|The graves of Uncle Jessie White and Louis "Mr. Bo" Collins at Forest Lawn Cemetery in Detroit have headstones thanks to the Detroit Blues Society.|
|Mike Boulan, president of the Detroit Blues Society, relaxes in the control room of the No Cover recording studio in Oak Park.|
The Detroit Blues Society has always been an active organization. Whether it’s an organized fundraiser -- such as supplying headstones for the graves of late Detroit bluesmen -- or simply providing support to local and national touring musicians, the DBS is a proactive group.
At Saturday’s monthly meeting and jam, “Blues and Toys For Girls and Boys,” at Callahan’s Music Hall, the DBS hopes to raise money and toys for the U.S. Marine Corps Toys For Tots Foundation. Anyone who donates $10 cash or a new, unwrapped toy worth $10 or more will receive a free blues music CD of their choice.
“We’ve partnered with them in the past,” said Mike Boulan, DBS president. “We’ll gather up whatever toys and money are donated, put them in a big basket and present it to the Marines.”
The group was formed in 1985 as The Detroit Country and Classic Blues Society to provide an opportunity to jam with local and touring musicians. In 1992, it was renamed the Detroit Blues Society with a goal to increase public awareness of blues music in Detroit.
Through the years, the jamming has remained an important component. One of Detroit’s top blues bands hosts each month’s meeting and performs an hour-long set. An open jam follows, with some of Detroit’s top talent often participating.
This month’s jam session will be hosted by singer-guitarist Robert Penn and his band, which has been prominent in the Detroit blues scene for years.
“We’re not just a preservationist-type society,” Boulan said. “We encourage everyone to come down, bring their instruments, and perform.”
The society recently completed a fund-raising project to place headstones on the graves of Uncle Jessie White and Louis “Mr. Bo” Collins at Forest Lawn Cemetery in Detroit. Uncle Jessie, who was prominent in keeping the blues alive in Detroit during some down times, died in 2008. Mr. Bo, who performed in the style of B.B. King, passed away in 1995.
“(They) were cut from a different cloth than today’s people,” Boulan said. “You just can’t meet a nicer person on the face of this planet than either of these gentlemen.”
The DBS has also placed headstones on the graves of Son House, the Butler Twins (Clarence and Curtis Butler) and Calvin Frazier.
“Some of these people were personal friends of mine, and elder statesmen of the blues, that lived into their later years … and didn’t have a lot to show for it because they were bluesmen their whole lives and it’s not a lucrative field,” Boulan said. “Sometimes, they ended up in ummarked graves.
“Wolfgang Spider, one of our board members, took it upon himself to put a stone on a grave, which kicked this whole thing off. In the course of doing that, he started to become aware of how many of his personal friends were lying in unmarked graves and it really became much more of a pressing issue and something that we’re going to remain focused on for a long time to come, because we think this is a wrong that we can right.”
The DBS Holiday Meeting and Jam starts at 9 p.m. Saturday at Callahan’s Music Hall, 2105 South Blvd. (just east of Opdyke), Auburn Hills. The public is welcome and admission is free. For information, call (248) 858-9508 or click atcallahans.com. For information on the Detroit Blues Society, click www.bluessociety.org.
To see a video of Mike Boulan discussing the DBS headstone project, click here.
Contact JB Blues via e-mail at email@example.com