Healdsburg Jazz Festival honors Juneteenth with music

Black musicians, artists and vendors were given the spotlight Sunday during the final day of the Healdbsurg Jazz Festival, an event that drew hundreds of attendees and honored the emancipation of enslaved African Americans in the U.S.

The event was held at the Healdsburg Plaza, where several of the more than 250 people in attendance Sunday afternoon swayed and twirled to the music preformed during the event, which was in its 24th year.

Billed as a Juneteenth Celebration, the festival commemorated the June 19, 1865 arrival of Union soldiers to Galveston, Texas who carried the news the news of freedom to enslaved Black people.

Their arrival came two months after the Confederacy surrendered and 2½ years after the Emancipation Proclamation freed slaves in the Southern states.

Marcus Shelby, the festival’s artistic director, said Sunday’s commemoration was only the second year that the event has been scheduled to coincide with the Juneteenth weekend.

Organizers selected a variety of performers for Sunday’s set, including a poet, brass band and jazz drummer, to preserve and educate others about Black history, something that’s steeped in music, Shelby said.

“It’s all the music that has come out o the Black diaspora,” Shelby said. “When we celebrate Juneteenth, we’re celebrating Black art.”

On Sunday, Jackie Langford, a Hercules resident, danced under the shade of a tree to MJ’s Brass Boppers, a Bay Area-based brass band that touts a New Orleans-style sound.

Langford, who has visited the area before, said she believed the festival brought greater diversity and more education about Black culture to the predominantly white town.

Census data shows 59% of Healdbsurg residents are white, while over a third are Latino or Hispanic. Black residents make up less than a half percent of the town.

“Everybody will be more educated on Black culture and Black music,” Langford said. “That’s what Juneteenth is all about.”

Reellis Dotson-Newman, a Petaluma resident, was one of the vendors at the festival who sold clothing and other goods that celebrate Black culture.

The owner of Motherland Fabriks , Dotson-Newman displayed jewelry and fabrics with bright designs from Africa to those who passed her stand.

The festival gave her an opportunity to teach others about traditional African fabrics, as well as meet people in the community, Dotson-Newman said.

“It’s an opportunity to exchange, build our economic base and acknowledge each other,” Dotson-Newman said.

In addition to the music and vendors, the event included an educational component. Attendees read posters about topics such as the origin of Juneteenth and the symbolism behind the Juneteenth flag, which was created in 1997 by activist Ben Haith.

At a craft table at the center of the gazebo, festivalgoers including also created pinwheels that bore the Juneteenth flag.

Santa Rosa resident Haley Dolier, 14, attended Sunday’s festival with her father and his girlfriend. The three of them ran out of the gazebo, their spinning pinwheels in hand, after spending time at the craft table.

“It’s cool because it helps people learn about Black history,” Dolier said of the event, adding that the festival was the first time she had learned about the significance of Juneteenth. The topic had not been covered in school, she said.

You can reach Staff Writer Nashelly Chavez at 707-521-5203 or nashelly.chavez@pressdemocrat.com. On Twitter @nashellytweets.

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