A celebration of African-American Music Appreciation Month occurs every Friday night in June at the Bo Diddley Plaza as part of the “Free Fridays” concert series. Inspired by the dream of late local musicians Richard Baxter and Roland Burns, African-American Music Appreciation Month has been celebrated in Gainesville since 1998.
Kicking off this year’s celebration on Friday, June 3 is Little Jake Mitchell and The Soul Searchers, featuring old school blues and rhythm and blues artist Jake Mitchell. Mitchell is a veteran musician who includes B.B. King as one of his mentors, and who went on the road with James Brown, Jackie Wilson, Sam Cooke, Marvin Gaye and the Bobbie Blue Band. His first record was with Chess Records in 1957 on the same master tape as Chuck Berry. Mitchell’s band, Little Jake and the Blenders, was the first African-American group to perform at a Gator Growl celebration in 1960. In 1965, Mitchell performed at the Apollo Theater in New York. He recorded with Impact Records in Detroit, Michigan, releasing the songs titled "Work with me Anne," "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) in Detroit from 1966 to 1972. Mitchell, who now resides in Gainesville, Florida, recently travelled to England along with Soul Searchers Charlie Blade and Tran Whitley to co-headline the Cleethorpes Northern Soul Weekender Festival. Mitchell is popular in England where his recorded music is often played in UK northern soul dance halls.
Along with Jake Mitchell (lead vocals), the Soul Searchers include Brian Stevens (trombone), Charlie Blade (saxophones), Doug Meyers (trumpet), Hal Saylor (drums/vocals), Allen McCollum (bass), Tran Whitley (keyboards), Charles Henry (guitar) and Kenny Eunice (emcee/sound engineer).
African-American Music Appreciation Month at “Free Fridays” also features Wester Joseph’s Stereo Vudu (vudu rawk, ska) on Friday, June 10; Fast Lane (R&B, soul, funk) on Friday, June 17 and the De Lions of Jah (reggae) on Friday, June 24.
The 2016 “Free Fridays” concert series is produced by the City of Gainesville Parks, Recreation and Cultural Affairs Department and sponsored in part by Visit Gainesville and Culture Builds Florida. The concerts play each Friday night this year from Friday, May 6 through Friday, Oct. 21 from 8-10 p.m. at the Bo Diddley Plaza, which is located at 111 E. University Ave. To view the complete “Free Fridays” 2016 schedule, please visit the Cultural Affairs Division website at www.gvlculturalaffairs.org.