Jun 18 • 3 min read

Event to pay tribute to the life of Philadelphia jazz legend Robert “Bootsie” Barnes

To commemorate Juneteenth, The Blockson Collection will host a special Black Music Month Virtual Celebration June 19 at 2 p.m. The event will specifically celebrate the music of the late Philadelphia jazz legend Robert “Bootsie” Barnes, who recently passed away due to COVID-19 complications.

Last year, Governor Tom Wolf signed into law Act 9, formerly House Bill 619, which officially designated June 19 as “Juneteenth National Freedom Day” in Pennsylvania.

The oldest nationally celebrated commemoration of the abolition of slavery in the U.S., Juneteenth commemorates the date of June 19, 1865. This was when Union soldiers, led by Major General Gordon Granger, arrived at Galveston, Texas, to notify enslaved people that they were now liberated. This was two and a half years after the Emancipation Proclamation.

According to Diane Turner, curator of Temple University’s Charles L. Blockson Afro-American Collection, the significance of the day is especially resonant this year.

“With what’s going on now, it gives us the opportunity to talk about the legacy of slavery and the impact that it’s having and continues to have on African-Americans in the United States,” Turner says. 

The Blockson Collection, one of the nation’s leading research facilities for the study of the history and culture of people of African descent, has hosted an event to commemorate Juneteenth since Turner was named curator in 2007. This year, a special Black Music Month Virtual Celebration will be held June 19 at 2 p.m. The event is free and open to all via Zoom. Attendees can register here.

The event will specifically celebrate the music of the late Philadelphia jazz legend Robert “Bootsie” Barnes, who recently passed away due to COVID-19 complications.

Photographs of Barnes from throughout the years will be shown to the sounds of his recordings. His wife, Sandra Turner Barnes, will also read the poem “The Bop in Blue,” while Barne’s grandson Reginald Lewis and band will perform “Three Miles Out.” The virtual event will also feature video footage from a 2014 performance by Barnes at the Blockson Collection.

“Every year, he and his quartet would perform on campus, and it was widely supported by the Office of the President,” Turner says. “He was one of the unfortunate victims of COVID-19, and we have seen so many musicians and African Americans affected by this virus. That’s why I think it’s even extra special that we pay tribute to him in this way.”

The Robert “Bootsie” Barnes Collection is being donated to the Blockson Collection and will be available to students, scholars and the community once it is processed.

The tribute to Barnes is one of the latest examples of how The Blockson Collection, one of the most prestigious collections of African American artifacts in the U.S., continues to promote and celebrate African American history.

The Fox School is also continuing to deepen its commitment to diversity, equity and inclusion. It is developing a Diversity, Equity and Inclusion Council that will advise the school’s policies and operations to support and foster a diverse and inclusive workplace culture. 

As part of this ongoing effort, earlier this year, the school hosted a special Diversity, Equity & Inclusion Networking Event at the Blockson Collection designed to celebrate the Temple’s history of inclusion and diversity among its faculty, staff and students. The event was planned by seven Fox faculty and staff members, including Lisa Fitch, senior associate director of PhD Programs at the Fox School.

According to Fitch, the message of that event is especially important this Juneteenth. 

“Juneteenth has always been relevant, but this year, it’s even more relevant due to the national and international attention we’ve seen for the support of the Black Lives Matter movement,” Fitch says. “People are beginning to see the ills of systematic racism. What we need is more Gordon Grangers, more people from other cultures, races and communities to say ‘no’ and bring attention to the ills of racism and start the process for healing and change.”

Charles L. Blockson Afro-American CollectionDEIDiane TurnerGeneral Gordon GrangerJuneteenthLisa FitchRobert "Bootsie" Barnes