//Off the 99 – The road to the Valley Music Hall of Fame

Off the 99 – The road to the Valley Music Hall of Fame

by Don Priest | kfsrbluesdog@gmail.com

It’s pretty universally accepted that the Central Valley is known for its agriculture; crops from here feed millions around the globe. But there’s another harvest from “The Valley” that nourishes the soul as much as the food nourishes the body yet doesn’t get quite as much recognition, our music. 

Pick a genre: Country, Blues, Jazz, Rock, Classical, or any of the music representing the Valley’s cross-cultural tapestry, and you’ll find someone here who plays it, writes it, produces, or teaches it at an exceptionally high level!  

Think of folks like Country stars Bob Wills and Jack Hannah. Westside Blues greats Harmonica Slim and Hosea Leavy. Legendary Jazz players Don Weed and George Roessler. Opera giant Audra MacDonald, Rock impresarios Jim & Bill Bixler.  Or venues like The Wild Blue & The Hacienda Hotel, Zapp’s Park, and so many more iconic names and places that have made such an impact on the Valley’s musical culture from Merced to Bakersfield.

In an effort to focus greater attention on this “other” valley crop, a team of local music aficionados has spent the last year laying the groundwork for an organization meant to honor the area’s musical culture. They’re calling it “The Valley Music Hall of Fame” and their kickoff event will be on Saturday, March 30th and Fulton 55.

While details are still being finalized, the event will feature live entertainment, special guest speakers, elected officials, art displays, and the opportunity to mingle with the movers and shakers of the local music community. All with the goal of generating excitement towards paying overdue respect to our remarkably skilled musical artists, both past and present.

Back row from left – Fred Martinez, John Alden, Ron Flores, Larry Gittens
Front Row – Ray Settle, Debi Ruud, Janice Fleming, Don Priest – Not pictured: Don Fischer

The ‘movers and shakers’ behind the Hall of Fame movement are Board Officers: Don Priest of KFSR; Don Fischer of KFSR/KVPR; Ray Settle of Maximus Music Media; and Debi Ruud, vocalist, teacher and owner of the Fresno Music Academy and Arts. They are joined by Board Members: musician/photographer John Alden; Digital Marketing Manager at Websovid Media and long-time music supporter, Roland G. Flores; Janice Fleming, teacher and violinist from the Fresno Symphony Orchestra, Larry Gittens, jazz trumpeter/composer and former music director for Stevie Wonder; and musician, promoter and previous owner of the legendary music venue “Club Fred”, the legendary Fred Martinez.

Each has their own reasons for taking on this challenge.  For Debi Ruud, it’s about paying back. “I moved back to Fresno and have been deeply involved in the musical community since 1982.  It has always amazed me how much talent there is around here. The idea of being involved in an organization that wants to recognize those individuals and then give back to our community just spoke right to my heart.”

For Ray Settle, it’s about the past.  “I have always been interested in history…. where do we come from? What was it like here  20… 50… 100 yrs ago,” he explains. “I always enjoyed looking at the pictures of old Fresno and hearing the stories from people. That interest followed me as I got older and started talking to some of the older musicians and hearing their stories of the players before them. I guess what motivated me was that eagerness to keep that thread going.”

To keep the thread going and turn their vision of a Music Hall of Fame into reality has led the team on an eventful journey. They held their first meeting in January 2018, and since then have been busy writing a mission statement, electing officers, creating by-laws, developing a social media presence and achieving 501c3 non-profit status through a financial arrangement with CMAC (Community Media Access Collaborative, the non-profit organization that supports public access television in Fresno). They even created an advisory board made up of some prominent community members to help refine the vision for The Valley Music Hall of Fame.

They also did their homework on how a Hall of Fame should be structured and how the nomination/induction process should be organized. For that, they turned to the administrators of the prestigious Buffalo (NY) Music Hall of Fame, who gave them access to 20 years of accumulated data and offered significant advice.

Now that the foundation has been laid, the group is ready to go public and enlist the aid of the community to launch the Valley Music Hall of Fame formally.  The goal of the kickoff event on March 30 is to inform the public of the existence of the organization and enlist their support in getting it off the ground.

“I’m hoping to see a lot of interest in this project, by nominations for our first class of inductees, to volunteers to help us with our events, to monetary donations to help us move forward” explains Janice Fleming. “all in the interest of honoring and respecting our rich musical heritage and promoting support for our young people through music education and live music performances.”

The immediate goals for the organization are to hold yearly induction celebrations honoring both past & present contributors to our musical landscape and to work to create a scholarship program that aids students in both the performance and appreciation of music.

A longer-term goal would be to eventually find a brick and mortar home for the Valley Music Hall of Fame.  For now, though, it will remain in the virtual world with all access through its Facebook and Website portals.

“We can do all this I think by, first of all, giving back to the community in creative ways and then or course recognizing those that have made a “musical imprint” around Fresno and the Valley,” says Ruud.

While historical documents about the Central Valley’s settlers, politicians, artists, even outlaws, abound, there is no such trove of information about the area’s musical legacy, something The Valley Music Hall of Fame hopes to correct.

“It’s important to have historical records of the extremely talented musicians we’ve had in our Valley,” says Fleming. “It’s easy for stories to be forgotten, so it’s important to keep a record of our musical history and recognize these people.  In doing this, we hope to use these histories and our current talent to encourage our young people in this industry.”

Adds Settle, “If learning about a musician, or an artist, or educator helps inspire someone to pursue their dream … then our purpose is validated.”

There’s a line in a William Shakespeare play that goes, “If Music be the food of love, then play on.”  With that thought in mind, The Valley Music Hall of Fame hopes to nourish the collective soul of our community with love for the music to be found – Off The 99.