North Richmond celebrates blues heritage

A healthy slate of blues bands performed at the North Richmond Music Festival on Saturday, July 20, 2019.

While the bands brought the blues, the community brought the color. Both served to uplift and celebrate North Richmond’s rich musical heritage on Saturday.

The 10th Annual North Richmond Music Festival brought a healthy slate of blues bands to the historic Shields Reid Park for a day of family-friendly activities. The free festival — a true community gathering sponsored by the City of Richmond, Chevron, Sims Metal, Mechanics Bank, Men and Women of Valor and others — is as important as it is fun.

“This event celebrates the rich musical heritage of North Richmond,” said DeJeana Burkes, a blues singer who has attended and helped organize every festival to date, and also performed Saturday. “The blues culture really thrived in this area post WWII, and we do this every year to honor those memories.”

The festival features free lunch and many children’s activities. New at this year’s event was a blues legacy booth providing history from the many blues clubs that existed in North Richmond during the era during and after WWII. The clubs existed to serve African American migrants who came to California from the South, many to work in the Kaiser Shipyards.

Also new to the festival: The Paint and Vibe booth, where kids and adults alike painted as they listened to the music.

Getting the community’s youth involved in the festival is crucial, said Dr. Henry Clark, a North Richmond native and well-known community activist who helped launch the festival.

“We have to carry the history and heritage forward,” Dr. Clark said. “Hopefully our younger people will carry it on. That’s what it’s all about.”

The blues legacy booth exhibited a North Richmond that was once packed with blues clubs. Club Savoy, Kozy Klub, Do Drop Inn, Fred’s Place, Brown Derby, Minnie Lou’s, Tapper’s Inn: these were just a few of the clubs that existed at the time, per the Richmond Museum of History.

Community members attend the 10th Annual North Richmond Music Festival on July 20, 2019.

“If you really wanted to hear the down-home blues, you had to go to North Richmond outside of Richmond,” filmmaker Dough Harris says in his documentary, Exploration of our History. “The blues really thrived because you had southern people, you had country people, and you had clubs that catered to them.”

Community advocate Antoine Cloird credited Burkes for keeping the festival, and heritage, going.

“DeJeana came on board and helped this to be what it is now,” he said.

Festival organizer DeJeana Burkes poses with her grandson at the North Richmond Music Festival on July 20, 2019.

And what it is now, is a single day of the year that in some part recaptures a once thriving music scene.

“Well, if you’ve never felt the blues, I can’t hardly explain. You know how it feels…It was a blues crowd, a beautiful crowd,” said the late Minnie Lue, owner of a famous North Richmond blues club (per Shirley Ann Wilson Moore’s book, “To Place Our Deeds.”)

Dr. Henry Clark watches a blues band rock out at the North Richmond Music Festival on July 20, 2019.
Chevron Richmond is an annual sponsor of the North Richmond Music Festival and hosts a booth with games and giveaways for festival-goers to enjoy.
Community advocate Antoine Cloird
The Paint and Vibe booth allowed residents to paint to the music.
Community advocate Eleanor Thompson
Janie Holland, a director with the CHDC (left) and Stacy Moffitt, Chevron Richmond Community Engagement Specialist.