When people think of the blues, they think of cities like New Orleans, Baton Rouge, Memphis and Chicago but the West Baton Rouge Museum is doing its best to add Port Allen to that list.
“Juke Joint Men” showcases the parish—and surrounding area—and its connection to one of America’s few indigenous music genres, particularly local bluesman who made significant contributions to the blues.
The exhibit is focused around the art of Ronald Trahan, a painter, and sculptor J.K. Lawson who have assembled a collection of many of Louisiana’s noted blues artists.
Among the notable bluesmen featured are Raful Neal, a native of Erwinville and Slim Harpo. who was born in Lobdell. The La. Department of Recreation and Tourism dedicated an historical marker to harmonica-playing Harpo in 2015.
He was born James Moore in 1924 and worked at several manual labor jobs during the late 1930s and 1940s, then began performing in Baton Rouge as Harmonica Slim Harpo.
His first hit was “I’m a King Bee,” recording in 1957 and later he released his most memorable hits later, “Rainin’ in My Heart in 1961 and followed it with “Baby Scratch My Back,” 1966.
Before his death in 1970 songs of his had been recorded by some of the biggest names in the music industry—The Rolling Stones, Van Morrison, The Grateful Dead and others.
A reception celebrating a portion of the City of Port Allen’s designation as a Louisiana cultural district is set for Aug. 29 and the museum will continue its blues theme with iconic bluesman Henry Gray, who performed with the likes of Howlin’ Wolf and Muddy Waters.
“That’s going to be a big shindig,” said museum Executive Director Angelique Bergeron.
To support the museum’s theme, the national traveling exhibit “Cast of Blues” will open Saturday, Aug. 31.
The Juke Joint Men exhibit includes, in part, Trahan abstract portraits of Harpo, Neal, his son Kenny Neal, Buddy Guy, Rockin’ Taby Thomas, Lazy Lester, Lonesome Sundown, Lightnin’ Slim and others, a virtual who’s who of blues history.
“The paintings are eye-catching and then next to each one is a brief history of each musician,” Bergeron said. “We think that his art is a great way to talk about the blues because of his wonderfully colorful collages.”
One of the featured artists, Trahan, is the grandson of Valery Trahan, who worked for Civil War era Gov. Henry Watkins Allen, for whom the city of Port Allen is named.
Over his tenure with Allen, Trahan became close and respected to the former Confederate general who became Louisiana’s final governor before Reconstruction.
The West Baton Rouge Parish Museum is open Tuesday through Saturday, 10 a.m. to 4:30 p.m., and on Sunday from 2 p.m. to 5 p.m.
For more information, call (225) 336-2422 or toll-free, (888) 881-6811.