African American

The Riverfront Jazz Festival is a can't miss event

The man behind the magic: Curtis King, gives an inside look into this year's festival.

Devon Yarbrough
Posted on Aug 16, 2019

Labor Day in Dallas is always an event filled with stylish white ensembles, pool parties and exciting entertainment. As a Labor Day tradition, the Riverfront Jazz Festival is back for its third year with VisitDallas as the presenting sponsor. The festival which brings more than 12,000 attendees each year from all over the country, and this year's festival boasts even more extraordinary performances that you don't want to miss.

But first a little history about the organization. The Riverfront Jazz Festival started in 2017, as part of an initiative for Black Academy of Arts and Letters (BAAL), which was founded 1969 in New York as a non-profit to educate, promote and showcase black filmmakers, writers, musicians and artists. With the widespread success of the academy, another academy the Junior Black Academy of Arts and Letters, which later transformed into The Black Academy of Arts and Letters (TBAAL), was formed with only $250 in 1977 by current founder and president Curtis King.

Now in its 42nd season, TBAAL continues to celebrate diversity and art through performances and events like the Riverfront Jazz Festival. We sat down with King to discuss the organization, Dallas' music scene and what to expect at the festival this year. 

Photo Credit: The Black Academy of Arts & Letters.

Q: What about Dallas' music scene appealed to you when founding TBAAL and hosting events like the Riverfront Jazz Festival?

When I started this, Dallas was kind of on the cutting edge of becoming this great city. All you heard about Dallas was "it was the city that works" or it's "the can do" city. Today, Dallas is a city that people really want to come to, and the fascinating thing is when people come to do business in Texas, specifically in Dallas, they are often looking for Black entertainment. So, I think Dallas' music scene has continued to grow from a need to provide diverse entertainment, and now all these great musicians are coming out of this city and a lot of great musicians are also moving to Dallas.

Q: What is something noteworthy about this year's festival?

A: The lineup is what people keep talking about. You have traditional straight-ahead jazz artists, like Eddie Henderson and Nnenna Freelon, then you have smooth jazz artist like Will Downing, and then you have Tito Puente Jr. and Hiroshima, who are very popular in other diverse communities. We of course have Dallasite Erykah Badu, who is kind of neo-soul and grew up with our program. We even have the original Dreamgirl herself, Jennifer Holiday, who will close out the festival with the Dallas Symphony Orchestra. So, even though it's all music – it's the multiple genres of music and the lineup that is selling the festival and what people have really inquired about.

Q: What makes this festival different from other festivals?

A:  Our Promising Young Artist stage is really special. Beginning on Saturday from 3–8:30 p.m., kids from our summer program will be performing 20-minute sets. These kids are amazing and work on their craft day in and day out. Not only will the kids perform, but they will also have the opportunity to visit any other stages to see professional artists that they may or may not ever heard about and be inspired by what they hear and see.

We also have musicians who live in the area performing at different hotel venues, like the Magnolia Dallas Downtown and The Statler for the hotel after parties. Our mission as an organization is to give artists that live in Dallas and surrounding areas more opportunities and visibility, which I think is unique.

Q: What are you most excited for people to experience at the festival?

For me and a lot of others, music is a therapy. People come here from all walks of life, and none of us know what they bring with them, but what we can do is let them leave with a good feeling. We want them to leave saying, "I really enjoyed the music. I enjoyed this artist or that artist." Beyond the performance of the artists, I want our guests to remember how well TBAAL and Dallas treated them.

The Riverfront Jazz Festival is Aug. 30 to Sept. 1. For more information visit or check out the full lineup list here. Ticket prices for the festival are as follows:

  • Weekend Package: $145
  • Weekend VIP Package: $300
  • Friday Night: $100
  • Saturday or Sunday Night: $65
  • Weekend Couples Deal: $400
  • Girls Trip Deal: $800