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Remembering the Blues

Sherrie Ford

Willie Mae Samuel

There is no other music like the Blues. From the soaring, mournful laments of hymns to the slow, heart-wrenching and soulful ballads born in the Delta, there is no other genre of music that conveys raw emotion quite like the Blues.

It's that emotion and appreciation for a truly American art form that will bring Rome residents together Friday for an annual event that has become quite popular over the past few years.

"The Blues: An Affair to Remember" will take place on Friday at the Rome Civic Center and, as always, will bring instrumentalists, vocalists and fans together for an evening of celebration. This year's event will feature beloved Blues hits spanning several decades as well as a tribute to the Queen of Soul, Aretha Franklin, performed by Sherrie Ford.

The black-tie event is sponsored by the African-American Connection Inc., which hopes to celebrate the iconic genre while also educating people about the importance of remembering the Blues.

"This event still is and will always be about education," said Willie Mae Samuel, one of the event's organizers. "We feel that often times Blues music is neglected. That's why we keeping putting this on. The Blues tell a story. There's a history there. There are stories of love and heartbreak and struggle told through Blues music. Everyone can relate to the Blues somehow. And this year we'll be going back to the Mississippi Delta-type Blues."

In its seventh year, the event has grown in popularity with Rome and area residents filling the Rome Civic Center in formal attire to enjoy food and live Blues music.

Attendees will enjoy instrumental music during a bit of fellowship starting at 6:30 p.m. on Friday after which food will be served. Then a list of local and area musicians and vocalists will entertain with their renditions of beloved Blues hits spanning several generations.

The list of performers includes Hardy Sams, Ted Barnett and Steve Vasil, who will all be performing songs such as "Members Only," "God Bless Our Love," "For the Good Times," Smoke Stack Lightning" and the ever popular B.B. King hit "The Thrill is Gone."

This year will also see a tribute to the late Aretha Franklin.

A new addition to this year's event came about by chance. Samuel was at an event when she met local musician Russell McClanahan. At the time, the backing band for the Blues event was missing a harmonica player, a key instrument in all good Blues music, Samuel said. She happened to mention that she was short a harmonica player and a mutual friend mentioned that McClanahan plays the harmonica.

"She asked me if I'd be interested in playing in the event and I was more than happy to," McClanahan said. "I've seen this event advertised in the past, but I've never been able to attend. Which I now regret since I've learned so much and had such a great time rehearsing with the band."

McClanahan said he's always loved the "almost pure feeling" within Blues music and playing for this event will afford him the opportunity to concentrate on just playing the harmonica, an instrument he said can be used to express great emotion.

"The practices alone are so special to me," he said. "These musicians and vocalists are blowing me away with their talent and with the way they perform this music. It's such a neat thing to be included in. I'm very excited for the event. I think people will have a wonderful time and will get to hear some truly great Blues music."

The Blues: An Affair To Remember takes place this Friday at the Rome Civic Center on Jackson Hill.

Tickets can be purchased by calling 706-622-7917. Limited tickets will be available at the door if any are left after pre-sale. Dress is formal.

40 days to Easter
• St. Mary's Catholic School observes Ash Wednesday, the first day of Lent.

"Those ashes we receive on our forehead remind us everything material has an end, even our material life," Father Rafael Carballo told the students, staff and families of St. Mary's Catholic School during Ash Wednesday Mass.

Ash Wednesday is the first day of Lent, a 40-day period of prayer and fasting, Carballo said. Several other Christian denominations observe the holiday, however the day is very much a Catholic day, he said.

Mass was celebrated in the school's gymnasium and was open to students and family, as every school Mass is, secretary Lisa Mazur said. Fourth-graders assisted Carballo and Deacon Stuart Neslin with Mass. A student choir, consisting of fifth-through eighth-graders provided hymns, and Zac Nichols led everyone in a Responsorial Psalm.

Near the halfway point of Mass, Carballo and Neslin marked each other's foreheads with an ash cross, then turned and marked the foreheads of teachers and staff of St. Mary's. Students then lined up and each received their ashes with their arms crossed and eyes closed.

Mass ended with the Concluding Rites, which are a blessing for the students and congregation.

'Free in the world' with a service dog
• The Center for Independent Living hosts a seminar on service animals and the law.

The most dangerous situation Christina Holtzclaw has ever been in with her service dog happened on the long escalator at Hartsfield-Jackson Atlanta International Airport.

Holtzclaw, the assistant director at the Northwest Georgia Center for Independent Living in Rome, is blind. Felicia is her guide dog. She said she was riding up the escalator, nearing the top, when a man started playing with Felicia — distracting her from her work.

"When I'm on an escalator I keep my hand on the railing because you can feel it start to flatten when it's time to get off," Holtzclaw said. "But I had to take my hand off to settle Felicia down and we both missed the step."

Holtzclaw twisted her ankle and broke her toe. The man apologized and went on his way.

"I used to be more lenient about letting people pet my service animals. Not anymore," she said.

The story was one of many shared Wednesday at a seminar on service animals and the law hosted by the CIL. While most of the focus was on accessibility and the bonds they develop with their dogs, it was clear that children and other strangers approaching the animals is a common problem.

One woman has a fake name for her dog that she gives when asked, so she doesn't have to worry about people calling it from across the street. A man spoke of a big service dog — traded later for a more compatible animal — that occasionally pulled him from his wheelchair in its excitement at being singled out for attention.

Attaching a sign to the animal's vest that says "I am working, please do not pet me" often draws people closer to read it, the attendees agreed.

"Sometimes I just ignore them when they come up," said Chris Holcomb, an independent living coordinator at the center. "It's not being rude. If I pay attention to the person distracting Mr. Cotton, it feeds the situation. That can be dangerous to the handler and to the dog."

Still, Holcomb said Mr. Cotton also can be a welcome ice-breaker in secure environments. His service dog is mobility-trained, able to do things like open doors, pick up items and even turn light switches on and off.

"I'm super-independent so that's not a skill we use often," Holcomb said with a laugh. "Retrieving is his favorite thing to do, and if I lay out the clothes I want to wear he can bring them to me by name."

Kathy Baker, another independent living coordinator, trained her service dog for hearing. Baby "wants to just be a dog now," so Baker said she usually leaves her at home. But she noted that hearing dogs are different to work with than guide or mobility dogs.

"Instead of giving them signals, you're learning to look for their signals," she said. "For example, if their ears go up when there's a knock on the door, you learn to look for that."

Just as service animals differ in skills, they also differ from emotional support animals, which are not covered by the Americans with Disabilities Act.

It's the training for a specific task that separates comfort animals from service animals — although animals trained to sense and assist with an anxiety attack qualify as psychiatric service animals under the ADA. Holtzclaw said she gets a lot of calls about emotional support animals from people wondering if they must be accommodated by law.

"A lot of that is being abused, and that makes it harder for those of us who need our service animals," she said. "People buy cheap fake vests and pass off their pets, that woman on the plane with an 'emotional support squirrel' ... With things like that happening, they had to tighten up their laws."

Tonia Clayton said she needed to produce a health certificate for her service dog, Jamie, when they flew to Washington, D.C., last week but encountered no problems on the trip. Jamie is the second guide dog for Clayton, who is blind, and she never wants to be without one again.

"Before I got one, I was reluctant to walk around with my white cane. ... When I did, I was free in the world. I was independent. I'm not going to be running into people and saying 'excuse me, excuse me' all the time," she said with a smile.

DA: Video footage led to plea deal in 2017 shooting
• Man sentenced to serve 15 years in prison in shooting at Big H in East Rome.

A clear surveillance video of the crime and help from a regional fugitive task force culminated in a man pleading guilty to shooting another man in East Rome in 2017.

According Floyd County Assistant District Attorney Leah Mayo and Floyd County Jail records:

Christopher Kenyun Atwater, 34, shot another man in the leg with a 9mm pistol at the Big H on East 12th Street on April 27, 2017.

The victim in the case pulled up to the Big H that evening with his two children. The kids went into the store and he then exchanged words with Atwater and Monyea Mico Smith. Atwater shot him and left the area and the victim's two children found him laying on the ground.

Smith turned himself in at the jail a few days after the incident and police arrested Atwater in July 2017. When Atwater didn't show up for court in April 2018 they requested the U.S. Marshals Southeastern Regional Task force to find him. A little while later the task force found him working in a hotel in Atlanta.

The district attorney's office offered Atwater a plea deal of 20 years, to serve 15 in prison, but he declined that offer. They selected a jury in preparation for trial and went to test the video system in the courtroom, Mayo said.

They briefly reviewed the security footage of the crime and went back to trial preparations. In many cases the surveillance video is grainy or low resolution, but she said in this case the footage was very clear from the Big H security system.

At that point Atwater, who could see the footage being played, indicated he'd like to take the plea deal. He pleaded guilty to aggravated assault as well as possession of a firearm by a convicted felon and was sentenced.

Smith, who was with Atwater at the time of the shooting, earlier pleaded guilty to his part in the crime, District Attorney Leigh Patterson said.

The Cherokee County, Alabama, District Attorney's office assisted in making sure the victim of the shooting appeared as a witness in the case as well, Patterson said.


Today's artwork is by Omar Vazquez, second-grader at Alto Park Elementary School.