Jazz and blues singer Barbara Morrison has worked in the music business for more than 35 years. She’s performed and recorded with legends like Ray Charles, James Moody and Etta James. Now she’s opening the new non-profit Barbara Morrison Performing Arts Center in Leimert Park to help revitalize the once-vibrant hub of African American culture and arts.
She explains how she got involved with the performing arts center. "Well, for the last 13 years I've been going over to Scotland. They have the biggest festival in the world; it lasts for a month, it's called 'Fringe.' But the last five years, I've been going over and I've been working in a really small venue of about 60 people after I do the big job on the Fringe.
"And I said 'You know what, I'm going to try this.' I tried it before in 1992, 1993, but I failed, and I didn't have the know-how, and very little capital. And of course, you know that they both go hand in hand." Morrison laughed.
Morrison saw an opportunity in Leimert Park. "I said, let me see if I can take what I know now and go to this area that is so beautiful, it's kind of like a jewel. It's overlooked.
"There's so many good vibes in this area," says Morrison. "There's so many kids that don't have a place to go and learn the music, so I said 'You know what? There's a beautiful park here. It's right connected to my center. Why don't I do some symphony, bring the symphony in, bring the big bands in?'"
Morrison told the story of a little girl who came to the center. "She was walking down the sidewalk with her mother. I asked her, 'Do you play?' She said, 'No.' I said, 'If you wanted to play, what would you play?' She said, 'Piano.' I said, 'Come here, come here. We have a beautiful baby grand piano.' I said, 'Here, just touch it.' And she saw the drums. 'Well I want to sit on the drums.' 'Go ahead!'"
Morrison says that's what excites her. "Just kids touching instruments, talking to musicians, learning about performing arts."
Inquisitive children ask how Morrison got started. "'How did you start singing?' That's one of the biggest questions, kids, 'Miss Morrison, when do you start?' 'Oh, I started when I was 8.' 'I'm 8!' I said, 'Well get going, get on your career!'"
The performing arts center that carries Barbara Morrison's name will host a grand opening tomorrow.