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West Jordan Journal

Utah legend Joe McQueen visits West Jordan

Feb 10, 2017 12:17PM ● By Bryan Scott

Joe McQueen signs a program for a young fan after his concert at the Viridian. (Excellence in the Community)

Marina McTee | [email protected]

On Jan. 14, Ogden’s Joe McQueen performed with his jazz and blues quartet at the Viridian Event Center in West Jordan as a part of the Excellence in the Community concert series. 

Joe McQueen began as a professional jazz musician at the age of 16. Now 97 years old, McQueen has toured much of the Western United States and performed with many jazz greats such as Duke Ellington, Charlie Parker, Chet Baker and Hoagy Carmichael.

McQueen is also considered a civil rights pioneer after his performances drew crowds of white fans during segregation. He was also the first African-American to play in what were once white-only establishments after segregation ended in Ogden. 

Joe McQueen has had such an impact on Utah, that April 18 was declared “Joe McQueen Day” for the State of Utah in 2002 by Utah Gov. Mike Leavitt. 

More recently, a mural honoring McQueen was unveiled in Ogden on Jan. 5 to commemorate his achievements throughout his life.

McQueen and his Quartet performed songs such as “Caravan,” “Blue Skies,” “Take the A-Train,” “Georgia On My Mind” and even McQueen’s own song, “The Thing.”

When telling the story of “The Thing” to the audience, McQueen said, “I had always played what others has wrote, so at 95 I decided to try my hand. I had written it, but I didn’t know what to call it, so I just called it ‘The Thing.’”

Even at 97 years old, McQueen puts on an amazing performance. The concert drew a large crowd, and everyone was tapping their toes, humming along, or even getting up and dancing. 

“It’s really exciting to be able to bring artists to the community so people don’t have to travel all the way downtown to see them,” Viridian Event Coordinator Tayler Allen said. “Also, the concerts are free so people can come that wouldn’t be able to experience it otherwise.”

The concerts, while hosted by the Viridian, are organized by the Excellence in the Community concert series. Excellence in the Community is a nonprofit organization that puts on free concerts with local musicians monthly at the Viridian and weekly at the Gallivan Center. It also hosts at the Covey Center and the Holladay City Hall Park.

“Excellence in the Community was founded on the basis that Utah has great musicians,” said founder and director Jeff Whiteley. “The idea grew out of my experience as a street musician in Paris. In Paris, you could stop traffic as a street musician. In Utah, it doesn’t work that way.”

Excellence in the Community was founded in 2005. It has put on more than 300 shows since then, all of which have been free to the public. “We put the talent where people can find it,” Whiteley stated.

Whiteley said Joe McQueen has this talent. 

“Joe is a legend and a great Utah story,” he said. “May we all be doing what we love at 97 years old.”

Utah might not be known for its music scene, but there are many great musicians in Utah. Many them are unknown to the public, however, according to Whiteley. 

“I’m not sure people recognize how many great musicians there are here,” Whiteley said. “In Utah we don’t have celebrity—we have excellence.”

Whiteley stated that all of it is, “An attempt to harness the accomplishments of local musicians for the good of the community.”

The Viridian hosts concerts for Excellence in the Community the second Saturday of every month. The next concert will feature the 23rd Army Band performing Feb. 11.

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