A few months ago, a middle-aged Black man with his gray beard lending a distinguished air to his casual summer attire walked into the deli section of a popular South Baton Rouge grocery store. The server recognized him and said how much she had enjoyed his music at a recent outdoor festival. She then commented that she had also seen him on TV trying to “stop folks from smoking,” adding jovially as he left the counter, “You got it going on, Mr. Henry, keep it up!”
For Henry Turner Jr., musician, performer, producer, entrepreneur, community activist, this unaccustomed neighborhood recognition was especially gratifying. But as the Henry Turner Jr. Day Music Festival on October 28 approaches, sincere humility radiates from a face as familiar to movers and shakers in downtown Baton Rouge as to longtime fans who have followed Turner’s musical career since the ’70s when he was a founding member of the popular R&B cover group, Crystal Band.
Henry Turner Jr. Day was initially proclaimed in 2015 by then Mayor-President Melvin “Kip” Holden and was endorsed this year by Mayor-President Sharon Weston Broome. “This celebration is not just about me,” Turner said. “It’s a conscious effort by the political sector to recognize a music entrepreneur with a strong community spirit – and all the grassroots musicians who have been true ambassadors for our culture.”
Turner’s true fans and new enthusiasts generated by Turner’s social media presence, have embraced Henry Turner Jr. & Flavor– the signature Louisiana Reggae/Soul/Funk/Blues group he formed some 30 years ago– with almost cult-like fervor in anticipation of this month’s festival in Downtown Baton Rouge.
Over the past three decades, Henry Turner Jr. & Flavor has undergone changes in personnel, genres and format, but remained true to its roots. Turner drives an audience-friendly repertoire with his guitar mastery and earthy baritone – from blues to funky uptempo numbers; from cool jazz to soulful ballads
With more than 16 singles and eight CDs under its belt, Henry Turner Jr. & Flavor consistently delivers a crowd-pleasing show, whether at Turner’s intimate Listening Room, open-air venues, or at one of the Ultimate Louisiana Parties he takes across the country to popularize his state’s rich culture.
As a multiracial dashiki-clad band, Henry Turner Jr. & Flavor found an early home at Tabby’s Blues Box on North Blvd., the internationally known music Mecca presided over by one of Turner’s mentors, the legendary Tabby Thomas. In fact, his Listening Room on North St., opened in 2014, was modeled after Tabby’s concept of showcasing local, regional, and national talent. On Thursday nights, diverse audiences including worldwide tourists come to enjoy the Listening Room All-Stars and home-cooked soul food.
Henry Turner Jr. & Flavor was introduced to the road when they brought their Louisiana Reggae-Soul sound to the Annual Bob Marley Festival, but stopped touring in June 2015 when veteran drummer Ronnie Houston died. Turner returned home determined to bring a fresh new approach to the local music scene.
“It’s been quite a journey,” Turner said during a recent interview. Growing up on North 36th Street with his parents and older sister Irene, his love of music emerged early on. “When I chose the guitar, my dad got me lessons encouraging me not to neglect the business side, since he and my mom were both business owners.” And well respected in the community for their tradition of helping others, Turner said.
“When people see me today as a music entrepreneur and someone who truly cares about people, that’s the legacy of Henry and Mattie Turner,” he said. “That’s what motivates me to mentor young musicians, to join the Smoke-Free initiative, and to support organizations such as Families Helping Families.”
As the founder of Hit City Digital Records, he releases and distributes his and other artists’ music globally while operating a recording studio. He said his parents would be proud that he has combined his artistry with the art of marketing
These days, Turner is selling his enthusiasm for the new Baton Rouge with the “Baton Rouge Theme Song” which has been released as a single. “I just wanted to give my city the gift of a theme song that would celebrate what it means to all of us.” And on Henry Turner Jr. Day, you can be sure it will do just that.
By Hedi Butler
Special to The Drum