A celebration of African-American Music Appreciation Month occurs every Friday night in June at the Bo Diddley Plaza as part of the “Free Fridays” concert series. Inspired by the dream of late local musicians Richard Baxter and Roland Burns, African-American Music Appreciation Month has been celebrated in Gainesville since 1998.
Kicking off this year’s celebration on Friday, June 2 is Little Jake Mitchell and The Soul Searchers, featuring old school blues and rhythm and blues artist Jake Mitchell. Mitchell is a veteran musician who includes B.B. King as one of his mentors, and who went on the road with James Brown, Jackie Wilson, Sam Cooke, Marvin Gaye and the Bobbie Blue Band. His first record was with Chess Records in 1957 on the same master tape as Chuck Berry. Mitchell’s band, Little Jake and the Blenders, was the first African-American group to perform at a Gator Growl celebration in 1960. In 1965, Mitchell performed at the Apollo Theater in New York. He recorded with Impact Records in Detroit, Michigan, releasing the songs titled "Work with me Anne," "Not a Chance in a Million" and "I've Gotta Know." In 1975, he recorded "You Can Make It If You Try" with Newtown Records, the same label as Patti Labelle and the Bluebells. Mitchell also owned his own record company (Golden Hit Productions) in Detroit from 1966 to 1972. Mitchell, who now resides in Gainesville, Florida, is also popular in England where his recorded music is often played in UK northern soul dance halls.
Along with Jake Mitchell (lead vocals), the Soul Searchers include Brian Stevens (trombone, trumpet), Charles Steadham (saxophones), Doug Meyers (trumpet), Hal Saylor (drums/vocals), Allen McCollum (bass), Tran Whitley (keyboards, back-up vocals), Charles Henry (guitar, back-up vocals), Levi Griffin Jr. (guitar, back-up vocals) and Kenny Eunice (master of ceremonies).
African-American Music Appreciation Month at “Free Fridays” also features 21 Blue with Longineu Parsons and Ted Shumate (blues) on Friday, June 9; Wester Joseph’s Stereo Vudu (vudu rawk, ska) on Friday, June 16; a Tribute to the Music of Curtis Mayfield (soul, funk, R&B, rock, jazz) on Friday, June 23 and De Lions of Jah (reggae) on Friday, June 30.
Free Fridays is funded in part by Culture Builds Florida. The entire “Free Fridays” 2017 schedule can be viewed at www.freefridaysgnv.com. The Bo Diddley Plaza is located at 111 E. University Ave. in downtown Gainesville. For general information, contact Russell Etling, cultural affairs manager, at firstname.lastname@example.org or 352-393-8532. For more information about this event, please contact David Ballard at email@example.com or 352-393-8746.