Want to go?
What: 12th Annual Juneteenth Heritage Festival
When: June 21, from 4 p.m.-midnight. Gates open at 4 p.m.; shows start at 5 p.m.
Where: Fifth Street (downtown Meridian), Historic African-American Business District
Headliners: Theodis Ealey and Vick Allen. Also featuring Miss FaLisa Jayne, Miss Genii and Napoleon.
Admission: $10, advance; $15, at the gate. Tickets available at Sam's Fashions, 2301 Fifth St.
By Ida Brown
Blues guitarist, vocalist and songwriter Theodis Ealey will headline this year's local celebration commemorating the announcement of the ending of slavery in the United States.
Fifth Street – downtown's Historic African-American Business District – will be the setting for the 12th Annual Juneteenth Heritage Festival. The afternoon-to-evening event will feature food, fun, fellowship and music.
"The first Juneteenth was a jubilant celebration, so we want to continue in that spirit," said Louis Sutton, who is co-chairing the event with Craig Houston. "But it is also about knowledge, empowerment and awareness. Juneteenth is about looking back at our past to determine our future. We've come a long way, but we still have a long way to go."
Also known as Freedom Day or Emancipation Day, Juneteenth dates back to 1865. On June 19 of that year, Union soldiers – led by Maj. Gen. Gordon Granger – landed at Galveston, Texas, with news that the war had ended and the the enslaved were now free. This was two and a half years after President Lincoln's Emancipation Proclamation, which had become official Jan. 1, 1863.
Former slaves in Galveston rejoiced in the streets with jubilant celebrations; Juneteenth celebrations began in Texas the following year. Across many parts of Texas, freed people pooled their funds to purchase land specifically for their communities and increasingly large Juneteenth gatherings — including Houston's Emancipation Park, Mexia's Booker T. Washington Park, and Emancipation Park in Austin.
The name "Juneteenth" – a combination of the word "June" and the suffix "teenth" as in "nineteenth' – was coined by 1903. In Texas, Juneteenth has been an official state holiday since 1980. As of June 2012, 42 U.S. states and the District of Columbia have recognized Juneteenth as either a state holiday or a special day of observance.
Meridian's observance will include food vendors, as well as arts and crafts, fashions, a live DJ and kids activities. A program of gospel music will begin at 5 p.m.
Evening music entertainment will showcase blues artists. The lineup includes:
• Theodis Ealey – Also known as "The Bluesman Lover," this Natchez native first picked up an instrument when his older brother, "Y" "Z" Ealey, taught him how to play a musical instrument at the age of 4. Ten years later, Ealey, on bass, was playing at his first gig with brothers "Y" "Z" and Melwin Ealey in a group called "Y" "Z" Ealey and the Merrymakers at a local nightclub in their hometown called the Horseshoe Circle. A year later, Ealey traded his bass for a guitar and began performing with another Natchez group, Eugene Butler & the Rocking Royals. It was here that Ealey sharpened his guitar playing skills, hitting the local circuit.
Established as an accomplished guitarist – Ealey has played with such notable artists as Little Milton, Johnny Clyde Copeland, Richard "Dimples" Fields, the Blues Brothers and the legendary Charles Brown – Ealey has recorded several successful albums. His electrifying stage performances can be seen on the Emmy award-winning HBO Special, "Miss Evers' Boys," the movie "The Fighting Temptations" and commercials for Rooms to Go and The Cartoon Network. He appeared in the 2007 Tyler Perry movie, "Daddy's Little Girls."
Ealey's recordings include "Francine" and "Stand Up In It," and he has crossed music genres and performed as a featured vocalist withe the Hip Hop group Ghetto Mafia on their "On Da Grind" CD.
• Vick Allen – Crowd favorite "The Velvet Voice Of Soul" returns to Meridian's Juneteeth Heritage.
A native of Jackson, Allen began singing and playing piano at the age of 5. He found his best audiences to be his family and church members – who were astonished at his ability at such an early age. At age 15, Allen produced and recorded his first CD. After graduating from high school, he started singing professionally with the popular gospel group The Canton Spirituals. Vick later ventured out on his own as a soul singer sharing the stage with such artists as Bobby “Blue” Bland, The O’Jays, Buddy Miles and Willie Clayton. Today, Allen is a well-known singer, producer, performer and musician in gospel, R&B and blues genres. He has produced records for Grammy-nominated artists such as blues legend Bobby Rush, as well as gospel greats The Canton Spirituals. Vick has also produced records for well-known blues artists such as Tyrone Davis, Willie Clayton, Peggy Scott-Adams, Mel Waiters, Shirley Brown, Toni Green, Omar Cunningham and many others for his production company, Test-Mic Productions.
As a performer, Allen has made an impact on the soul/blues genre with his electrifying stage shows, classic recordings and vocal prowess. His two biggest hits to date are “Forbidden Love Affair” and “I’m Hooked”, both No. 1 songs.
Rounding out the evening's entertainment will be blues artists Miss FaLisa Jayne, Miss Genii and Napolean.
• Sponsors for the 12th Annual Juneteenth Heritage Festival are Coors Light, the city of Meridian and the Juneteenth Heritage Festival Committee.