Chicago Blues diva Deitra Farr recently posted on Facebook a photo of herself at the wailing wall in Jerusalem, reminiscing of her visit there 20 years ago. That brought back some good memories for me too, since I was the one who took her there ….
I have done short sightseeing trips like that with a few visiting Blues artists, and it’s fun and rewarding for both me and for them. Many African-American Blues artists grew up in the baptist church, and a visit to the holy Christian sites in Jerusalem has deep meaning for them. Also, many touring artists don’t get the opportunity to see much of the country, usually limited to hotel rooms and concert venues, so they appreciate someone taking the time and showing them a bit of the country.
The first such trip I did was with the late great King Earnest (Earnest Baker), who I had already become close friends with. King was a devout Christian, who had even spent 15 years in “retirement” from the Blues singing in his church choir. That day, I drove him up to Jerusalem along with my wife and infant daughter, he was excited and full of anticipation. He kept saying “I can’t wait to see that cross”, which confused me at first. Eventually I understood that someone back home had told him that the actual cross that Jesus had died on was still on display in Jerusalem. I had the awkward duty of disappointing my friend, telling him that no such cross existed, and if anyone tried to sell him a piece of the cross it was just a scam...he got a good laugh at that, and we had a fine day in Jerusalem - even running into a group from his church right on the Via Dolorosa - which was very moving and meaningful to King.
Being a young aspiring Blues artist in Israel, so far away from Chicago and other authentic Blues scenes in America, these trips had a lot of meaning for me too - they were my opportunity to spend time and bond with musicians who I admire and respect, to pay back some of the debt I feel to these artists for the amazing music and Blues tradition that I love so much - and to try to mine a bit of “Blues wisdom” along the way…
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