The 6th Annual Highmark Blues & Heritage Festival | Nov. 3rd-4th, 2023

World Renowned Bluesmen BOBBY RUSH and ERIC GALES,
Latin Jazz Percussion Master PETE ESCOVEDO featuring Flutist Nestor Torres and Legendary Afro-Cuban Vocalist OMARA PORTUONDO
Headline the 6th Annual Highmark Blues & Heritage Festival,

Friday and Saturday, November 3-4, 8:00 pm
at The August Wilson African American Cultural Center

PITTSBURGH, PA – October 11, 2023 – The 6th Annual Highmark Blues & Heritage Festival presented by Highmark Blue Cross Blue Shield lights up downtown Pittsburgh, this year showcasing the extensions and connections of the blues – from Africa to the Americas – with two generations of Blues stars, Bobby Rush and Eric Gales on Friday, November 3, and two grand masters of Latin music, percussionist extraordinaire Pete Escovedo featuring Nestor Torres and singer and original member of the Buena Vista Social Club, Omara Portuondo on Saturday, November 4. Both evenings take place at The August Wilson African American Cultural Center, 980 Liberty Avenue, at 8:00 pm

“What an honor to present trailblazers in blues and Afro Latino music,” said Janis Burley Wilson, President and CEO of the August Wilson African American Cultural Center. “Bobby Rush and Eric Gales are the leading authentic blues artists on the scene. Afro Cuban singer and dancer, Omara Portuondo has been performing since the late 1940s, and soon will celebrate her 93rd birthday. Pete Escovedo and Nestor Torres, from Mexico and Puerto Rico respectively, are Latin music royalty.”

“We are thrilled to continue our support of the Highmark Blues and Heritage Festival to celebrate culture, community and the impactful work of the August Wilson African American Cultural Center.” said Kenya T. Boswell, senior vice president of Community Affairs at Highmark Health. “The music curated for this festival will enrich and help lift the spirits of the community – it builds connections and understanding by introducing people to new voices and perspectives. Our support of this event clearly demonstrates our Highmark Bright Blue Futures strategy in action.”

Born in Louisiana, raised in Arkansas and based in Jackson, Mississippi after many years in Chicago, two-time Grammy winning guitarist-vocalist-songwriter Bobby Rush – who celebrates his 90th birthday on November 10th – exploded on the blues scene in 1951 with his swinging style of blues he coined “folk-funk.” Rush released his first hit, “Chicken Heads,” in 1971, and re-recorded it with his contemporary, Buddy Guy and young phenom, Christone “Kingfish” Ingram. Known for his spirited, acrobatic live shows, Rush has recorded over 25 albums, and will release his latest recording, Sitting on Top of the Blues in August.

With his left-handed guitar a la Jimi Hendrix, Memphis-born guitarist-singer-composer Eric Gales has been a driving force on the blues circuit since the early 90’s. Blessed with what Guitar World described as “an amazing [musical] vocabulary with jazz chord changes when playing clean,” Gales’ guitar sound is an eclectic assemblage of styles from blues pioneer Albert King to jazz fusionist Frank Gambale. And his vocals encompass the Saturday night function and the Sunday morning church service. On his latest release, Crown, Gales get to the ground-truth about issues ranging from substance abuse to racism, uplifting as he enlightens.

At the age of 88, Pete Escovedo is unquestionably the reigning percussion king of a wide range of musical genres – from Latin jazz and smooth jazz to salsa – and is the master of the timbales. The patriarch of a musical family (his daughter is Sheila E), and a lifelong resident of the Bay Area, Escovedo played in Santana’s band in the 70s, co-founded Latin-rock-fusion Azteca with his brother Coke and worked with a wide variety of musical stars including Herbie Hancock, Chick Corea, Barry White and Prince. His 2021 album, Rhythm of the Night, is a dancing and delightful collection of covers, including hits by Toto, Chaka Khan/Rufus, Stevie Wonder, DeBarge and The Spinners, complete with a salsa-syncopated version of his daughter’s hit, “The Glamorous Life.” Escovedo’s latest release, Lifetime Anthology, is a compendium of songs that highlights the dynamic diversity of his multi-genre career. Simply put, Mr. Escovedo literally has his hands on the pulse of modern music. Joining Escovedo in concert is the celebrated Puerto Rican flutist Nestor Torres.

Known as “grand dame of classic Cuban song,” 90-year-old singer Omara Portuondo’s artistry has been an integral part of her nation’s musical culture since she co-founded the D’Aida Quartet in the 50s. A master of singing jazz and Cuban Nueva Trova, bolero, filin, danzon and son genres, Portuondo was rediscovered when she recorded on the groundbreaking, Ry Cooder-produced blockbuster album, The Buena Vista Club. It sold 8 million copies worldwide and won the 1998 Grammy award for Best Traditional Tropical Album and she was awarded a Latin Grammy Lifetime Achievement Award. Her latest recording Vida, featuring salsa star Ruben Blades and bluesman Keb’ Mo’, is Portuondo’s heartfelt retrospective and sendoff, as she nears retirement after an astonishing seven decades on stage.

The Highmark Blues & Heritage Festival extends the non-profit AWAACC’s mission to celebrate Black culture and the African diaspora and highlights the Center as a leader in presenting programming that reflects the diversity of Pittsburgh and the nation. To learn more about the Center and its year-round activities, please visit https://awaacc.org/.

Tickets are $60.00 per night and are on sale now at www.awaacc.org or blues.awaacc.org.

* * *

Major support for AWAACC’s operations is provided by Richard King Mellon Foundation, Henry L. Hillman Foundation, Heinz Endowments, and the Allegheny Regional Asset District (RAD).

The Highmark Blues and Heritage Festival would like to thank its Presenting Sponsor, Highmark Blue Cross Blue Shield, for making this event possible.

Additional sponsorship support is provided by AARP; Adda Coffee and Tea House; Bacardi, the official libation partner; JazzCorner; and WYEP. A special thank you to Comcast NBC Universal and Xfinity — media sponsors for the Highmark Blues & Heritage Festival and Pittsburgh International Jazz Festival.

AWAACC’s programming is also made possible by generous support from its donors. For a complete list, please visit awaacc.org.

One of America’s leading health insurance organizations and an independent licensee of the Blue Cross Blue Shield Association, Highmark Inc. (the Health Plan) and its affiliated health plans (collectively, the Health Plans) work passionately to deliver high-quality, accessible, understandable, and affordable experiences, outcomes, and solutions to customers. As the fourth largest overall Blue Cross Blue Shield- affiliated organization, Highmark Inc. and its Blue-branded affiliates proudly cover the insurance needs of approximately 6.8 million members in Pennsylvania, Delaware, New York and West Virginia. Its diversified businesses serve group customer and individual needs across the United States through dental insurance and other related businesses. For more information, visit www.highmark.com.

The Highmark Bright Blue Futures program is designed to ensure healthier, brighter, stronger futures for all, and it focuses on improving equitable access to care, quality of life, and economic resilience in the communities the enterprise serves. For more information, visit www.highmark.com/brightbluefutures.

The August Wilson African American Cultural Center is a non-profit cultural organization located in Pittsburgh’s cultural district that generates artistic, educational, and community initiatives that advance the legacy of Pulitzer Prize-winning playwright August Wilson. One of the largest cultural centers in the country focused exclusively on the African American experience and the celebration of Black culture and the African diaspora, the non-profit organization welcomes more than 119,000 visitors locally and nationally. Through year-round programming across multiple genres, such as the annual Pittsburgh International Jazz Festival, Black Bottom Film Festival, AWCommunity Days, TRUTHSayers speaker series, and rotating art exhibits in its galleries, the Center provides a platform for established and emerging artists of color whose work reflects the universal issues of identity that Wilson tackled, and which still resonate today. www.awaacc.org.

Carolyn McClair Public Relations

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