Concert Review: Ethnic Heritage Museum’s tribute to … blues, jazz and the Eldorado Club

By Edith McCauley
Theater Critic

The audience at Ethnic Heritage Museum’s recent musical tribute at the Sullivan Center was composed of a huge number of former patrons of the Eldorado Club and a group of younger jazz fans. The performance, produced by E. Faye Butler, M. Katherine Robinson, Fayrene Mhuammad, Sharnae Walker, Joyce Higgins and David Ruffin, board director of the Ethnic Heritage Museum, was a combination of music and memories. Butler, unable to attend because of a previous engagement, was sorely missed.

Ruffin’s opening remarks and those of Rockford Mayor Larry Morrissey (I) gave us a hint of the Hawks’ families contribution to the cultural heritage so much a part of our community. So many of us remember those hours after work spent in that club having a few drinks, one of Sonny’s steak sandwiches, and possibly dancing on that miniscule dance floor. The ladies sitting in front of me had obviously all been there.

The music began with Harlan Jefferson and his incomparable saxophone. From his teen-age years, he has performed throughout Rockford and the surrounding communities. We first met when friend Julian began his Rockford appearances at the Clock Tower Dinner Theatre, and my admiration for his tremendous talent continues.

The “house band” consisted of Musical Director Ron Holm; Janel Nelson, keyboards; Samuel “Paul” Barmore, guitar; John Bishoff, guitar; James “Jaynell” Collins, drums; and the amazing John Burns, whose guitar brings a new meaning to the blues.

The set, composed of vocal performances, began with Odessa Barmore. She spoke of her days at the old Eldorado Club, beginning when she was only a teen-ager and later as the DJ. A lifetime performer, her blues numbers were a tribute to Koko Taylor. Richard Meeks, well known locally as a television personality, served as master of ceremonies. His introduction of Joe “Joey” Irving was hilarious. The stories of the “old days” and career choices included many tales of the Eldorado. Coleen Martin Williams brought a few quieter moments to the evening, sharing some of her poetry from her collection, Stems With Flowers. It was most effective with the music of Ron Holm and Janel Nelson.

Dorothy Paige-Turner rounded out the evening in her impeccable style. Beginning with a few numbers with the house band, she stepped into the spotlight and quietly announced that her next number would be done without amplification. “Sondheim’s ‘Send In the Clowns’ was my introduction to his music when we made Blues of a Different Color,” she said.

It touched my heart. The performers reunited on stage for a grand finale. It was a smashing evening.

From the Oct. 10-16, 2012, issue

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