Jackie … we need you more than ever
It’s been almost eight years since Jackie Washington passed away, but Hamilton still misses him dearly. We miss his music, for sure, but most of all we miss his smile.
There was something contagious about that smile. To be in the same room with Jackie, whether he was singing or just jawing about times past, was to feel good. He could wrap you in warmth and chase the blues away.
It’s no coincidence that one of his favourite songs — he knew 1,300 of them by memory — was “On the Sunny Side of the Street.” It was the place where Jackie preferred to be.
With all the crap going on in the world these days — all the Trumpxiety — a little dose of Jackie is just the thing we need. So the timing of the first Jackie Washington Day couldn’t be better.
Family, friends and fellow musicians are gathering in the first floor auditorium of the central branch of the Hamilton Public Library on Friday, Feb. 10 for a special lunch-hour tribute concert to Jackie.
Ken Whiteley and Mose Scarlet — Jackie’s collaborators on four wonderful albums — are coming to town for the event, as is his longtime friend Margaret Stowe who is organizing the musical side of the event.
They’ll be joined by local musicians Tom Wilson, Jude Johnson, Big Rude Jake, John Morris and Ginger St. James.
Jackie’s biographer James Strecker will be there, as will poet Klyde Broox and writer Paul Lisson, who organized the event with Hamilton Arts & Letters co-editor Fiona Kinsella.
Rick Stapleton will also stop by with some items — Jackie loved drawing steam locomotives — from the Jackie Washington Collection he curates at the McMaster University Archives.
It’s free, open to the public and starts at noon. But don’t plan on just showing up. Space is limited and organizers are expecting a sellout, so pickup a free ticket at the library’s central branch or register online at halmagazine.wordpress.com/hal-events/.
After the concert, at about 1:45 p.m., there will be a special screening of “Hank Williams: The Show He Never Gave,” a fictional film made about the final night of Williams’ life, which features Jackie playing the part of a club janitor.
Jackie, a member of the Canadian Jazz and Blues Hall of Fame, died in 2009 at the age of 89. He was born and raised in the north end of Hamilton, the grandson of a runaway slave, and began singing to local audiences with his brothers as a young boy.
He worked as a railway porter, a racetrack tout and a jazz DJ on CHML in the late 1940s and became popular on the Ontario coffee house circuit during the ’60s and ’70s. Jackie played Hamilton’s Festival of Friends a record 29 times.
A member of the Hamilton Gallery of Distinction, Jackie was presented with an honorary doctorate by McMaster University and the city named a park after him.
Still, it would be nice to have an annual event to stir all those great memories, all those smiles.
“Hopefully, we’ll have another Jackie Washington Day next year and then in 2019, we can do something even bigger to acknowledge the 100th anniversary of Jackie’s birth,” says Lisson.
Jackie Washington at the Festival of Friends in Gage Park in 2003.