Home News Juneteenth bringing spirited musical celebrations to Bay Area

Juneteenth bringing spirited musical celebrations to Bay Area


Born as an African American folk jubilee in the years after the Civil War, Juneteenth has slowly gained acknowledgement as a second Independence Day, marking an essential leap toward providing in the freedom promised in the the United States’ founding.

Congressional approval of Juneteenth as a federal holiday in 2021 capped a decades-long campaign to recognize June 19, 1865, the day that emancipation finally reached people enslaved in Texas, as a celebration for all Americans. Many cities, towns and institutions were already marking the date before President Biden signed the legislation, and the soundtrack for these celebrations has often centered on jazz, a conversational musical idiom well-suited for exploring the nature of freedom.

The longest running Juneteenth event in the Bay Area can be found in South Berkeley around the intersection of Adeline and Alcatraz. The 37th Annual Berkeley Juneteenth Festival (berkeleyjuneteenth.org) takes place 11 a.m. to 7 p.m. June 16, and the free event features a stylistically diverse roster of acts, including the jazz and blues of the Dynamic Miss Faye Carol.

The deep roster also features the soulful zydeco of Andre Thierry, the commanding blues of Alvon Johnson, and roots reggae from of Kava Jah and the Remedy. A kids zone offers a rock-climbing wall, skating, and STEM activities, while art programs for young children include dance, storytelling, slides, jumpy houses, clowns, face painting and art projects coordinated by community organizations.

Since June 19 falls smack dab in the middle of the week this year, Juneteenth events stretch out across much of the month. In Albany, vocalist Tiffany Austin has curated a stellar free program running 10 a.m.-6 p.m. on June 23 at 1251 Solano Ave., combining Juneteenth and Father’s day, starting with rising Oakland drummer Jayla Hernandez, fresh out of San Francisco Conservatory of Music (11 a.m.).

She’s followed by vocalist Kenya Moses focusing on bossa nova (noon) and an African heritage drum workshop (1 p.m.). The energy gathers throughout the afternoon with Cuban trombonist Obrayan Calderon playing a set of salsa and timba (2 p.m.), the rocking Shelly Doty X-Tet (3 p.m.), and tenor saxophonist Howard Wiley’s signature soul-powered jazz (4 p.m.). Cellist Mia Pixley concludes the festival with a set in the Abrams Claghorn Gallery, one of Albany Juneteenth’s sponsors. More information is at albanyjuneteenth.com.

The location of the biggest Juneteenth event in the region, musically speaking, might come as a surprise. On June 15, the Healdsburg Jazz Festival presents music and family activities on the Healdsburg Plaza, a free all-day event with a triple bill led by Lafayette-reared trombone great Steve Turre. At 75, with his long braids and Fu Manchu moustache, he’s a readily recognizable figure from his nearly four-decade run in the Saturday Night Live Band.

The sextet he’s assembled for the occasion brings together an all-star New York cast that includes his son, drummer Orion Turre, and wife, vocalist Pam Turre. The group also features rising trumpeter Wallace Roney Jr., son of the late piano maestro Geri Allen and Wallace Roney, one of the greatest trumpeters of era, and veteran saxophonist Ron Blake, who’s also a member of the Saturday Night Live Band.

San Francisco bassist Marcus Shelby, the artistic director of the Healdsburg Jazz Festival, anchors the other two bands on the bill, powering the quintet Person2Person, which is co-led by 89-year-old tenor sax titan Houston Person and his younger (unrelated) colleague, altoist Eric Person (with pianist Adam Klipple and drummer Sylvia Cuenca rounding out the band). Shelby also holds down the bass chair in pianist Darrell Grant and the MJ New, a combo with drum master Cecil Brooks III designed along the lines of the Modern Jazz Quartet.

While the main musical offerings run from 3-8:30 p.m. Healdsburg Jazz presents numerous activities and performances encompassing an array of Black music and art including gospel, early blues, New Orleans jazz, funk, R&B, and spoken word, performances. The festival also offers arts, crafts, and music workshops in the plaza for families and young people led by teaching artists. More information is at healdsburgjazz.org.

The Golden Gate Park Band (goldengateparkband.org) presents a Juneteenth/Father’s Day program at 1 p.m. June 16 at the park’s Music Concourse featuring music of African-American composers and artists. Terrence Kelly’s Oakland Interfaith Gospel Choir, still going strong after three decades, returns to Freight & Salvage 8 p.m. June 15 ($26-$31; thefreight.org) and Livermore’s Bankhead Theater 8 p.m. June 21 ($25-$35; livermorearts.org) for the 2nd annual Juneteenth performance at both venues.

Partnering with the Silicon Valley African Film Festival, the Children’s Discovery Museum of San Jose hosts a celebration on Juneteenth, 9:30 a.m.– 4:30 p.m. June 19, with a program of short animated films, and drumming and drum-making workshops led by Ghanaian-born percussionist Pope Flyne. More information is at www.cdm.org.

Many other cities and organizations around the Bay Area are holding their own Juneteenth celebrations, from Richmond and Pittsburgh to Redwood City and San Francisco’s Fillmore District, where an eight-block area turns into a free street festival 11 a.m.–6 p.m. June 15 (juneteenth-sf.org).

Contact Andrew Gilbert at [email protected].

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