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July 5, 2011 > Sweet sounds of the blues

Sweet sounds of the blues

By Julie Grabowski

Hayward will be singing the blues once again when musical artists converge for the annual Hayward Russell City Blues Festival July 9 and 10. A unique and indigenous American sound, the blues was born in southern African-American communities from spirituals, field hollers, chants, work songs, and ballads. The music uses guitar, harmonica, piano, drums, saxophone, trumpet, trombone, and double bass together with vocals to express the troubles of life, with all its longings, hopes, and sorrows.

The blues has a number of subgenres and styles developed in various areas of the country by many influences; a small area of Hayward played a memorable part in a big musical history.

Russell City was an unincorporated area of Hayward situated along the Southern Pacific Railroad tracks about 10 miles south of Oakland, serving as home to poor Danish farmers and Latino and Filipino laborers. With the turmoil of World War II, many African Americans migrated to the city from the south, drawn by cheap housing and work in the shipyards. Jazz musicians were among their number and soon Russell City vibrated to the sounds of the blues.

From the 1940s through the early 1960s names like Big Mama Thornton, T-Bone Walker, Fillmore Slim, Jimmy Mamu, Big Joe Turner, and Bobby Webb could be found on the scene, providing the very lifeblood of Russell City. Numerous musicians honed their skills at establishments like The Country Club, the California Cafe, Miss Alves Place, Leona's Hightower Club, and any other place they could play, developing a new West Coast sound and a legacy that lives on today.

While the landscape of Russell City fell to industrial growth by 1966, the music has remained and is celebrated each year at the blues festival thanks to the efforts of the Bay Area Blues Society and the City of Hayward. In its 12th year, "The Tradition Continues" with a gathering of great artists including Lenny Williams; Rod Piazza and the Mighty Flyers; Johnny Rawls; Taildragger; Queens of Chicago Blues - Deitra Farr, Demetris Taylor; Artwork Jamal; Ernie Johnson; Blues Harp Explosion featuring special guests Darrell Mansfield, Sean McGroarty, Martin Lane, and Vinnie Flores; and Bobby Joe Neeley, Guitar Mac.

Warm up to the main event with Blues Week July 5 through 10, offering photo displays, lectures, and performances at Hayward Library, Sun Gallery, Hayward Arts Council at Cinema Place, Buffalo Bills, and The Bistro. Join the kick-off party at The Bistro July 8 from 9 p.m. to 1 a.m. and return for the after party July 9, 9 p.m. to 1 a.m.

Don't miss this chance to get a taste of Hayward's musical history and groove to the sweet sound of summer blues.

Tickets are $20 per day when purchased in advance or $25 at the door, $32 for a two-day ticket purchased in advance, and $15 for seniors (62 and up) and students per day in advance or $20 at the door with ID. Tickets may be purchased at, The Bistro on B Street and Main, or The Cobbler on Foothill Boulevard.

Hayward Russell City Blues Festival
Saturday and Sunday, July 9 and 10
11 a.m. - 7 p.m.
Hayward City Hall Plaza
777 B St., Hayward
(510) 836-2227
Tickets: $15 - $35

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