Rufus Ferguson

Rufus Ferguson

Juneteenth is the June 19, 1865 date on which people in slavery in Texas were informed they had been granted freedom by the Emancipation Proclamation, two years after it was issued.  Jazz musician Rufus Ferguson, with saxophonist Seth Ebersole and bassist John Hébert, will present a Juneteenth concert at 6:30 pm on Friday, June 19, streaming live on The Gilmore Keyboard Festival's website, Youtube channel, and Facebook page, in partnership with Public Media Network.  The three will highlight the music of Black jazz musicians and composers.


Casey Spring Photography, caseyspring.net

On Friday, Feb 7 at 8 pm, Kanola Band will host and perform a live concert recording/party at the Jazz & Creative Institute in Kalamazoo. Drummer Jeff Moehle and trumpeter Benje Daneman, who started the project in 2014, join Cara Lieurance in the studio to share their appreciation for the music of New Orleans, the birthplace of so much American popular music.  


C. Lieurance

A group of prominent local musicians will gather to present a program called "The Reason Why We Sing: A Free Lecture-Recital Advocating for the Recognition and Inclusion of Black-American Sacred Music" at 2 pm on Saturday, Oct 26 at Portage United Church of Christ. It was the idea of Monica Washington Padula, who grew up performing in her Lansing church from the age of 7. Washington Padula has a master's degree in music from Western Michigan University and is a versatile performer of keyboard, saxophone, and voice.

Along with requesting participation from singers Rhea Olivacce and Carmen Bell, pianist Rufus Ferguson and the Lansing-based Earl Nelson Singers, Washington Padula reached out to Dr. Romeo Philips, the respected Kalamazoo College professor emeritus of music and education. Now 91, he remembers hearing stories from his great-grandmother, who had been enslaved on a Mississippi plantation. A trumpet player before his academic career, Dr. Phillips became interested in the sacred music of Black America by attending choral concerts presented by black colleges that visited his Chicago hometown. Later, he joined the Umbrian Glee Club, and the National Association of Negro Musicians. When he received a professorship at Kalamazoo College in 1968, he and his colleague Clarence Small, who formerly sang with Wings Over Jordan, founded the Afro-American Chorale.

In the Takeda studio at WMUK, Washington Padula and Phillips perform several examples of spirituals, including "Sometimes I Feel Like a Motherless Child," "Wade in the Water," "I'm Gonna Tell God All of my Troubles," "Give Me Jesus," and "No More Auction Block For Me." The significance of Black American sacred music to American culture cannot be overstated, according to Washington Padula. She explains that the preservation of this music, which has come close to being lost and forgotten at times, requires as much care and attention today as before. But Padula Washington and Phillips agree that the music has always adapted to the times and informed and reflected other Black American styles that came along. Phillips says that in the beginning, spirituals were sung for three main purposes: for worship, for emotional support, and for signals to escape enslavement. All will be demonstrated at the event on Oct 26. 


Rufus Ferguson

Rufus Ferguson was a freshman at Western Michigan University when Keith Hall first heard the young pianist's soulful, gospel-inflected playing. At that time, Ferguson had only just begun to explore jazz. Through hard work, and under the guidance of piano professor Jeremy Siskind, Keith Hall and other members of the WMU jazz faculty, Ferguson developed into a multifaceted performer and composer who takes pride in the nickname "Sideman Ferguson." He can fit into nearly any performance situation and make it sound good. In an in-studio performance and interview with Keith Hall, Rufus Ferguson takes a turn as a soloist, and talks about what made him the player he is today.