Audra McDonald returns to Roosevelt High for renaming of theater in her honor
Dick Contino is musician most Fresnans wouldn’t recognize by name, despite the fact he graduated from Fresno High School and was also a bona fide star in the 1950s and ’60s.
The same is true of Bob Wills, a guy who was making $1 million a year and at his peak could outdraw Benny Goodman. From 1945 to 1948, Wills was a Fresnan. He had an 80-acre ranch on what is now Clinton and Armstrong avenues and also a regular show on KMJ.
Even Audra McDonald, a woman who was honored by the president, who has won multiple Grammys (and a few Tony Awards, too), might not have the recognition she deserves. Ask “Wicked” actor Michael Wartella, who mentioned McDonald in his apology to Fresno, after someone made him aware of the fact she was raised here.
All of this is set up for the Valley Music Hall of Fame, which is hosting an informational kick-off event, Saturday at Fultion 55. There will be music, of course, from the Tower Quartet, the David Aus trio, Debi Ruud and the Lost Souls and from Patrick Contreras, who pitched the idea of a hall of fame back in 2017. There will also be a musical tribute to Contino.
More than anything, the event is designed to let people know about the organization and hopefully get them involved. The Valley Music Hall of Fame will be virtual to start, with a potential first class inducted in 2020, says Don Priest, the hall’s board president.
The group has been working on the project for the past year, setting up the nonprofit and doing homework on how to make a hall of fame work. Organizers borrowed heavily from the Buffalo (N.Y.) Music Hall of Fame, especially when it came to the nominating process.
“This is going to be a legitimate thing,” Priest says.
“It’s not going to be a popularity contest.”
And it’s not just for the super stars, the ones who made an impact outside the city limits. The Hall wants to recognize the people and places that impacted the local music scene from within — the players and educators, the producers, promoters and even the venues.
We can still visit the Rainbow Ballroom and Warnors or Tower theaters. But what about The Big Fresno Barn. Or The Wild Blue, The Hacienda Hotel or Cadillac Club. Or even rundown dive bar Zapp’s Park, which was on the site of an actual amusement park and is now a Chinese restaurant.
“That’s what we want to celebrate,” Priest says.
“It’s past due.”
Valley Music Hall of Fame kickoff
▪ 6:30 p.m. Saturday
▪ Fulton 55, 875 Divisadero St.
▪ Free, donations requested
Other noteworthy events for the week
▪ “Yeva” 5:30 p.m. Friday. Peters Educational Center auditorium at Fresno State. Free admission and parking. cineculture.csufresno.edu