Written by Michael Pittman
Feb 29, 2012 at 12:00 AM
ImageHouston’s long and proud blues music tradition was recognized on the national stage at one of Houston’s premiere performing arts venues last Wednesday evening. The spectacular Jones Hall in downtown Houston has long served as home to the Houston Symphony and The Society for the Performing Arts.

The SPA, in close partnership with many benefactors including The Houston Blues Society, The Defender and an NEA grant, had been working all during February presenting workshops and events dedicated to preserving Houston’s Blues Music Legacy for a new generation of young Houstonians.

All eyes met on the big stage at Jones Hall as the efforts of so many culminated in a grand concert on this national stage by some of Houston’s finest and most legendary bluesmen and women.

Tonight’s’ lineup started out with Grady Gaines and The Texas Upsetters who remained onstage to provide the musical backup to Milton Hopkins, Texas Johnny Brown, the amazing Trudy Lynn and Ray Brown.

Performing an extraordinary set was the Kashmere High School Reunion Stage Band. The Stage Band program at the 5th ward’s Kashmere High School had been terminated for over 3 decades when about 30 former members reformed it in 2008. The band that took the stage tonight was a mix of the original members and some of the current members of the reconstituted Kashmere Thunder Soul Stage Band.

ImageIt was obvious to me and everyone at the show how special this evening’s performances were. Everyone involved put everything they had into it because this night belonged to the performers. These are the people that set the pace and provide the inspiration for a new generation to pick up and carry on.

Grady Gaines’ resume reads like a who’s who of American Soul music with credits from Little Richard and Sam Cooke, not to mention the late Etta James. His sax was heard in the bands of Diana Ross, Gladys Knight and Bo Diddly just for starters.

Milton Hopkins is another Little Richard alumnus and goes back with Grady Gaines as well. He’s worked with stars like B.B. King and has a Houston Blues Society lifetime achievement award.

The truly legendary Texas Johnny Brown has recorded and performed since the late 1940’s and wrote the classic “Two Steps From The Blues”, which he performed tonight.

A personal favorite, Trudy Lynn has been performing and recording since the late 1980’s with 5 critically acclaimed records under her belt. She has performed with Ike and Tina Turner and others. Trudy came up from the 5th ward of Houston and to this day enjoys performing around Houston best.

Ray Brown was inspired at age 12 by the likes of the incomparable James Brown, The Temptations and Marvin Gaye.

Ezra Charles and son Jake Helpinstill performed in the lobby before the show and SPA could not have made a better choice. I’ve seen Ezra with his full band and he WILL tear the roof off the place.

ImageThe Kashmere stage band was stellar in its performance of big band jazz music. Aside from a few Universities, the big band is a disappearing art form and I was glad to see these folks, young and old alike performing with such enthusiasm. North Texas State has a wonderful big band jazz program, one of the best in the nation in fact, and this Kashmere band would give them a run for their money!

In short, this was a night to remember. A stunning show of talent collected in one place, at one time on a premiere stage. Hats off to the Houston Blues Society’s dedication to this fine art form. Go to www.houstonbluessociety.org for more because there is always something goin on.

The Blues community is active all over town and I gotta say that if the after party I went to at Mr. A’s was any indication…we are in for a helluva ride in the upcoming years. I know SPA will be keeping their eye on the blues in the future!