By Barney Blakeney
Dr. Thaddeus John Bell and the team of the Lowcountry Jazz Festival are anticipating another successful event as the 9th annual musical extravaganza swings into play September 1-3. Bell expects this year’s festival to exceed the reputation that it’s earned in previous years as the premier jazz concert event in the state.
Opening Friday night at the North Charleston Performing Arts Center with keyboardist Brian Culbertson and violinist Damien Escobar, the festival which benefits the Closing the Gap in Healthcare for African Americans and the Underserved initiative takes flight Saturday as Grammy Award winners pianist Robert Glasper, songstress Lalah Hathaway and singer/songwriter Jarrod Lawson take the stage. Sunday it continues to soar with guitarist Norman Brown, trumpet master Rick Braun, sax man Richard Elliot and the masterful vocals of Jeffery Osborn.
Over the past eight years festival attendees filled the 2,000-seat performing arts center. Bell thinks that’s certain to happen again this year. The lineup continues the tradition of incomparable performances that draw jazz lovers from around the region. But more importantly the audience understands they’re “Jazzing with a purpose”.
The annual festival is the financial fundraiser for the 12-year-old Closing the Gap in Healthcare project, the 2005 winner of the Health Disparity Award. Its mission is to decrease health disparities and increase the health literacy of African Americans and underserved communities throughout the Carolinas.
It does that by providing health education programs and conferences and by increasing the number of African American healthcare providers in South Carolina. Through its scholarships to African American students at the Medical University of South Carolina, Closing the Gap in Healthcare has made more than $325,000 available to students in the healthcare profession. Bell notes while about 35 percent of residents in South Carolina are African American, only about five percent of healthcare professionals are Black. Together with its corporate and medical partners, Closing the Gap continues to pursue its mission, Bell said.
As part of the annual festival, Closing the Gap will sponsor the September 2 Jazzing With Sugar breakfast seminar 10 a.m.-12 p.m. at the Marriott Hotel on Gore Drive in North Charleston. In addition to the free breakfast attendees will get valuable information about diabetes.