Photo by Ruth Morgan
THE HARLEM JAZZ AND MUSIC FESTIVAL
Lloyd Williams and Voza Rivers, Co-Founders
“With the Harlem Jazz & Music Festival we wanted to introduce a wide audience both here and abroad to our rich culture of jazz.”
Since its inception seven years ago, The Harlem Jazz & Music Festival has become a major concert attraction. Ironically, the concept for HJ&MF was a work in progress for over two decades.
“It was decided after looking at all the musical events coordinated through Harlem Week, we needed a musical vehicle that was durable throughout the year and could go to other communities, as well as other countries,” stated Voza Rivers, executive producer for HJ&MF.
During its brief existence, the Harlem festival, with its uptown flavor, has thrilled audiences around the world—from the Apollo Theatre, Belmont Race Track, and Cooper’s Town (Baseball Hall of Fame), to such countries as Japan, Cuba, and Trinidad. Its legendary performers include Nancy Wilson, Ray Charles, Chuck Jackson, Gloria Lynne and Lloyd Price. “All of this would not have been feasible without the auspices of the Greater Harlem Chamber of Commerce,” noted Rivers.
“With the Harlem Jazz & Music Festival we wanted to introduce a wide audience both here and abroad to our rich culture of jazz, which is about the blues and R&B,” explained Lloyd Williams,
president of the Greater Harlem Chamber of Commerce and Harlem Week, Inc. “The issue for us was to cross-promote our culture, people who came to see Gloria Lynne would be introduced to Latin legend Joe Cuba, or a rap pioneer like Doug E. Fresh.”
Prior to Harlem Week and HJ&MF, in 1968 a group of Harlemites formed Blackfricia Promotions. Its members included Lloyd Williams, Stephanie Francis, Dr. Enrique Riggs, Ornette Coleman, the Hon. Percy Sutton and Basil Paterson. Their focus was promoting dance events and concerts throughout Harlem.
In 1974, Blackfricia originated Harlem Day, which featured live entertainment, children’s activities, and senior citizen events. It was such a success that in 1977, it was extended to Harlem Week. Today, it has become a month of activities from August into September.
In an association with WCBS-TV, HJ&MF created “The Sounds of Harlem,” a TV special that airs each February, highlighting local and established musicians from Harlem.
“The Harlem Music & Jazz Festival is our way of keeping the culture alive and getting people to connect with each other, with a vision of the past and the future with the music,” stated Williams.