Kansas City Star
Today's Juneteenth festival stirs up jazz and art

By Rachel Skybetter
June 13, 2009
Kansas City Star

(Kansas, Missouri) -- Juneteenth commemorates the end of slavery, and June is Black Music Month. So why not find a way to honor both? That's exactly what the Rev. Ronald Myers Sr., founder and chairman of the National Juneteenth Observance Foundation, will do today.

The Black Health Care Coalition of Kansas is hosting the second annual Kansas City Memorial Juneteenth Jazz & Arts Festival from 1 to 11 p.m. at the Marriott Country Club Plaza hotel.

The day begins with a reception for artist Alvin Carter, whose painting "The President Barack Obama Trail" will be exhibited for the day. On Friday Carter will present the painting to the president during a Juneteenth celebration in Washington, D.C.

The music kicks off around 6 p.m., and Myers, on piano and trumpet, will be joined by bassist Derrick Brown and percussionists Aye Aton and Wilton Knott. The ensemble will perform original arrangements.

"The music will reflect upon Kansas City's great African-American jazz legacy," Myers said.

John Thompson, executive producer of the National Association of Juneteenth Jazz Presenters and executive director of Juneteenth America, said the festival is dedicated to the preservation of jazz.

He said he recently attended a jazz festival in Los Angeles and was surprised to find that contemporary musicians Erykah Badu and De La Soul were the headlining acts.

"I just came to the conclusion that jazz had been redefined in America, and I just didn't know it," Thompson said. "I came to hear the jazz, and it wasn't like any jazz." And so, in the lobby of the Marriott, Thompson and Myers hope to bring back the jazz for which Kansas City is known.

Today's festival also will honor Horace M. Peterson, the founder of the Black Archives of Mid-America, who helped create the first Kansas City Juneteenth Festival in the 1980s.

Juneteenth, or Freedom Day, is a bit of a misnomer. Abraham Lincoln's Emancipation Proclamation went into effect Jan. 1, 1863, but it wasn't until June 19, 1865, that the last of the slaves were freed, in Galveston, Texas. "Juneteenth" is a blending of the words "June" and "nineteenth." ------ TODAY The Second Annual Kansas City Memorial Juneteenth Jazz & Arts Festival is from 1 to 11 p.m. at the Marriott Country Club Plaza hotel, 45th and Main streets. The event is free.

To reach Rachel Skybetter, send e-mail to rskybetter@kcstar.com.

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