© 2020 St. Louis Public Radio
Play Live Radio
Next Up:
0:00
0:00
Available On Air Stations
Arts

St. Louis Blues Society Sends $90,000 To Musicians Facing Hard Times In The Pandemic

Cbabi Bayoc with his portrait of vocalist Renee Smith, nicknamed the Queen of St. Louis soul. St. Louis Blues Society commissioned it for a limited edition set of prints, which it will sell to raise money for its Mission Fund.. [7/15/20]
St. Louis Blues Society
Cbabi Bayoc with his portrait of vocalist Renee Smith. St. Louis Blues Society commissioned it for a limited-edition set of prints, which it will sell to raise money for its Mission Fund.

The St. Louis Blues Society has raised more than $90,000 to help musicians who lost their livelihoods during the coronavirus pandemic. 

The blues society has distributed grants of $500 or more to 150 artists who lost their ability to work in March when officials prohibited large gatherings to limit the spread of the virus. 

The St. Louis Community Foundation’s Gateway Resilience Fund contributed $75,000 to the effort. 

Though some live performances have been held outside in recent weeks, opportunities for musicians to perform have remained scarce. 

“It really cut into musicians’ funding and money and stuff — especially people who are depending on this on a regular basis,” said Marty D. Spikener, 64, a blues drummer and bandleader.

He’s been playing since he was a teenager but has worked as a musician full-time for about eight years. 

Spikener received $500 from the blues society’s Mission Fund. The grant represents only a fraction of the income he’s lost during the pandemic, but he used it to pay a medical bill. 

“It’s nice to get, and it doesn’t solve all the problems, but it helped out,” Spikener said. “At this point in time, every little bit helps.” 

St. Louis Blues Society started its Mission Fund in 2002 to help musicians facing hard times. Since the pandemic began, it has directed all of its funds to recipients who have lost work because of the coronavirus, said Jeremy Siegel-Moss, chairperson of its board of directors. 

In addition to funds from the Gateway Resilience Fund, the blues society received a contribution from the National Blues Museum and raised money from sales of a limited-edition print. It commissioned a portrait of late blues legend Henry Townsend, who lived in St. Louis for many years, from local artist Cbabi Bayoc

In August, the blues society will make available a print based on Bayoc’s newly painted portrait of singer Renee Smith, who is nicknamed the Queen of St. Louis Soul. 

Cbabi Bayoc's portrait of blues great Henry Townsend, who called St. Louis home for many years. [7/15/20]
St. Louis Blues Society

The Mission Fund is one of several relief efforts created to aid artists who have lost work during the pandemic, including Regional Arts Commission’s Artist Relief Fund. Siegel-Moss and fellow board member Alonzo Townsend, who is Henry Townsend’s son, said it’s important to direct funds to blues musicians because many of them lack experience applying for grants from government agencies. 

“A lot of blues musicians can’t qualify for RAC grants and Missouri Arts Council grants,” Townsend said, “because a lot of them don't have the paper trails and backgrounds to prove how long they’ve been playing and what they’ve been doing. So those things are ineffective for blues musicians, especially in this city.” 

Spikener said he’s never applied for a grant before. He heard about the Mission Fund opportunity from a friend who keeps up with the blues society’s activities. 

“When you’re a musician that’s out there,” Spikener said, “you gotta keep your face in the place and you start hearing things.” 

Follow Jeremy on Twitter@JeremyDGoodwin 

Our priority is you. Support coverage that’s reliable, trustworthy and more essential than ever. Donate today.

Send questions and comments about this story to feedback@stlpublicradio.org.

Our priority is you. Support coverage that’s reliable, trustworthy and more essential than ever. Donate today.

Send questions and comments about this story to feedback@stlpublicradio.org.