Renowned musician plays benefit concert

Published 5:00 am Monday, April 2, 2007

Hazlehurst plans to celebrate its deep musical heritage on April28 at 5:30 p.m. when renowned pianist and guitarist George Winstoncomes to play a benefit concert for the Heritage House at the FirstBaptist Church.

Winston said he’s thrilled at the chance to play the guitar inHazlehurst, the birthplace of blues legend Robert Johnson.

“He lived a million places in his lifetime traveling around, buthis being born and growing up there really puts Hazlehurst on themap,” said Winston.

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Johnson is as much of a foundation of post-WWII music as RayCharles or James Brown or Muddy Waters, Winston said.

Dr. Janet Schriver, executive director of the Heritage House,said she hopes people from across the area will come to Winston’sperformance in Hazlehurst.

“This is a big deal,” said Schriver. “We’re so excited to haveGeorge here, and I think this is a great thing for the culturalcommunity in the southern part of the state.”

Winston, who is primarily known for his piano music, does a fewguitar benefits a year. He has opted to do the Hazlehurst show notonly because of the location and the cause, but also because of themagnitude of Johnson’s impact on modern music.

“So much of the Chicago blues is influenced by him,” he said.”And then you look at his main influences, Charlie Patton andLonnie Johnson, it’s like a vortex where you can go from the peoplewho impacted him to the people he impacted. It’s fascinating.”

Winston, who released a CD of tunes by The Doors, has beenworking on some Johnson tunes especially for the night of theHazlehurst benefit.

“I do real different versions of some of his most popular tunes,but they’re instrumentals. Over the decades I’ve tried them all,and I love them all,” said the musician. “I never know quite howI’m going to play them, but I definitely can’t play them like hedoes.”

Part of the fun for Winston at his benefit shows is the factthat it’s more of a “jam session” than a scripted performance.

“I’ve got some ideas of some things I’ll probably play, butsometimes the songs just come out,” he said. “Sometimes I just playone song into another, and I’ll let you know the name of it after Ido it.”

Winston said the importance of the event has much less to dowith his notability as a musician than it does the city ofHazlehurst and the mission of Heritage House.

“I’m really doing this to help out the Robert Johnson Foundationand the Hazlehurst community. The foundation is doing quite a lotfor kids, and it’s great to help out any community as much as youcan,” said Winston. “I wish all my shows could be benefits.”

The Robert Johnson Foundation is dedicated to continuing thelegacy of Robert Johnson as a legendary blues guitarist and singer.The Heritage House is an organization funded by the foundationwhose aim is to reach the youth of Copiah County through thearts.

Tickets are available through Ticketmaster, or more informationis available through the Hazlehurst Chamber of Commerce at894-3752.