It is rare for a movement of any kind to be traced back to a particular location after 95 years of existence. It is even more rare to locate someone directly associated with that movement nearly 65 years after their initial involvement. It is not only rare, but a privilege to see that person to perform in your town for free.
The movement is Kansas City Jazz, the location was 18th and Vine, and the person is Queen Bey. Sunday, May 3 she will be at your library in Marvin Auditorium, 3-4 p.m.
People these days may only think of Beyonce when they hear the name “Queen Bey,” but this Queen began singing professionally at the age of 12 at the Orchid Room in Kansas City, Mo. Famous artists like Ella Fitzgerald, Billie Holiday and Dinah Washington also performed there regularly.
Because Bey was such a young performer, those famous jazz artists kept watch over her, worked with her, taught her, and influenced her directly. As if performing alongside these names didn’t say a lot about her talent, working with them says even more.
Over the years, she has performed internationally and with B.B. King. She has released CDs, been in movies with Martin Sheen, and starred in broadways shows and a TV commercial. All this, combined with the fact that she was such an integral part of the jazz scene, led to her being named KC’s Ambassador of Jazz.
Jazz isn’t as popular as it once was, even in Kansas City. According to PBS, following a boom in the 30’s, changes in agriculture and the War led to a decline in the popularity of jazz. Once Count Basie left for New York in 1936, there was a mass exodus of artists from KC to that area – something which was exacerbated by recording artists nabbing good musicians in KC. The jazz scene in KC would never be the same.
Nearly 80 years later, KC is trying to revive the city’s jazz scene. They have opened the American Jazz Museum in the historic 18th and Vine jazz district. Despite their efforts, however, people will not come to the museums unless they develop an appreciation for the genre. The only way to generate that appreciation is by exposure.
Queen Bey is more than an amorphous idol, more than a vestige of a different time and more than a figurehead. She is woman who can expose people to the magic of the genre and generate interest where there may have previously been none.
Sometimes, you just don’t know that you like something until you sit down and let yourself be captivated by someone who is extremely skilled at it.