Night Of Royalty

By Andrew Gilhooley / 411

Burritos and boogie-woogie are both on the menu at Don Quixote’s in Felton this Thursday.  As you may already know, the popular Mexican restaurant is now using its large hall as the new home of the International Music Series, formerly at Henfling’s FireHouse Tavern in Ben Lomond.  With a new, larger venue, the organizers are looking forward to continuing their tradition of high quality music as well as the possibility of attracting bigger names to the area.  Thursday’s guests are the Queens of Boogie-Woogie, four veteran musicians led by ace pianist and vocalist Wendy DeWitt. 

Boogie-woogie is the only form of music derived from the blues that has remained unique to the piano.  It became popular between 1920 and 1945 in the poor, black neighborhoods of Chicago, Detroit and other big cities.  Parties would be held by a resident of one of the tenements as a means of raising money to pay his rent.  For a modest donation, neighbors could enjoy some food and hear music played by a pianist, often a traveling blues musician.  This type of party, known as a “Parlor Social” or a “Boogie” was a means of neighbors helping each other out during hard times, and the style of piano playing, with its strong rhythmic sense and rough-and-ready feel, took its name from these social events.  Today, boogie-woogie is recognized as an important part of the blues and jazz traditions.

Founder of the Queens of Boogie-Woogie, Wendy, DeWitt, has lived in the Bay Area since 1984.  She has played with many of the best-known names in blues music including Charlie Musselwhite and the legendary “Queen of the Boogie,” Hadda Brooks.  Among her many achievements, Brooks was the first black woman to have her own weekly TV show during the 1950s.  It was at one of her last shows before her death at age 86 that Brooks dubbed DeWitt the “Queen of Boogie-Woogie.”  Since 2000, DeWitt has organized an annual “Queens of Boogie-Woogie” concert series to honor the contribution of women such as Brooks to blues and jazz music.

Three other Queens will be sharing the stage with DeWitt on Thursday.  Carol Fran is from Lafayette, LA, and has performed all over the world for the past 50-plus years.  Her professional career began at age 14 when bandleader Don Conway heard her singing “Stardust” and asked her to sing with his band.  She soon moved on to playing in New Orleans and further afield.  Soon she was sharing the stage with Gladys Knight and the Pips, the Ronettes and Clarence “Gatemouth” Brown.

Annieville Blues hails from Seattle, WA, and is a graduate of the prestigious Cornish Institute of Arts.  She performs in major clubs, festivals and benefits throughout the U.S. and Europe and is also a respected teacher of piano, leading workshops on Blues and Boogie Woogie styles. Her aim is to inspire young students to become blues and jazz musicians through her jam sessions and private teachings.

Virginia Tichenor is the daughter of Trebor Tichenor, the noted ragtime scholar, pianist, collector and founder of  the St. Louis Ragtimers.  She grew up with legends like Eubie Blake, Max Morath and Butch Thompson chatting in her own living room. Tichenor studied music at the St. Louis Community Association for the Arts and took advanced training from concert pianist, John Phillips.

First published in "411", The Salinas Californian, March 24, 2005

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