21 October 1965 American Folk Blues Festival

My early idols included - Fats Domino, Little Richard and Chuck Berry.

Berry recorded for Chess Records in Chicago who also recorded blues artists like Muddy Waters, Howlin’ Wolf, and Sonny Boy Williamson - performers whose music I also came to enjoy.

So when in December 1963 I saw that Sonny Boy Williamson was appearing at St George’s Hall with the Chris Barber band, I rushed to see him. The following year he returned to St George’s Hall as part of the American Folk Blues Festival tour. This time, in addition to Sonny Boy, I was able to see blues legends such as Lightnin’ Hopkins and Howlin’ Wolf perform.

A year later, in 1965, the American Folk Blues package was back at St George’s Hall with a different line-up. On this occasion I was lucky to spend an entire afternoon backstage in the company of, among others, Buddy Guy, Mississippi Fred McDowell and Big Mama Thornton who had recorded the original version of ‘Hound Dog’ made famous by Elvis Presley.

This early appreciation of black musicians led me towards jazz, and within a short time my listening had expanded to embrace Billie Holiday, Count Basie, Ben Webster, Charlie Parker, Dizzy Gillespie, Miles Davis, Charles Mingus, etc. etc.

It was from my early reading of jazz and its history that I became aware of the Fisk Jubilee Singers. Therefore, when I came across an old book about the singers many years ago, I immediately bought it. I also kept in a folder, information I acquired about the group and their ground-breaking visits to England in the 1800’s.

Today the internet allows access to information like never before and this has allowed me to research the group’s visits to Bradford during the period 1873 -1885. St George’s Hall can be justly proud that from its earliest days it was prepared to welcome a diverse range of performers to its stage, including the Jubilee Singers a choir of African American students - all but two of them former slaves - whose singing would change the course of music history.

Bob Naylor 1949 - 2020