Twenty-two-year-old Blues musician and multi-instrumentalist, Jontavious Willis, from Georgia, has been named Centrum’s Artistic Director for Acoustic Blues beginning in 2020. Willis succeeds Jerron Paxton in the role, following a vital five-year tenure at the helm. One of many Centrum summer programs, the Port Townsend Acoustic Blues Workshop takes place the first week in August each year at Fort Worden State Park in Port Townsend, WA. In 2019. 247 participants enrolled in the Blues workshop in 2019, hailing from as far afield as Australia, the United Arab Emirates, and Canada. The 2020 workshop will be held July 26-August 2.
“Jerron is a musical genius,” said Mary Hilts, program manager for Blues at Centrum. “He brought a deep joyfulness to the workshop. His enthusiasm and smile spread far and wide as he and his faculty selections delivered the highest caliber of excellence. It was a delight working with him. The love he shares for this music is the same way he lives his life—in joyful celebration.”
Centrum’s Artistic Directors assist program managers by identifying and recruiting master teachers and performers to share their knowledge and craft with participants from across the globe. In most cases, Artistic Directors serve in their role for a period up to five years.
“It’s an honor to assume the position as artistic director for the Port Townsend Acoustic Blues Workshop. I love the potential Centrum is prepared to harness. My blues connections, deep interest on the genre and the current social climate make the timing great for me to take on this coveted role. I want to continue to help people explore their creative minds while submerging themselves in the blues. It’s going to be a great year.” – Jontavious Willis
Mr. Willis grew up singing Gospel music at a Baptist church with his grandfather. Since an early age, he demonstrated a talent and passion for the music and the ability to sharpen his skills rapidly. At the age of 14, he came across a video of Muddy Waters playing “Hoochie Coochie Man,” and was immediately hooked on the blues. He just released his second album, “Spectacular Class.” Through original lyrics, the gifted musician delivers a timeless album that features dynamic vocals and many types of blues: Delta, Piedmont, Texas, and Gospel. His stand-out fingerpicking, flat-picking, and slide guitar prowess are also on virtuosic display.
“Jontavious Willis, that’s my wonderboy, the wunderkind,” says international Blues recording artist, Taj Majal. “He’s a great new voice of the 21st Century in acoustic blues. I just love the way he plays. He has just delightful timing and a real voice for the music because he was raised in the tradition and the culture. It’s just wonderful to hear him sing.”
Many fans of Willis regard him as an old soul. His style of playing the instruments and his voice touches the very roots of country blues. He brings back the true soul of the music. A newspaper headline once called him a “70-year-old bluesman in a 20-year-old body.”
Centrum program manager Mary Hilts said she is honored and thrilled to work with Willis. “Jontavious is steeped in country blues, the original heart of this program, and brings a deep knowledge of its roots.”