An ethnically and generationally diverse audience grooved to the sounds of soul, low-down and funky blues, hip-hop and gospel music, which filled the Ballard family’s Mid-City backyard, decorated with such things as old-style album covers, 45s, streamers and a white rug with black music notes.
"People have come to the 'Jam' for years and years,” said Eddie Robinson, “Jam” MC, music educator and Ballard family cousin. “It’s a family reunion.”
The reunion began as a birthday celebration 24 years ago for family members whose birthdays fell in August. The celebration eventually turned into an annual Labor Day event that musicians attended “to just relax, jam, sing and play together,” Robinson said.
The immediate Ballard family consists of Adlay Ballard and her sons Ronald, Donald, Jerald and Issac, better known as Ike. Ike is the Summer “Jam’s” founder and coordinator, and his girlfriend Chon Tae is the event’s co-host, decorator and one of its talented blues singers.
“Everyone in the family is a musician,” Robinson said. Adlay “nurtured her son’s love of music” as they were growing up. The Ballard tradition of nurturing the love of music in others continues at the “Jam” today by providing a chance for all who attend to experience live music performances by some of the best musicians in the music business. Several have performed with such music legends as Diana Ross, Marvin Gaye and Stevie Wonder.
Children are especially nurtured at the annual gatherings. “We encourage the children to participate in the jam itself. ... children ... sing, dance and even sometimes play a musical instrument, ...” according to the “Jam’s” website.
The Ballard Family Annual Summer “Jam” is “one of the safest, most famous, oldest family events,” said Robinson. There’s never been a fight or crime committed at the “Jam” in the 24 years it’s taken place. “Everyone’s respectful, which is a plus for a large family event.” If they’re not, they’re “pulled off the stage. ...”
Music highlights of the evening included a funky blues number from international blues musician Roy James, a soulful song featuring Robinson and a gut-wrenching blues solo by Chon Tae.
Almost 300 to 400 people attended the “Jam.” Some stayed for a few hours and then left, making room for more to come in and enjoy and/or take part in the musical performances.
Next Labor Day will mark the 25th anniversary of the Ballard Family Annual Summer “Jam.” Plans are currently underway to hold a fundraiser in January to raise money for the event, which will, the Ballard's hope, not only get support from the City Council but also from Mayor Eric Garcetti, Robinson said. In the meantime, the self-supporting “Jam” continues to rely on donations to help keep it jamming.
Photos by Dawn Kirkpatrick