BAKERSFIELD, Calif. (KGET) – Some of the best country singers in the world have come out of Bakersfield. But if you dig a little deeper, you’ll find a lot of jazz and soul music as well.
There are a few popular artists that come to mind when thinking of the black music scene in Bakersfield. One of them is 2-time Grammy award-winning singer Gregory Porter. He spent his entire childhood in Bakersfield. His mother moved here from Louisiana when she was 14 to pick cotton.
“She even took us out to the cotton fields to show us how to pick cotton,” Porter said. “It wasn’t a job that we could do when we were kids but she just wanted to show us, this is what I used to do.”
He says his mother brought southern music with her and often sang those hymns in church.
“There were great voices that I grew up with,” Porter said. “I think of Pastor Richardson who was a pastor here in Bakersfield. He sounded like Sam Cooke.”
His childhood in Bakersfield was a crucial part in his development as an artist.
“Some of the themes that I pull from church find their way into my music,” Porter said. “That’s what I’m most excited about, the idea that I’ve taken my childhood experiences and I’ve put them into music.”
Most of his music is centered around themes of resilience and revival.
“In an environment that you may be thought of as less than – to take your talent and use it to show your beauty, humanity, grace – is something that I feel that music has been a gift for me,” Porter said.
He says the idea of overcoming racism is intertwined in his lyrics.
“The idea of black history is something in the way that you wear, you wear on you,” Porter said. “It’s a pride that you carry with you. It’s something I’m teaching my son.”
Crimson Skye is a local singer songwriter who wants to use music to unite the Bakersfield community.
“Black people have so many freedoms they didn’t have a 100 years ago,” Crimson Skye said. “We’re living in a beautiful time but theres so much growth to be made still.”
She’s organized peaceful sit-ins in support of gay pride and women’s rights. The most recent was after the death of George Floyd.
“This was the one thing I could do and people needed it,” Crimson Skye said. “We could come together with music at the center, with love and peace at the center of it and that’s really become a huge part of who I am.”
Crimson Skye also works closely with local media personality Danny Morrison to promote black artists in Bakersfield.
“Those of us that have grown up in the city of Bakersfield, Kern County as a whole, we understand that the black community as far as music is concerned has been ignored for a long time,” Morrison said.
Morrison says he sees a lot of underground talent that just needs a stage.
“So I took it upon myself to say, you know what, we’re going to put my town on,” Morrison said. “All these rappers and R&B artists and folk singers and spoken word artists, we’re going to give them time on the frequency. Local events that we do, I always bring them in and say, ‘Show Bakersfield what we are.’ And they’ve been doing a great job.”
Tune in for a black history special on February 27th, here on TV-17.