Blues for the Blue: B.B. King, Thornetta Davis, Larry McCray And Matt Besey Unite Behind the Saginaw Police Department

    icon Oct 19, 2006
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The legendary B.B. King is known for milking weighty, warm, and endlessly fluid notes from the languid guitar neck of his lovely lady Lucille, but as this Maestro of the Blues celebrates his 80th birthday this year, citizens and fans of the tri-cities have an exceptionally rare opportunity to witness the true passion of the man when he makes his first Saginaw appearance in 20 years at an unprecedented concert event known as "Blues for the Blue'.

Happening Sunday, November 12th at 5:00 PM at the historic Temple Theatre, Blues for the Blue will also bring together such notable talents as Detroit's Thornetta Davis and Saginaw's own Larry McCray and Matt Besey - all converging for the same event to support public safety and benefit the Saginaw Police Department.

Conceived by Dennis Beson of Michigan Works (and also a member of local musical faves The Sinclairs), Ken Cichewicz of the Field Neurosciences Institute, and a group of 20 other community leaders forming Citizens for a Better Community, that became fed up with rising crime waves over the past couple of years, so decided to take action from two different fronts: first by assisting the Saginaw Police Department with additional funding to keep officers on the street during critical times when crime is at it highest point; and secondly by assisting Aspire!, an organization who's goal is to develop the youth of Saginaw and target 'at-risk' families that require better self-esteem and positive opportunities to ascend to a better life.

According to Dennis, "Back in January our group had discussion about the recent rash of crime, and one of our members, John Bottke from Keller Williams suggested that we rent a hall and have some local bands perform to raise money for the police.  I happened to be reading a book about John Mellencamp at the time, and mentioned at the meeting that maybe we could get someone like Mellencamp to come and do a concert. We also heard that Stevie Wonder was going to be in town to dedicate this old house that the Juneteenth Cultural Center now reside in."

"All of the members of our organization live or work in Saginaw County, and the safety of our citizens and our businesses is crucial to our careers," he continues. "At that time the campaign to pass the Saginaw Public Safety millage was raging on, so we thought this would be an excellent way to help the cause."

"We also wanted to work with a local organization that was addressing the problem at the formative level, meaning at risk youths and families," continues Dennis. "Larry Sanders  - Chairman of the Board of Aspire! - told me about this problem they were developing to help single parents and especially teen fathers. We finally settled on bringing in B.B. King and the some of our best state and local Blues artists, because thematically it 'fit the bill', so to speak."
"Jon Block from The Temple Theatre has since gone on to personally champion this cause, and we could never have pulled it off without his tireless efforts."

"Feedback to the idea has been incredible," concludes Dennis. "We were overjoyed with St. Mary's of Michigan stepping in without hesitation as a major co-sponsor, and we received very early commitments from Garber Management, MMR, Total Solutions, Hammer Restoration, Braun Kendrick Finkbeinder, Merrill Lynch, and several other key businesses in our area."

"But we can still use more support. We have several sponsorship opportunities available and will accept sponsorships beginning at $250.00. We also welcome any company that wants to purchase a block of tickets in the name of their company."

B.B. on Hiatus, A Chat with Thornetta Davis

B.B. King is in his seventh decade as a performer and eight decade of life. He could probably lay claim to being the worlds most active senior, having averaged 300 gigs a year in his younger days, and today performing an average 150 shows per year. Indeed, he could probably rival the reputation of James Brown as the 'hardest working man in show business'.      

Unfortunately, B.B. was unable to speak to The Review for this feature, as the month of October is "the one month out of the year that B.B. takes off and does nothing, not even interviews," explains his publicist.

Given that so much is in fact known about this iconic figure of the Blues, we turned to the ever-mercurial Thornetta Davis to get her take on this once-in-a-lifetime event.

For over 15 years, this multi-talented native Detroiter has graced and dominated Michigan's most attended concert events, performing over 200 shows a year with grace and stamina. With a strong, commanding, melodic, and smooth vocal acumen, she tells her stories with incredible delivery, and always leaves her audiences wanting more.

Hailing from Detroit, and given the legacy of Motown, it isn't surprising that Thornetta Davis was drawn to the Blues; but at what point did she know her life would be dedicated to music?

"Growing up with so many different styles of music going on, I've never been one to fall into a category. I love Jazz, Top-40, and R&B, but Blues is the base. I consider the Blues 'God's music'."

As a testament to her eclectic nature, Thornetta's first album was released on the Seattle based Sub Pop label ten years ago. Sub Pop accumulated a storied reputation as the Independent label that launched the careers of Grunge bands like Nirvana.  "I'd been doing work with this band they signed called Big Chief," explains Thornetta. "The label liked my work so much they wanted me as a solo artist."

In the 10 years since that release, Thornetta has opened for some heavy hitters such as Ray Charles, Buddy Guy, and Koko Taylor. Are there any of those performers that stand out as role models, or they each distinct in their own way?

"I would say the one that truly stands out in my mind is Ray Charles," reflects Thornetta. "I opened for him once in Grand Rapids, and performed with him in Detroit. He specifically asked for me to join him, which was a true honor.  That man is special, in so many ways."

While she is currently working on recording a collection of ten original songs, when asked what she feels distinguishes her from other contemporary Blues and R&B artists, Thornetta is modest. "As I alluded to earlier, I'm drawn to a lot of different musical styles, and have my influences, but it's all about the interpretation you lend to a song, which is hard to define, for me at least, probably because I'm so close to it."

As for her thoughts about performing this upcoming Blues for the Blue performance with the legendary B.B. King, Thornetta Davis is truly excited. "I'm honored to be sharing the stage with B.B. and all the other acts involved," she reflects. "The police not only in Saginaw, but in my home town of Detroit, are having a hard time. They keep us safe so it's our turn to help keep them safe. This is an excellent idea and think they should try it out in Detroit as well."

Thoughts from the Chief

Saginaw Police Chief Gerald Cliff is completely and rather obviously gratified at the outpouring of support stemming from this unprecedented concert event.

When asked about its significance to the police department, he is open and candid. "My immediate action was surprise more than anything else," he states.

"I was pleasantly surprised, more than anything else, as this came on the heels of the six mill approval for public safety in May. I think the Department itself to an officer was amazed at the outpouring of support from the community.  This is just one more example of how much citizens value the public safety that the officers provide for them. It's certainly a first in my law enforcement career to see people within a community put together a Benefit Concert with the stature of Mr. King and do it for law enforcement. I've seen it done for virtually everything imaginable except for the police."

In terms of impact should the concert sell-out; Cliff says he has heard estimates and speculation that anywhere from $25,000 to $50,000 could be directed to the Saginaw Police Department. "It's not enough to pay for even one officer for a year, but it is enough to afford for much more directed overtime.  Since the city millage approval, we received a justice assistance grant that we used $40,000 for directed overtime just this summer alone. With this benefit, I honestly believe we can make an impact on the violence that always escalates in the summer by having officers on the street doing what they can do interdict violence before it gets out of hand."    

  Could any of this money possibly be focused towards obtaining video camera policing in high-crime areas, similar to what is done in England and other countries?

"Funny you should ask that," notes the Chief. "For the last year we've been looking into a really unique system of technology for law enforcement that's been tried in other violence prone areas. It's called a 'Shot Spotter' and is an acoustic gunshot identification system that triangulates the source of gunfire and communicates via computer to Central Dispatch and then to responding officers."

"It has been incredibly effective where implemented in cities like Gary, Indiana and Chicago," he continues. "Where they've put it to use it has resulted in a 60-70% increase in gun arrests. The sensitivity is such that it can locate the source within a few feet of gunfire, along with the type of gun and caliber of bullet being used, in many instances."

"This is Department of Defense technology that's been in use for some years now, but is being diverted to civilian applications. It's kind of expensive, as you would expect. But Congressman Kildee got us a line item on the federal budget for it. If this goes through the final budget approval cycle, we'll see it here in 2007."

"Saginaw will be the only city in Michigan with this technology and it would carry a tremendous impact on the gun violence in the city."

"But as for this concert itself, the police are very enthused. Again, the outpouring of the community is remarkable, and I'm sure you'll see a lot of officers in attendance."
The Blues for the Blue Concert with B.B. King, Thornetta Davis, and Larry McCray will take place on November 12th at 5 PM. Howard Sharper from Delta Broadcasting will Emcee and the show will open with Morgan McMillion. After the show, there is a VIP reception to meet and greet the artists. Tickets are $75.00, $50,00 and $25.00.  Tickets may be purchased by calling 877-754-SHOW  or by visiting the Temple Box Office at 210 N. Washington, Saginaw.  For sponsorship opportunities, please phone Dennis Beson at 233-0500.

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