Jackie … we need you more than ever

The Hamilton Spectator - - A&E - GRA­HAM ROCK­ING­HAM

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.

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