A VOICE THAT WILL LIVE ON
Nap â€œDonâ€™t Forget the Bluesâ€ Turner
Blues musician, jazz musician, bassist, vocalist, radio host, actor, mentor, teacher, social worker, loving husband, survivor. Nap "Donâ€™t Forget the Blues" Turner was the Godfather of the D.C. blues scene. He had a rich distinctive baritone voice that was immediately recognizable. He was a rare one name icon of a personality around DC...Nap.
His musical career began at age 14 and spanned nearly 60 years. Inspired by the likes of Slam Stewart and Oscar Pettiford, he built himself a home-made bass from a five gallon Pepsi syrup can, a five foot wood floorboard and a clothesline and started playing. As a young man in the 50's, working the strip around 7th and T, Nap jammed with the likes of Count Basie, Gene Ammons, Charlie Parker and John Coltrane. But music quickly led Nap into the fast lane. Being hip, playing music, doing and dealing drugs, he was hooked on the hard stuff before he was out of his teens. No one, not even Charlie Parker, could convince Nap he was headed for trouble.
Through the late 50's into the 60's, Nap cycled in and out of jail and then St Elizabeths mental hospital. While hospitalized he began formal music lessons. Ultimately it was music that was Napâ€™s salvation. In 1970, Nap entered himself into a methadone program. He overcame the odds and finally conquered his addictions. He then went to work as a counselor and advisor in the DC Governmentâ€™s Narcotics Treatment Administration helping others beat theirs.
In 1984 he received the Nap Turner Recognition resolution from the DC City Council and in 2002 he was bestowed a Lifetime Achievement award for his work in the community from the Mayor. For Nap "Donâ€™t Forget the Blues" had a special meaning. It meant: "it was nobodyâ€™s fault but my own that Iâ€™ve ended up in jail, donâ€™t forget the reasons you can get in trouble, donâ€™t forget where you come from, and donâ€™t forget how fortunate you are."
In 1980 he became a volunteer programmer at Pacifica Radio WPFW hosting a blues show and stayed on the air for more than 23 years. He was part of a triumvirate of radio hosts that won the station a prestigious Handy Award for broadcasting in 1984. Through a friend Nap discovered the writings of Langston Hughes and his stories of Jesse B. Simple and began reading them as a regular feature on his radio show. Those stories became one of the most popular features of his shows.
When I first met Nap in 1994, he was already a major presence in the DC area Jazz, Blues & Radio scene. I had just begun taping & documenting the area performers through recordings in clubs around town and when the first Right on Rhythm CD, The Blues You Would Just Hate To Lose Vol. I was released in 1996, it contained Napâ€™s first recording in his more than 50 years of performing around DC. Around the same time, Nap assembled a collection of Simple stories with his good friend Ronnie Wells. He created a cassette with the title â€œHughesâ€™ Views of the Bluesâ€. A very short run of the tape was produced that he sold at gigs --- then it disappeared. We continued to work together and I produced his first full length music CD Nap "Donâ€™t Forget the Blues" Turner Live at City Blues. In 2002 Nap and I released his â€œLive at Cada Vezâ€ CD. We decided to include 2 more of the Hughes Simple Stories. He did those readings in my living room. Over the last year of his life, he and I talked many times of trying to muster the resources to issue all of his Hughes material but sadly we ran out of time. Nap died on June 17, 2004. Efforts continued towards the dream of issuing the collection and at long last they have become available again in a CD that gathers the previously released titles from his cassette and CD and three that were recorded live at Smokeless Nightclub in DC.
Napâ€™s words state it best:
â€œJesse Simpleâ€ reminds me of myself and a whole lot of other people I know. The Stories have a universal appeal and folks from all walks of life enjoy and appreciate them.