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Obituaries

Tina Mayfield, 77; blues fan aided artists and produced shows

December 22, 2006|Jocelyn Y. Stewart | Times Staff Writer

Tina Mayfield was a guardian of the blues, a patron who treated its performers as if they were family and the music as if it were a precious heirloom. Through her work as a promoter she helped keep the blues alive and accessible to audiences in Southern California.

But it was her efforts on behalf of artists themselves, some of whom knew her as "Mama Tina," that may prove most enduring. She fought for their royalties, provided them money in lean times, offered them opportunities to perform, visited them when they were sick and aging.

In an unforgiving business, Mayfield, the widow of blues great Percy Mayfield, was one sure source of help and encouragement, said friends and family.

"The Grammy people don't know who she is, but she was queen in this community," said blues artist Barbara Morrison, a longtime friend.

Tina Mayfield died Dec. 14 of gallbladder cancer at her home in Palmdale. She was 77.

Over the years she befriended and assisted a long list of blues artists, including Big Mama Thornton and Lowell Fulson. She was not a musician or a songwriter, but "she was a good businesswoman," said Billy Diamond, a friend who served with Mayfield in the International Blues Society. "She's taken care of business."

Tom Reed, author of "The Black Music History of Los Angeles -- Its Roots," called Mayfield a driving force behind "blues in this city."

"She was able to put together and produce some of the most important blues shows here in Los Angeles," Reed told The Times this week. "A real down-home, strong, aesthetically pure blues show."

Mayfield was born Earnestine Jermany on Oct. 17, 1929, in Stamps, Ark., the second of 16 children. Her father, Hugh Jermany, was a schoolteacher. Her mother, Zoreeda, was a housewife.

Blues was a part of the landscape in Arkansas, and even as a child, Mayfield was drawn to it. But the same sound that attracted her was frowned on by her mother, who belonged to a Pentecostal church. Under her mother's strict religious teachings, there was no place for the blues.

Mayfield was faced with a choice: Leave the blues alone or find a way to enjoy it in spite of her mother's views.

"They snuck around with the music," said her daughter Rennie Euwing. "It inspired her to achieve faster ... to move on and get educated, so she could go do what she desired to do."

After graduating from high school in Stamps, Mayfield married Clarence Euwing in the mid-1940s and left the South. Before divorcing many years later, the couple would have five children. In addition to Rennie Euwing, of Palmdale, Mayfield is survived by a son, Edward Euwing of Caldwell, Ark., and three other daughters, Linda Euwing of Palmdale, Eliza Euwing-Jones of Los Angeles and Dena Euwing-Kendrick of Palmdale.

Over the years, Mayfield lived in Chicago, Detroit and New York, always taking in the blues scene. While living in Wisconsin, she earned a degree in nursing and other medical specialties and began a career in the medical field.

But her love for blues was a constant and her knowledge encyclopedic. She knew the biographies and discographies of artists and followed their careers, including that of Percy Mayfield, a singer and composer from Minden, La., whom she later befriended and then married.

He was known as the "poet laureate of the blues." He wrote and performed his hit "Please Send Me Someone to Love" and found great success as a songwriter for Ray Charles, penning "Hit the Road, Jack," "Danger Zone" and others.

The performer, a resident of Los Angeles, was also an astute businessman. He offered his future wife, who moved to Los Angeles in 1972, on-the-job training.

"She was his right-hand man," Rennie Euwing said.

Mayfield used what she learned over the years to help artists, especially older performers who sometimes did not understand contracts and how to obtain royalties owed to them.

"Some of them couldn't read," Morrison said. "She was just real smart. She would let them know what was happening.... She would articulate in their terms."

After Percy's death in 1984, the same year they married, Mayfield founded the California Black Blues Society to further understanding of the blues. Through that and other organizations she supplied scholarships to young blues artists. To friends like Morrison, she supplied encouragement. Morrison and Mayfield met at a Long Beach cocktail lounge in 1973, when Morrison was a green 21-year-old new to the city and the business.

"She just kind of took me under her wing," Morrison said. " 'Barbara, you can't be doing this, and you can't be doing that.' "

Over the years, Morrison also learned from Mayfield what a difference support can make in the life of a performer and an artistic community.

In the early 1990s, when Morrison opened a cultural center in Inglewood and funds were tight, Mayfield would surprise her with a check, unrequested, to help with rent or utilities. When the home of blues artist Lady G.G. and her fiance, Eddie Daniels of the Amazing Platters, burned, Morrison covered their stay at a hotel.

"We were like her children," Lady G.G. said, echoing a sentiment shared by many.

When older blues artists were hospitalized, Mayfield visited them, and when Fulson could not care for himself, she cared for him.

In the days before her death, as she battled illness, the music she spent a lifetime protecting was present. It played in her home every day, along with gospel music.

"She never denied herself the blues," Rennie Euwing said. "That was something she had engraved in her heart and spirit."

Mayfield's funeral will be held Saturday at 11 a.m. at First AME Church, 2270 S. Harvard Blvd., Los Angeles, 90018.

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jocelyn.stewart@latimes.com

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