live performance at The Bitter End. You can find more information at PatrickDroneyMusic.com.
The New Generation Competition & Award is an annual competition to help discover and encourage young blues artists.
Teen guitarist and vocalist Matthew Davidson, of Shreveport, has won the 2011 Robert Johnson New Generation Award. Davidson, 13, said it is an honor to be chosen for the award. About 25 young musicians were considered.
“It’s an award given out annually to guitarists 12 to 18 years old that helps young kids like myself keep interested in the blues and respect the blues,” Davidson said. “Robert Johnson is one of the greatest blues players. He kind of started it all and paved the way for so many.”
Steven Johnson, grandson of Robert Johnson and vice president of the Robert Johnson Blues Foundation, said it was Davidson’s style and professionalism that set him apart.
“His style was kind of advanced for his age,” Johnson said. “It was crisp; it was professional. His style with that electric guitar was amazing.”
As winner of the award, Davidson also will receive a Robert Johnson Signature Gibson L-1 guitar and a chance to play at a future foundation event.
Read more at ShreveportTimes.com.