The Fort Mose Jazz & Blues Series is back for its third year, bringing two weekends of concerts to St. Augustine, Florida—America’s oldest city—during Black History Month to help fundraise for the reconstruction of the nation’s first mainland Black settlement.
The 2024 lineup was announced in November and includes African-American artists from a variety of genres, as well as a number of Black Catholics—a likely unintentional tribute to the historic fort grounds where they’ll hit the stage.
“Each February, soulful notes fill our backyard with the rich musical narrative of Black history,” said Charles Ellis, president of the Fort Mose Historical Society.
“Generous donations from concert goers help us ‘tell the Fort Mose story’ through popular interpretive events And soon, our Founders Day, Flight to Freedom, First Harvest and Battle of Bloody Mose reenactments will unfold against a dramatic background of the 1738 fort reconstruction.”
The concert series will kick off on Thursday, February 8, with the award-winning conscious hip-hop artist Common, whose music has often integrated jazz and other Black art forms. The next day will feature New Orleans’ Preservation Hall Jazz Band, a six-decade-old musical outfit featuring 91-year-old Charlie Gabriel, a Black Catholic saxophonist and composer known for his jazz stylings as well as his Gospel Mass settings.
Another New Orleans-rooted artist will star on February 10, the Jazz at Lincoln Center Orchestra, based in New York City but led by the Black Catholic-raised maestro and trumpeter Wynton Marsalis, of the well-known Louisiana clan of musicians.
The second weekend of shows will begin on Friday, February 16, with the young blues aficionado Christone “Kingfish” Ingram, who will take the stage with special guest Taj Farrant, a fellow young guitarist—at just 14 years old—hailing from Australia. Ingram is the sole returning artist from the 2023 Fort Mose Jazz & Blues Series and the winner of the 2022 Grammy for Best Contemporary Blues Album.
Closing out the 2024 concerts will be the California-born roots artist Keb' Mo', whose career has featured several Grammy Award-winning albums paying tribute to the Delta blues, as well as the winner for Best Americana Album in 2020.
All of the concerts in the series will begin at 7pm ET, with doors opening an hour before on the grounds of Fort Mose Historic State Park, located near the northern edge of St. Augustine on the historic “First Coast” of Florida—where European settlers first landed on what is now United States soil in the mid-1500s.
The concert series comes at a unique juncture in the history of Fort Mose Historic State Park, which will celebrate 30 years as a recognized landmark next year. The discovery of the fort’s ruins in the late 1980s brought renewed attention to the site among academics and local historians, but only recently has momentum been gained in the quest to have the fort rebuilt as a monument for tourists and enthusiasts.
In addition to grants from the state of Florida and other partners, the Jazz & Blues Series has been a source of funding for the reconstruction project, with a portion of ticket sales going to the Fort Mose Historical Society.
“It’s much more than a series of concerts; it’s an opportunity to highlight an essential piece of American history,” said Gabe Pellicer, who serves as president and CEO of SJC Cultural Events, Inc., which is managing the concert events.
The Fort Mose project celebrates Black history in a challenging time for the field in the state of Florida, where new state-level policies have prohibited the teaching of some topics related to slavery, racism, and the Black experience.
The fort was originally constructed in Florida, then a Spanish colony, in 1738 after the arrival of more than a hundred enslaved Africans fleeing slavery in the British colonies of Georgia, Carolina, and elsewhere. Spain, which allowed its Black citizens to live free and gain freedom, decreed from the European mainland that all escapees from British America who reached Florida would receive safe harbor upon converting to Catholicism and joining the Spanish military.
As such, Fort Mose—built north of St. Augustine to house the new Afro-Spaniards and to provide a buffer against eventual British invasion—functions as both a bridge to the Black past of the United States as well as to its early Catholic heritage.
The Florida State Parks Foundation announced this month that the $3M fundraising goal for the reconstruction has been reached and that a groundbreaking is scheduled for Friday, January 19. The concerts in February, which have generated nearly $100,000 in support of the reconstruction since their first year in 2022, will add to the total raised.
“There’s something truly magical about experiencing live music on the historic grounds of Fort Mose,” said SJC Cultural Events chairman Dylan Rumrell.
“It's not just the outstanding talent on stage; it's the powerful and immersive experience the series offers. This is an event everyone should witness first-hand.”
Tickets are now available for the Fort Mose Jazz & Blues Series and can be purchased online at Ticketmaster.com or in person at the St. Augustine Amphitheatre box office. Prices vary by artist and seating, ranging from $22 to $139.
Nate Tinner-Williams is co-founder and editor of Black Catholic Messenger.