By Ellen Daniels
Photo by Michael Kelley
Denton Live Spring/Summer 2005
Now celebrating its 33rd year, this annual Denton festival combines gospel music, a joyous parade, delicious food, and a beauty pageant, making for a great time.
Juneteenth? It’s a Texas thing. The celebration honors the date when Texas slaves first learned of their freedom and has emerged as a unique holiday for African-Americans, a tradition spreading fast across the country. It was not until June 19, 1865 — or 2½ years after the fact — that Texans received word about the Emancipation Proclamation. Today, Juneteenth remains the oldest event honoring the end of slavery, and its Texas roots are a matter of special pride. Going strong for 33 years, Denton’s annual festival is a jubilant mix of great music, food, sports, and passionate spirit.
A VOICE FROM HEAVEN
Behind every great festival, you find great people. Charlye Heggins has been a Juneteenth volunteer for more than a decade and is responsible for 28coordinating the acclaimed Gospel Extravaganza which takes place the first night of the festival. Well-known for her smooth broadcasting on KHVN 970 AM “Heaven 97”, Heggins also recently held the pageant titles of Ms. Mature Denton and Ms. Senior Texas. Music minister of her church, Heggins puts together a blockbuster show using her radio connections to book groups throughout the Metroplex. “If I may use the vernacular of the young people, ‘it is the bomb,’” Heggins says. “We always ask people to not just be spectators but to be participants, clapping your hands, saying ‘amen,’ whatever. We have choirs, quartets, soloists, duets, trios, you name it. Anything that’s in the music field, we have it.” At the Denton show you’ll also find diversity. “In searching for gospel performers, I’ve utilized Hispanic choirs and singers, as well as the Caucasian community, we don’t care who it is,” says Heggins. “We want them to come, and we welcome everybody. You don’t get stares — we won’t allow that. Because all of us, believe it or not, are made of one blood — the human race.”
WHAT, AND WHO, YOU’LL SEE THERE
Juneteenth’s festivities begin a week prior to the actual festival with the Miss Juneteenth Pageant, where contestants compete for scholarship money in personal interviews, talent, and evening gown competitions. The following weekend, the Juneteenth Celebration kicks off with the Gospel Extravaganza on Friday night, a show that’s justly called “amazing.” Performers from across the area sing praise until 11 p.m. Bring your own lawn chairs and blankets, and prepare to be dazzled. The following morning, the parade begins at 10 a.m. at Civic Center Park with floats and marchers from a variety of community groups and churches, and concludes at Fred Moore Park. At 11 a.m., the celebration gets under way with live music on the C.H. Collins Activity Stage (rap, R&B, blues, and more), a co-ed double-elimination softball tournament (team entrance fee: $175), games for the kids, and lots of fabulous food. Barbecue’s a favorite, but the fried chicken is a strong contender. You’ll find booths sponsored by the NAACP and others, and various companies offer free giveaways and door prizes. The special sense of community and connection to the past bring out warm smiles and a mellow, relaxed atmosphere. Come early and stake out a great seat. The best spot? “Right in front of the stage — you’re going to be able to hear it, but if you get right in front of it, boy, you’re going to really see everything and hear everything,” says Heggins.
If you do just one thing, don’t miss the Praise Dancers at the Gospel Extravaganza, a troupe of children performing to recorded music. Bring lawn chairs or blankets so you can spread out and enjoy the entertainment.
LEND A HAND
Why come to the 2005 Denton Juneteenth Celebration? You’ll have a lot of fun and observe a meaningful holiday. “It’s important for us to realize from whence we’ve come,” says Heggins. “We want to remember if one is still in bondage, then all of us are still there. We also want to let our parents keep this in the forefront of their children, to let them know our history, because if we let it die — we just might have to repeat it.” If you’d like to be a part of the Juneteenth Celebration team, visit the Web site at dentonjuneteenth.org for information.