Celebrating Black History Month: An Interview with Freddi Gowdy

By Connor Lukes, University of Denver Journalism Intern

We catch up with the 2019 Hall of Fame inductee and honoree for Black History Month Freddi Gowdy, founding member of the Freddi-Henchi Band alongside the late Marvin “Henchi” Graves. From growing up poor in the projects to performing overseas, Gowdy humbly shares his experiences as a small-town musician who grew into his groove ahead of the ‘70s funk boom. Originally known as Freddi-Henchi and the Soulsetters, the band slowly grew their influence over the course of fifteen years playing venues across the western United States. Freddi & Henchi gained a significant following in Boulder with their rockin’ performances and signature dance moves. It wasn’t long before they were named Colorado’s “Crown Princes of Funk.” Freddi & Henchi served as co-bill and opened for other iconic acts such as Steely Dan, the Nitty Gritty Band, Chicago, John Denver, and Earth Wind & Fire, just to name a few. The Colorado Music Hall of Fame is proud to be featuring Freddi & Henchi as part of our renovated exhibits coming in March and April to the Red Rocks Trading Post.

When did you decide to become a professional musician?

I started off in Arizona. I was in the choir in high school, and my music teacher, a beautiful lady, her name was Mrs. Light, kept telling me ‘you have talent and you should keep going.’ I took the class as an easy grade, and I started listening to different types of music. Then one of the guys in my chorus suggested that I try out for this band that was around Arizona, and they were called the Soul Setters. I waited and waited, you know, wasn’t ready to do it. They kept calling me and calling me…a lot of it was I didn’t think I could sing like the other guy; he was a good singer, but then he got drafted. The guy that put me in the band came over to my house, and we sat down and he talked [me into joining].

As a black musician in the ‘60s, what sort of obstacles did you face? Were there any clubs that would not let you play?

Right, that’s a good question, because it did hold us back a couple times. A lot of the time [club owners] would look at the lineup, and they would see two Black guys, two Hispanic guys, two Native American Indian guys. They would say to themselves, ‘What the hell? Who the hell are these guys!?’ Then we had the flashy stuff! We were all flashed out. Colorado was, you know, [wasn’t] used to that. California, yes. Arizona, yes. Colorado was not used to the flashy stuff. Colorado was mainly folk music back in the day.

A couple of times we got stuff thrown at us up in Fort Collins. Really, those five clubs were, there was nothing around those places. I mean, it was out in the country [in the ‘60s].

The performance was there. Vocals, kind of there. But the live stuff, the back flips and lifts and all that stuff, we killed on that! We knew we had our ace in the hole when we performed. All the records we recorded just couldn’t get over the hump. That’s the only thing that held us back was the records that were recorded. We opened for a lot of big acts before they were big acts. You know what I mean? We were like the second bill or third bill.

Your band got its big break in Colorado in Fort Collins?

Sort of, yeah. One of the first places we played in Colorado was Fort Collins. Then, we went to Boulder and played the Skunk Creek Inn. It was owned by Al Roth. He owned Herman’s Hideaway. [Skunk Creek Inn] was rockin’. It was one of our better places to play. And it was fun. We played with Chuck Berry there…Bo Diddley, too. Their careers, you see them with the Stones and all that. But back then, they were just doing the old nightclubs the way we were doing.

Everyone talks about Henchi’s nickname from his wrestling days, but how did your nickname “Freddi Love” come about?

The agent that we were working with said Freddi Gowdy just doesn’t have that Umph! So from now on your name is Freddi Love. I hated that name! I said, “oh, okay, can you change it?” No, and when I get back to Arizona, sometimes I hear “Hey! Freddi Love!” Yeah, I don’t particularly like that name. But I had to use it.

Could you talk about your fashion from the era? You’ve loaned several items for The Hall’s display, including some of Henchi’s beautifully crafted outfits by designer Valerie McCreary. How did the band get in contact with her?

She made clothes for Elton John, Tommy Bolin, a bunch of acts. And she was very, very good. She would come and see the band. It took her maybe two weeks [to make the costumes] if she didn’t have one of the big bands from Caribou [Ranch] or something. [Henchi] would give his input on what he wanted.

Sometimes the whole band would wear [the costumes]. Especially on special shows when we were second or third bill, we would dress splashdown.

You’ve lately been performing with fellow Colorado Music Hall of Fame inductee and former Director of The Hall, Chris Daniels; how did you guys start playing together?

He called me. Chris got sick, and I went to see the band over at Elway’s and he had just got out, maybe two weeks out of the hospital. He tried to get up there and play, and it was like 100 and something [degrees] out. He got up there, and he was doing fine. Then he got sick up there on stage…I’m sitting there, and he called me over and said, ‘You think you can do a couple of numbers and help me out?’ I go, ‘Yeah, yeah, I’ll do a couple of numbers.’

Then a month later, he called me and asked me if I wanted to join the band. I really don’t sing his type of stuff. He does R&B, but he also does swing, rock and roll. He’s not locked into funk, and I wasn’t sure if I could do it, so I said ‘Yeah, let’s try.’ We got together, rehearsed and then it worked out fine.

What career moments or successes are you most proud of?

When I went to play for the USO show, we went overseas to Japan [and Korea], ‘89, ‘90, something like that. We played for the troops…It’s one of the wildest things you’ve ever seen. 5,000 guys dancing with each other. It’s like, wow!

[Another moment is playing] third bill with James Brown in the ‘70s; it was in Arizona. Then there was the first time we ever played the Whisky a Go Go, and the first time we ever played Troubadour.

The Hall of Fame, for me, after all those years being on the road and opening up for these guys and coming close, very close to making it, the Hall of Fame has got to be up there. Number one for me.

Colorado Artist Spotlight: The Czars

Colorado Artist Spotlight: The Czars

Colorado has been home to many legendary bands, including The Czars. The band formed in Denver in 1994, developing a sound that’s been classified as “slowcore, dream pop” and also under the catchall “alternative rock.” But the sound might best be described as a cross between 1970s Moody Blues and The Wallflowers. The Czars released five studio albums before breaking up in 2004.

History of the Band

The Czars were started by John Grant, vocalist, and Chris Pearson, bassist, who met at Rock Island, a downtown Denver club. It took around a year to gather the rest of the band members: guitarists Roger Green and Andy Monley, and drummer Jeff Linsenmaier.

The band started with its own label, Velveteen Records, and self-released the album Moodswing in 1995 and La Brea Tar Pits of Routine in 1997. Grant sent a disc of La Brea Tar Pits of Routine to Simon Raymonde, who had just formed the London record label Bella Union. Although Raymonde did not sign the band at the time, he did keep in touch with Grant, and The Czars continued to send Bella Union demos.

Eventually, The Czars signed on with Bella Union, the first American band to do so. While working on their album Before…But Longer, the band opened for Dirty Three, Ween and Low. They began their second album under Bella Union, The Ugly People vs the Beautiful People, in 2000. They also composed the soundtrack for I’d Rather Be…Gone, an independent film that only played at the Gay and Lesbian Film Festival in San Francisco. The soundtrack, however, is a collector’s item.

The Czars opened for The Flaming Lips, 16 Horsepower, and David Gray during Europe tours. They also had three tours in the United States.

The band recorded two more albums, the self-produced X Would Rather Listen to Y Than Suffer Through a C of Z’s, and Goodbye, which was paid for by friends and fans. The critically acclaimed Goodbye was named by Mojo as 38th of the top 50 albums of the year. Despite the praise, this album was the last one The Czars recorded.

In 2004, all but one member of the band departed, leaving Grant, who continued to perform under the name The Czars for a while. After taking time off, he returned as a solo artist, debuting his album Queen of Denmark in 2010.

Impact The Czars Have Made on Colorado

The Czars began their career in Denver, and within five years won Westword’s top honors as Best Rock Band, in 1999. Westword also named the band’s 2002 album, The Ugly People vs the Beautiful People, “Album of the Year.” Along with bands like The Fray, 16 Horsepower and Nathaniel Rateliff’s Born in the Flood (2002), The Czars gave Colorado a deep catalogue of what is loosely called “alternative rock.”

Even after the band’s breakup, The Czars continued to have an impact on Colorado. In 2014, when Bella Union released The Czars: Best Of, Syntax Physic Opera held a tribute show for The Czars, to honor the band and celebrate the release. The venue was beloved by local musicians, and the show attracted both fans and artists such as Nathaniel Rateliff, Bill McConnell, Gary Isaacs, Chris Bagley and Mark Sink. During the show, former members of the band took the stage to showcase other projects and play songs.

The Czars’ contribution to Denver’s music scene continues, as can be seen in former member Monley’s projects Jux County and The Velveteen Monster.

Learn About Colorado’s Music History

If you would like to learn more about Colorado artists, visit the Colorado Music Hall of Fame, which shares musical history and hosts numerous events throughout the year. Check back for more news in 2020.
Image Credit: Sparty1711


Who Is Joe Walsh?

If you’ve ever listened to “Hotel California” and marveled at the incredible guitar solos, you have heard the genius of Joe Walsh and Don Felder improvising together on the iconic 1976 recording. But while Walsh’s time with the Eagles was his longest stint with any one band, his musical career started much earlier.

Joseph Fidler Walsh was born November 20, 1947, in Wichita, Kansas. His mother was a classical pianist who filled their home with music. After his father died in a plane crash, Walsh kept his memory alive by taking his father’s name as his middle name.

Joe Walsh Band Beginnings

Walsh’s family moved around frequently when he was young, landing in such places as Chicago, New York City and Montclair, New Jersey, where he played oboe in high school. Finally ending up in Ohio in his late teens, he attended Kent State University for a short time. He was there at the time of the Kent State Massacre; that and other events prompted him to leave college and focus on music. Walsh soon joined a garage band called The Measles, singing such tunes as “And It’s True” and “I Find I Think of You” as the lead vocalist.

Early in 1968, Walsh auditioned for and got a gig with a four-piece Ohio rock band named James Gang. At a show in Detroit at the Grande Ballroom opening for Eric Clapton’s Cream, the other James Gang guitar player missed the gig.The  three-piece James Gang took the stage and impressed Mark Barger, a local artist manager who connected the band with ABC Records staff producer Bill Szymczyk. That started a long collaboration between Walsh and Szymczyk, who worked with Walsh on James Gang’s hits “Walk Away” and “Funk #49. Shortly after the release of James Gang Live at Carnegie Hall, though, Walsh left the band and headed to Colorado.

Joe Walsh in Colorado

In 1971, Walsh moved to an old mining town in Colorado. He helped organize a new studio near Nederland, and made a deal to record there for almost nothing (it later became the iconic Caribou Ranch Studio). Using revolutionary guitar sounds and recording techniques, including running his guitar through a Leslie organ speaker, Walsh joined with legendary drummer and multi-instrumentalist Joe Vitale and bassist Kenny Passarelli to form Barnstorm. Their 1973 second album under the name Joe Walsh and Barnstorm was titled The Smoker You Drink The Player You Get; it contained the song “Rocky Mountain Way,” which reached #23 on the US Top 40 chart. (Szymczyk worked on that, too.) Some of the other hits recorded and released by Barnstorm include “Mother Says” and “Here We Go.” At Caribou Studios, Walsh also produced Dan Fogelberg’s Souvenirs album, bringing in Graham Nash to sing harmony vocals on “Part of the Plan,” which reached #17 on the 1975 Billboard album chart.

Walsh and his wife, Stefany, had a daughter, Emma, in 1971. When she was three years old, Emma was injured in a car wreck as they were taking her to nursery school, and she eventually passed away from her injuries. The tragedy prompted Walsh to write “Song for Emma,” which he included on his So What album. The title for that album reflected Walsh’s depression over the loss of his daughter. A memorial plaque honoring Emma sits next to a water fountain in North Boulder Park in Boulder, Colorado.

Joe Walsh Leaving Colorado

After his years in Colorado, Walsh joined the Eagles when founding member Bernie Leadon left the band in 1975. During his many years with the Eagles, he recorded such hits as “Hotel California,” “I Can’t Tell You Why” and “Life in the Fast Lane,” built off of a Walsh guitar riff. Walsh toured with the band until its first breakup in 1980, then rejoined the Eagles in 1994 when the band returned for the “Long Run” era.

Though the Eagles were a huge success, Walsh also produced solo albums during this time. In 1978, his solo Life’s Been Good reached #12 on the US Billboard Hot 100. Other hits during his solo career included “All Night Long,” “Ordinary Average Guy” and “A Life of Illusion.” Along the way, Walsh made many guest appearances. He appeared on Sonic Highways, the Foo Fighters’ eighth album, and also played a Colorado-inspired “Rocky Mountain Way” on The Voice with Laith Al-Saadi in 2016.

In 1998, the Eagles were inducted into the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame. In 2011, Rolling Stone named Joe Walsh one of the “100 Greatest Guitarists of All Time,” recognizing his incredible music career.

Learn More

To learn more about Joe Walsh’s “Rocky Mountain Way” and to find out when he’ll be in Colorado next, check the Colorado Music Hall of Fame calendar.

Hazel BEST Dec 3

History of the Colorado Music Hall of Fame

Before 2011, efforts to remember and immortalize influential musicians from Colorado in a single music history museum had all failed. Then, in collaboration with former Denver Post journalist Gary “G” Brown, Chuck Morris took on the task of bringing the Colorado Music Hall of Fame to life. Morris’s career as a concert promoter and artist manager had started in 1969; over the years, he’d watched countless musicians from all over the state rise to fame. Morris and Brown envisioned creating an organization that would recognize more than one style or aspect of music. They created the Hall as a nonprofit with the mission of celebrating musicians working in all genres, as well as individuals and organizations that have impacted the scene. For these music enthusiasts, the only limitations were the Colorado state lines.

From a Modest Start to a Permanent Home

With a board of dedicated industry and community leaders and a list of future inductees, Colorado Music Hall of Fame began the work of preserving and displaying the stories and artifacts of this state’s musical legacy. The Hall presented induction events that celebrated the artists and inductees and educated fans about Colorado’s rich musical heritage. Early Hall exhibits were housed in the 1stBank Center in Broomfield and then, thanks to Denver Mayor Michael Hancock and Governor John Hickenlooper, the Hall moved to its permanent home at the Trading Post at Red Rocks Amphitheatre, a Denver Mountain Park and one of the world’s best music venues.

Honoring Musicians of Colorado

In 2011, its first year, the Colorado Music Hall of Fame inducted just one musician, Grammy Award-winner John Denver. The other inductee was the iconic Red Rocks Amphitheatre. Since then, the Hall has inducted more than 25 individuals, organizations and musicians, including Judy Collins; Firefall; Colorado’s successful surf-rock band, The Astronauts; Flash Cadillac, which appeared in the George Lucas/Francis Ford Coppola movie American Graffiti; the Nitty Gritty Dirt Band; Poco; Glen Miller; five-time Grammy-winning jazz vocalist Dianne Reeves; Charles Burrell, the classical bassist known as the “Jackie Robinson of classical music” for his work as the first African-American musician to be hired by a national symphony in 1949; and many more. In 2018 the Hall added inductees 97.3 KBCO, the legendary Boulder radio station that is celebrating over forty years on the air and helped create “album-oriented” Triple A radio, and Chuck Morris himself, who is responsible for the success of such artists as Lyle Lovett, Big Head Todd & The Monsters and who, along with Bill Graham’s company, opened the Fillmore Ballroom in Denver. During that celebration, Governor John Hickenlooper received the Barry Fey Visionary Award for his unwavering support for Colorado-based music and musicians.

Exhibits in the Trading Post tell stories about much of the state’s music history in such displays as Jazz Masters, Live and on the Air, 20th Century Pioneers and Rockin’ the 60s. Others are devoted to individual inductees, supported by the artists themselves or their families. For example, John Denver’s wife made generous donations of clothing, instruments and other items from Denver’s personal belongings. The Judy Collins exhibit includes a beautiful dress from the singer and the original lyrics to some of her songs.

Come Celebrate Colorado Music History

With a mission to educate, empower and inspire future musicians in this great state, the Colorado Music Hall of Fame offers an important educational experience. Schools and other organizations can tour the self-explanatory exhibits for free from 9 a.m. to 4 p.m. daily; on concert dates during the Red Rocks summer season, the Hall, which is located in the Trading Post just to the east of the main stage, often stays open until 7 p.m. The exhibits, films, and artifacts make learning about Colorado’s musical influences simple and engaging for everyone. Simply drop by the Hall or contact us to schedule a guided visit.


Zephyr: The True Story of a Colorado Legend

Anyone who ever saw Candy Givens perform with Zephyr in 1969, or through the band’s years when it released albums on ABC, Warner Bros., Red Sneakers, BGO, and One Way-Casablanca Records all the way into the 1980s, never forgot the vocal power and sheer energy of her presence.  She was simply “a force of nature,” says Dr. Kevin Fitzgerald, Animal Planet veterinarian-comedian and a former bodyguard for the Rolling Stones. Whether Zephyr was opening for Jimi Hendrix at the legendary Denver Pop Festival, playing Mammoth Gardens or tearing the roof off Art’s Bar & Grill in Boulder, this was the band to see in that incredible era that produced artists like The Who, Buffalo Springfield and Janis Joplin and the Holding Company.

Candy Ramey and the Origins of Zephyr

Candy Ramey was born in 1946 into a family that’s been described as “gamblers and small-time outlaws” living in a log house overlooking the lake near Evergreen, just west of Denver.  When she was eleven, they moved out of the mountains to Applewood, near Golden. Candy’s love of music and her powerful voice got her voted the “most likely to become a famous singer” in her senior year at Golden High School. She attended Northern Colorado University in Greeley, intending to become a teacher.  But music was her focus, and she and her high school buddy, Doug Lubahn, hitchhiked to California. Lubahn looked for jobs as a bass player and ended up playing bass on the first two Doors albums. Candy moved on to San Francisco to join friend Connie Kay there; she made her radio debut playing guitar and singing “Greensleeves” on a Chinese language station.  After a year on the coast, she returned to Colorado and moved to Aspen, joining another high school friend, Doug Whitney, in the Piltdown Philharmonic Jug Band. It was there that she met David Givens, a songwriter, guitar and bass player; they moved to Boulder and were married in October 1968. Their band, Brown Sugar, played from Denver to Salt Lake City, California and back to Boulder that fall. Brown Sugar would eventually transform into Zephyr.

Fillmore West Albert King-min

At the time, Boulder was a gathering place for great musicians and had an incredibly diverse music scene. Rick Roberts from The Flying Burrito Brothers and Firefall; Jock Bartley from Graham Parsons and Firefall; Poco; Freddi Henchie & the Soulsetters; Flash Cadillac; Joe Walsh & Barnstorm and Steve Stills were all drawn to the mountains and Caribou Ranch recording studios.  After a monumental jam with guitar wizard Tommy Bolin at The Buff Room on the hill, Candy and David Givens joined keyboard and flutist John Faris and Bolin, the leaders of the band Ethereal Zephyr. With the addition of Robbie Chamberlin on drums, the band members began composing and arranging music drawing from their experience playing pop, blues, jazz, country, and folk music.  They burst onto the Colorado music scene with several explosive shows starting at The Sink in Boulder, where they worked with Chuck Morris to promote a Barry Fey-style buzz about the band, and then at the University of Colorado’s Glenn Miller Ballroom, opening for John Mayall; Mackie Auditorium with Tim Leary; Reed’s Ranch with the Grateful Dead; and various free concerts at the Boulder Band Shell and other locations in the mountains around Boulder.  

After playing in Phoenix, where they met musicians like Steve Miller, Vanilla Fudge and David Lindley’s band, Kaleidoscope, they moved on to New York, San Francisco, and Los Angeles, where they played the Avalon Ballroom, The Whisky A-Go-Go, and The Boston Tea Party.  Everywhere they went, their no-holds-barred shows earned new fans, especially at the Denver Pop Festival, where they played on two memorable evenings. Through these shows, they spent time in Boulder, preparing to record their first album in the fall of 1969 in Los Angeles. Their self-titled debut album was released on ABC Probe, a division of ABC Records, in February 1970. With Candy’s stage presence, songwriting, vocals and harp; Bolin’s magical guitar solos and the power of the Zephyr rhythm section, plus the band’s blues/jazz/rock performances on shows with Jimi Hendrix, Led Zeppelin, Leslie West’s Mountain, Mad Dogs and Englishmen, Spirit, Fleetwood Mac, and pretty much every top group of the era, the band established a fan base across the U.S., Canada and internationally in Europe, Japan, and Australia.  

Fillmore West Jeff Beck 69-min

The stage was set for Zephyr with Candy Givens to become the logical heir to the Janis Joplin, Grace Slick dynasty of powerful, women-fronted bands in the late 1960s.

But logic and destiny rarely unfold in a way that confirms inevitability. Zephyr’s second album was recorded for Warner Brothers with famed producer/engineer Eddie Kramer in New York at Electric Lady studios with Bobby Berge on drums.  Carly Simon, who was recording her first album at Electric Lady with Kramer, invited David Givens to play bass on several tunes, including her first hit, “That’s the Way I’ve Always Heard It Should Be.” Sadly, Jimi Hendrix died the day before he was to return to New York to complete the legendary album Cry of Love.  While Eddie Kramer and drummer Mitch Mitchell finished the album, the Zephyr sessions were put on the back burner – never to be properly finished.  Going Back to Colorado came out in 1971 on Warner Brothers Records.  It was favorably reviewed in Rolling Stone by famed critic Lester Bangs; Colorado writer Gil Asakawa wrote, “She had a powerful throaty voice that could scream the highest rock and roll notes but swoop down to the lowest moaning blues.” Despite slow album sales, Billboard chose Zephyr, along with Eric Clapton, as most likely to succeed. The magazine was half-right.

Record labels of that era chose favorites, and they did not promote Zephyr’s album the way it should have been pushed. Whether because of half-hearted promotion by Warner Brothers or mismanagement, Zephyr did not achieve the commercial success that fans thought the band deserved. “Warner Brothers released Tommy and Bobby when they quit the band,” recalls David Given. “And Barry Fey turned his attention to Tommy after a dispute we had over failed promises and life insurance. Eventually, our band was blackballed out of the big-time music business. We were consigned to a career of playing ski towns and along the Front Range, up into Wyoming and down into New Mexico, as we beat our heads against the wall that our management erected around us.”

Bolin would go on to replace Joe Walsh in Barnstorm and then record and tour with Deep Purple, a legendary psychedelic-rock band of the ‘70s. He eventually launched a solo career, but that was cut short just as Bolin began to gain the recognition he truly deserved. He died in Miami on December 4, 1976, of a drug overdose.

David and Candy Givens formed a new band and recorded Sunset Ride, which may be the album most remembered by their fans. Candy’s songwriting, vocals, and harp were at their apex. On guitar, Bolin was replaced by Jock Bartley, who would later go on to co-found Firefall with Rick Roberts. They also added Michael Wooten on drums, who subsequently toured and recorded with Carol King and Leftover Salmon.  The album was produced by David Givens, and he wrote the majority of the songs for this second Warner Brothers release.

For the next ten years, Zephyr’s lineup continued to evolve with Otis Taylor (award-winning trans-blues artist), Eddie Turner (blues guitar great), boogie-woogie piano legend Rob Rio, Bobby Berge on drums and a host of other local and national luminaries. The band produced one more album in 1982, Heartbeat, and the video for that release used elements of animation combined with performance footage that was groundbreaking for its time.  Zephyr disbanded shortly after, though, and all the players went on to successful careers with other projects. Candy and David Givens were planning a blues album when Candy died in Boulder of a drug-related accidental drowning on January 27, 1984.

There are hundreds of stories in the annals of any community about musicians who never got a fair shake. Whether you are talking about New Jersey’s South Side Johnny being eclipsed by the career of Bruce Springsteen or Livingston Taylor being overshadowed by his more famous older brother James, the music business is not fair, nor just. In a perfect world, Warner Brothers would have capitalized on the remarkable talent of Candy Givens, and Zephyr would have received the attention it deserved.

Avalon Love 69-min

But thanks to David Givens, the music and the legacy live on. In 2014, Greg Hampton and David Givens remastered and repackaged the band’s first album, Bathtub Album, on Purple Pyramid Records and then gave the same treatment to “Going Back to Colorado,” adding previously unreleased live and studio recordings in a boxed set titled Leaving Colorado for Sunset Boulevard Records (both of which are still available).  David is currently remixing “Sunset Ride” and “Heartbeat” from the original multi-track recordings for release this year.  And there is still several albums’ worth of unreleased studio recordings that he intends to release in the future.

In 2019, The Colorado Music Hall of Fame will induct Candy Ramey Givens and Zephyr into the Hall of Fame. While it’s impossible to turn back time to give Zephyr its due, this band deserves to be recognized as one of the country’s most incredible, female-fronted groups that, while rooted in blues-rock, transcended that genre to create its own unique niche in Colorado music history.


Colorado Music Hall of Fame Commemorates Black History Month

Since 1976, February has been dedicated to recognizing and appreciating the achievements of African Americans in many different walks of life.

The Colorado Music Hall of Fame celebrates the incredible contributions of African American musicians who have impacted Colorado and international music scene over the years. Many of these artists were either born in Colorado, studied here, or ended up in the area through their musical journeys. These artists have been powerful advocates for social issues, cultural issues, and entertained Colorado music fans and music lovers all across the country and throughout the world.

Back in November, the Jazz Masters & Beyond Induction Ceremony and Concert was a capstone event honoring some of the most prolific musicians from Colorado who have literally changed the course of music. Dianne Reeves, Charlie Burrell, three members from Earth, Wind & Fire, Ron Miles & Bill Frizell and the music department of East High School were the first inductees from the Jazz tradition who received awards for their contribution to the Colorado music scene.

Dianne Reeves

Dianne Reeves, an inductee in the Colorado Music Hall of Fame, is at the forefront of producing and performing quality Jazz music since she started out in the 1970s. Inspired by her family’s deep musical background, Dianne Reeves has contributed significantly to the genre of Jazz around the world and in Colorado.

After studying at the University of Colorado, Reeves signed with Blue Note Records in 1987. She’s won two honorary doctorate awards, from Berklee in 2003 and Juilliard School of Music in 2015, and she has won 5 Grammy awards. She was featured in George Clooney’s movie “Good Night and Good Luck” as a featured singer and as the music of the soundtrack for the movie. The movie was nominated for six Academy Awards. We were honored to celebrate Dianne Reeves as part of the Jazz Masters & Beyond class and for all of her incredible achievements and contributions.

Charlie Burrell

Charlie Burrell is widely known for being the first African-American to be a member of a major American symphony. For this accomplishment, he is often referred to as “the Jackie Robinson of Classical Music”. Born in 1920 in Ohio and raised in Detroit, Burrell was drawn to Colorado to be with family and where he joined the Denver Symphony that year. As one of the few black classical musicians of his time, Charlie Burrell pioneered his authentic sound and put the Colorado music scene on a national platform. He rose to prominence in the Denver Five Points Jazz scene by becoming the house bass player at the Rossonian Hotel. During those years he played with almost all of the legendary Jazz musicians of the time who came to Five Points including Billie Holiday, Erroll Garner, Charlie Parker, Earl Hines, Duke Ellington, Count Bassie, Lionel Hampton and Gene Harris to name only a few.

Burrell lived through the age of segregation in the US and was at the forefront of championing equal rights through his classical music background. He also served to bridge the gap between classical and Jazz with his groundbreaking and effortless transitions between the two fields. We celebrate Charlie Burrell during this Black History Month for all of his incredible contributions to Colorado and to the country.

George Morrison, Sr.

The late George Morrison, Sr., was born during the height of the “Jim Crow” era in this country (1891). His dream was always to play the violin in a major orchestra, but the rules of the day served to nullify that dream. However, Morrison, Sr., did not relent, and he later ended up forming an 11-piece band that ultimately caught the attention of Colombia records. His work and recordings served as a great inspiration for many black musicians who came after him. He became a light and inspiration along the path that black musicians would follow, breaking into every style and genera in our State and all across the US.

Earth, Wind & Fire

The CMHOF’s Black History Month celebration would not be complete without recognizing one of the most popular bands in the US and the world, Earth, Wind & Fire. Their unique fusion of jazz with soul, gospel, pop, and rock dominated the airwaves between 1973 and 1981 with seven Top 10 hits, 12 Grammy Awards and a star on the Hollywood Walk of Fame.

The supergroup’s Colorado connections run deep with East High graduates Phillip Bailey, Larry Dunn and Andrew Woolfolk being inducted into the Hall in November and the studio where they recorded their breakout hits, Caribou Ranch Recording Studio being inducted in August of 2017. The incredible sound of joy that EW&F brought to the world was of a celebration of both the power of funk and the power of their positive uplifting lyrics despite the difficulties we all face. It was and is the sound of remembering September and the “Shining Star” that lives both within the African American community and within all of us.

The Colorado Music Hall of Fame is proud and honored to celebrate the careers, contributions, and legacies of all these remarkable men and women during Black History Month.

And there is more to come including a celebration of Ron Miles and Bill Frizell and their upcoming concert this month.


Featured Image Credit: Africa Studio/Shutterstock.com