It is said that a celebration of black music is a celebration of all music because it has contributed to all genres in the world.
But, this month, and in keeping with the annual African American Music Appreciation Month, which is observed in June, the city of Gainesville will highlight African-American artists and their music — including a tribute to the music of the legendary Curtis Mayfield — during the “Free Fridays” concert series.
And on Friday, Little Jake and the Soul Searchers will kick off the opening concert, which is set for 8-10 p.m. at the Bo Diddley Plaza in downtown Gainesville.
Rounding out the month of concerts will be 21 Blue (blues) with Longineu Parsons and Ted Shumate on June 9; Wester Joseph’s Stereo Vudu (“vudu rawk” and ska) on June 16; a Tribute to the Music of Curtis Mayfield by Travis Atria and Friends on June 23; and De Lions of Jah (reggae) on June 30.
“A celebration of African-American music is essentially a celebration of music because it has contributed to all music genres globally,” said David Ballard, event coordinator of the city of Gainesville Cultural Affairs Division. “The artists didn’t get the fame and money they should have received and I think we should celebrate their artistic contributions any way we can.”
Ballard said Little Jake and the Soul Searchers have always headlined the first concert for the month.
“Little Jake is a great show man and he has a great band,” said Ballard. “They always put on a great show that gets more popular each year.”
He said Mitchell draws the biggest crowd, with more than 2,000 attending the concert.
Mitchell, who is a graduate of all-black historic Lincoln High School, includes the late great B.B. King as one of his mentors. He has gone on the road with James Brown, Jackie Wilson, Sam Cooke, Marvin Gaye and Bobby “Blue” Bland. His first record was with Chess Records in 1957 on the same master tape as rock guitarist Chuck Berry.
Mitchell’s band, Little Jake and the Blenders, was the first African-American group to perform in 1960 at the Gator Growl pep rally on the University of Florida campus. In 1965, Mitchell performed at the Apollo Theater in Harlem. He recorded with Impact Records in Detroit, releasing the songs, “Work With Me, Annie,” “Not a Chance in a Million” and “I’ve Gotta Know.”
In 1975, he recorded “You Can Make It If You Try” with Newtown Records, the same label as Patti Labelle and the Bluebells. Mitchell also owned his own record company, Golden Hit Productions, from 1966-1972 in Detroit.
Mitchell said they’ve been on tour, performing throughout Florida, but this concert in Gainesville is one he never misses.
“We’re booked for the year, almost every year, (but) we save this time for Gainesville,” Mitchell said.
Mitchell said he will play music from his new CD, “Not a Chance in a Million” by “Little Jake and the Fabulous Soul Searchers, which he said, was considered for a Grammy. Also from the same CD, there is “Free at Last,” I Gotta Know,” and other songs.
“These are freedom songs that bring people together,” Mitchell said. “This is going to be one of our fantastic shows. I love to entertain for my people, bringing joy and bringing back memories.”