A Celebration, Honoring Roland H. Betts-Living A Legacy of Building Cultural Bridges
On Saturday May 30, local community members of South Los Angeles will gather at the Watts Labor Community Action committee’s Phoenix Hall, located at 10950 South Central Ave., Los Angeles in order to honor Roland Hayes Betts in recognition of his years of service to the community, along with his contribution in furthering the appreciation of our nation’s only true musical form – Jazz.
Born in Alton, IL., Betts spent his formative years growing up in Chicago, where his father was an original member of the Fruit of Islam and served as a bodyguard for the Honorable Elijah Muhammad.
After serving in the United States Marine Corp, where he made history by integrating the Quantico Marine Base Basketball team 20 as the first African American and non-commissioned officer to join the squad, Betts returned to Chicago in 1966 as an active participant in the Civil
Rights Movement under Reverend Hosea Williams as one of his “Unbought & Unbossed” field generals, assisting in the successful launch of the Chicago Open Housing Movement. After relocating to Los Angeles in 1971, Betts joined the staff of the University of Southern California (USC) before accepting a position as the Community Liaison Officer with
the then Charles R. Drew Postgraduate Medical School.
Now recently retired from Charles R. Drew University of Medicine and Science after 31 years, this free community celebration, entitled “Past, Present and Future”, is intended to provide a glimpse into the life of Mr. Betts; from his days as a stand-out basketball player for Pepperdine University, through his participation in the civil rights movement as a field organizer in his native Chicago and his days as the Co-Founder and Executive Director/Producer of “Jazz At Drew”.
Often called the purest expression of American democracy; Jazz music was built on individualism, compromise, independence and cooperation.
Over the years, Mr. Betts’ vision of building cultural bridges through music has been realized during a two day festival, known as Jazz At Drew”.
Since the disappearance of the high profile clubs that once
found on Central Avenue, the concert series has become a staple in the Los Angeles area, paying tribute to the greats of the jazz world.
Known for attracting an extraordinary array of jazz masters, artist who have graced the Jazz At Drew stage include James Moody, Nancy Wilson, Gerald Wilson, Curtis Mayfield, The Impressions, Dionne Warwick, Billy Higgins, Joe Williams, Harry “Sweets” Edison, Art Farmer and Oscar
“Roland’s commitment to the local community has truly been remarkable and we want to celebrate his life’s journey and accomplishments which have led to his dedication to provide a vehicle that would allow for the overall betterment of the people who live in South Central,” states Mrs. Lillian Mobley, community activist and Founder of the South Central Multipurpose Senior Citizen’s Center.
“He has worked tirelessly to shine a light on the jewels found in South Central Los Angeles.
Through his efforts, people were given an opportunity to exhibit there talents and to discover the richness of this community’s culture through music.”
The event, which is free, will feature KJLH Radio’s own Jacquie Stephens and internet radio KLASFM.com’s James Janisse as the Mistress and Master of Ceremonies along with special performances by The Jazz At Drew All-Stars, jazz violinist Karen Briggs and saxophonist Michael Sessions.