Blues in the City | Jackson Free Press | Jackson, MS

Blues in the City

Betty Wright is one of the performers at the Soul City Blues Festival on March 16. Photo courtesy Xperience Jxn Ent

Betty Wright is one of the performers at the Soul City Blues Festival on March 16. Photo courtesy Xperience Jxn Ent

For Xperience JXN event promoter Yolanda Singleton, Betty Wright was part of her childhood.

Singleton says she is "a music legend whose music transcends generations. ... As a child when my mother would sing along with the radio as Betty Wright's songs played when she cleaned the house on Saturday mornings until I left home to go to college.

When Singleton got to college, she would hear Betty Wright's music at sorority and fraternity parties, fish fries, birthday parties and family reunions as part of the deejays' playlists, no matter the age of the crowd, says.

Wright is one of the performers for this year's Soul City Blues Festival, which will essentially take the place of the Jackson Rhythm & Blues Festival.

"Xperience Jxn is meeting the need by putting on a festival that has an economic impact for the city of Jackson drawing a large group of fans who will not only buy a festival ticket but will spend money shopping and on hotels and in restaurants while here in the city for the festival," Singleton says.

The festival will bring together a host of bluesmen such as Wright, Willie Clayton, Urban Mystic, Tre Williams and Dave Mack.

Wright and Clayton are among music industry stalwarts who have had careers that have spanned decades on major labels. Wright, who was born Bessie Regina Norris, is a 65-year-old soul, R&B, gospel, disco and blues singer and songwriter who has been nominated for the highest honors in the music industry throughout a seven-decade career, including a Grammy award nomination for Album of the Year for "Tha Carter II" in 2009; Best Traditional R&B Performance in 2011 for the song "Surrender" and Best R&B Performance by a Duo or Group with Vocals in 2008 with the song "Baby." Wright's hit songs include "Tonight Is the Night," and "Clean Up Woman."

Clayton, a 63-year-old crooner, started singing in the 1960s and has been on the R&B, pop, gospel and blues charts, cultivating a fan base that has followed him from Atlanta to Chicago and back to Mississippi. He has also been a staple at the Delta Blues & Heritage Festival, one of Mississippi's oldest blues festival for several years. Clayton has been a Malaco Records artist since 2005. He released his most current album, "I Am Rhythm & Blues," in 2012.

Jackson native Dave Mack sings the 2005 hit, "13 Days." Urban Mystic, born Brandon Williams hails from Fort Lauderdale, Fla., and is known for his hits, "Where Were You" and "I Refuse." He is an established 34-year-old soul, R&B and neo-soul artist who is a constant draw for younger fans. People may know Tre Williams for his time with "The Revelations," and also songs such as "Caught in the Middle" and "I Don't Want to Know."

Singleton says organizers chose the lineup based on who blues fans say they want to see.

"[T]he artist my not be on the charts, but because of their past chart history with a long history of hit songs, they are still popular with loyal fans," she says.

Other types of music genres that get more airplay often overshadow blues music today, Singleton says.

"Traditional and soul blues music is often replaced by 'rock blues' and other recently created categories that are given more publicity and attention at music award shows," Singleton says. "Mississippi blues icons and their ancestors, who created the art form and are upholding their blues legacy, are not given the notoriety that young majority artists are given. I take pride in keeping the indigenous creators and their ancestors in the spotlight by promoting a blues festival here in the capital city of Mississippi.

"... Mississippi is the 'Birthplace of the Blues and America's Music.' As a Mississippian, I know how important the blues has been to all other forms of music. I was brought up on this music, and I feel I need to help keep the blues alive," she adds.

The Soul City Blues Festival is Saturday, March 16, at the Mississippi Coliseum (1207 Mississippi St.). The doors will open at 6 p.m., and the event begins at 7 p.m. Tickets start at $35 up to $62 with VIP seating available. For more information, find the event on Facebook.

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