Free doo-wop concert with The Jewels

February 22, 2007|by TIFFANY ARNOLD

SHEPHERDSTOWN, W.Va. - You've gotta have a little bit of that funk if you're going to back up "the Godfather of Soul," James Brown.

The all-female doo-wop trio The Jewels has a little funk.

The Jewels were part of the James Brown Revue in the 1960s and spent a year touring with Brown as his backup singers.

"We're not your typical girls' group," said Jewels member Grace Ruffin. "We're not The Supremes. We just don't stand back and sing, little soft music."

The Jewels will perform their brand of doo-wop today in Shepherdstown, as part of a Black History Month ceremony at the Clarion Hotel & Conference Center of Historic Shepherdstown. Admission is free.


The event, in its fifth year, is sponsored by the Eastern Management Development Center, part of the federal employment office of personnel management, said Rosalind Johnson, the agency's Black History Month chairwoman and program director.

The program usually features a jazz artist and draws between 250 and 350 people each year, Johnson said.

"We just decided to do something a little different," Johnson said.

As performers, The Jewels couldn't be coy, Griffin said. They had to match Brown's stage presence - that is, the sometimes screaming, sometimes hollering, cape-wearing, super-funky artist live on stage.

"Yeah, he was like that all the time. He required the same thing out of every act. He expected us to have just as much energy as he did," said Ruffin, who lives just outside Washington, D.C.

The Jewels - Ruffin, who is 63, Margie Clarke and Sandra Bears - have been singing together since they graduated from Washington's Roosevelt High School in 1961, Ruffin said.

They left their hometown to go to New York, where they recorded their first single, "Opportunity," which became a hit, Ruffin said.

They caught James Brown's attention while they were performing "Opportunity" at the Apollo Theater in New York.

By the time they reached their 20s, they were embarking on a yearlong tour with Brown. Among many songs, they sang backup vocals for "Say it Loud - I'm Black and I'm Proud," Ruffin said.

"We had to grow up fast," Ruffin said of the tour. "It felt more like three years. We weren't prepared for the road, those long bus trips. We would go straight to shows on the bus. Sometimes it would be three days before we even saw a hotel room."

"We decided after a year, we had enough. After a year, we just wanted to go home. But we never stopped singing."

If you go ...

WHAT: Fifth annual Black History Month dinner and concert featuring The Jewels

WHEN: 7 to 9 p.m. today.

WHERE: Ballroom of the Clarion Hotel & Conference Center of Historic Shepherdstown, Shepherdstown, W.Va.

COST: Free admission to concert. All-you-can-eat buffet of soul food, $16, from 5:30 to 7:30 p.m.

MORE: Call RosalindJohnson for more information and reservations, 304-870-8080.

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