Female performers to perform at blues and jazz fest

Published 12:00 am Friday, October 7, 2011

By Mark Wineka
SALISBURY — Top women performers and their bands will be on stage Oct. 15 for the 13th annual Rowan Blues & Jazz Festival in Salisbury.
The daylong card of musicians includes Toni Spearman, Beverly “Guitar” Watkins, Eden Brent, Penny “Queen Bee” Zamagni and Brenda Morie.
On the same day, the Rowan Blues & Jazz Society is joining Rowan Public Library in presenting the Jackie Torrence Storytelling Festival.
The N.C. Black Storytellers Association will be on the library’s front lawn on West Fisher Street for three hours, telling tales and paying tribute to the late Torrence, a renowned storyteller from Rowan County.
The Storytelling Festival is free and runs from noon to 3 p.m.
The Blues & Jazz Festival costs $15 a person; $10 for seniors. Children under 4, with an adult, are free.
The festival venue is 200 W. Fisher St. and features a variety of vendors and international foods.
As a lead-in to the Blues & Jazz Festival, Literary Bookpost at 110 S. Main St., Salisbury, will be host Thursday night for Sam Stephenson, who will be signing his book, “The Jazz Loft Project: Photographs and Tapes of W. Eugene Smith from 821 Sixth Avenue 1957-1965.”
The event starts at 6:30 p.m. Thursday.
Jazz drummer Ron Free and his trio will be playing from the mezzanine at the bookstore. Tickets for the event cost $10, which can be applied to the cost of Stephenson’s book. There also will be a cash bar with beer and wine, and book shelves will be moved to allow for a dance floor.
A portion of the proceeds from the event support the Rowan Blues & Jazz Society.
Once again, Salisbury’s Eleanor Qadirah has worked throughout the year to arrange the Blues & Jazz Festival and line up the acts. She says the festival features award-winning artists from Germany to Rowan County.
The storytelling component also is special to Qadirah, who was a close friend of Torrence. John Evans, a grandson of Grammy Award-winning blues singer Elizabeth “Libba” or “Libby” Cotton, will be among the storytellers in Salisbury.
The last story Jackie Torrence dictated to Qadirah for the Rowan Blues & Jazz Festival newsletter in 2004 was about Libba Cotton, who received a Grammy at age 90 and was famous for writing “Freight Train,” for which she never received a penny, though countless musicians have played and recorded the song.
The Grammy recognized her lifetime of singing the blues before she died in 1987 in Syracuse, N.Y. at age 92.
Qadirah says the Blues & Jazz Festival has been promoted heavily this year on billboards, public radio and seven different Time Warner Cable channels.
Taken from online sources, here’s a brief rundown of the featured women artists:
• Toni Spearman — Born in South Carolina, Spearman was raised in Long Island, and her blues journey has taken her from New York, through a career in the U.S. Army to clubs and tours throughout Europe. Along the way, she forged friendships with Luther Allison, B.B. King and James Brown.
She has written roughly 200 songs in her long career and continues to compose and record in her own studio in Germany, sometimes playing the saxophone on her tracks.
Spearman often takes part in benefit concerts for children.
• Eden Brent — Brent is a blues pianist and vocalist, combining boogie-woogie with elements of blues, jazz, soul, gospel and pop.
She studied music and jazz at the University of North Texas. She won two 2009 Blues Music Awards — one for Acoustic Artist of the Year; the other, Acoustic Album of the Year. She also won the International Blues Challenge in 2006.
She is a native of Greenville, Miss., and the late blues pioneer Boogaloo Ames took Brent under his wing when she was 16. The pair were featured in a 1999 PBS documentary called, “Boogaloo and Eden: Sustaining the Sound.”
• Beverly “Guitar” Watkins — A Georgia native, Watkins first played guitar at Friday night barn dances south of Commerce. By the time she was in high school, she joined Piano Red and the Meter-tones, who played in clubs and on college campuses, before becoming Piano Red and the Houserockers and touring nationally.
The group went through many incarnations in years to come, before disbanding. Watkins then played with Eddie Tigner and the Ink spots, Mudcat, Joseph Smith and the Fendales and Leon Redding and the Houserockers through the late 1980s.
She once referred to her music as “railroad smokin’ blues.”
She has played with James Brown, B.B. King and Ray Charles and is a well-known talent in Underground Atlanta. She was part of an all-star Women of Blues “Hot Mamas” tour in 1998 with Koko Taylor and Rory Block.
Watkins, 72, has released several recordings over the past decade.
• Penny “Queen Bee” Zamagni and the King Bees — The N.C.-based King Bees, featuring Zamagni as vocalist/songwriter and Rob “Hound Dog” Baskerville on keyboards, have been together since 1987, performing in places such as New York, Rome and Amsterdam.
They have sat in with and backed up the likes of Bo Diddley, Tinsley Ellis, Billy Branch, Mojo Buford, Big Jack Johnson, Sam Carr, Frank Frost, Lazy Lester and Ronnie Earl.
They also have toured with Jerry McCain, Chicago Bob Nelson and the late blues harpmaster Carey Bell. Their latest album, “Carolina Bound,” features collaborators such as Bell, McCain, Roy Roberts, Chuck Willis and Nappy Brown.
• Brenda Morie — Morie grew up in Edmonton, Alberta, and was playing banjo, guitar and pennywhistles through western Canada with the Spirit River String Band by the time she was 18.
By 21, she led the rock fusion band Terra. She later toured with Nancy Sinatra, and her voice is on the soundtracks of movies such as “Homegrown” with Billy Bob Thorton and Jamie Lee Curtis, “Rhapsody in Bloom” with Penelope Ann Miller and Ron Silver and “Going All the Way” with Ben Affleck and Rose McGowan.
Morie relocated to Savannah, Ga., where she has recorded with Ben Tucker and five-time Grammy-nominated mandolin player Tony Williamson and John Cowan Band guitarist Jeff Autry.
In Salisbury, Morie will be playing with Joe Robinson.
Contact Mark Wineka at 704-797-4263.