Tim Stafford and Thomm Jutz have new recording featuring Blue Grays

Published 8:28 am Friday, January 13, 2023

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Tim Stafford and Thomm Jutz, a duo of decorated bluegrass musician-songwriters, have a new album, Lost Voices, coming out Feb. 3. One of the recordings premiering as a single is about the Elizabethton Blue Grays, an independent semi-professional African-American baseball team that played “barnstorming” baseball from 1935 to 1955.
The single was scheduled to premiere this week.
Stafford is a Grammy and IBMA award winning guitarist, songwriter, producer and vocalist. Jutz is a Grammy nominated guitar player, producer, songwriter and 2021 IBMA songwriter of the year.
Jutz said the song about the Elizabethton Blue Grays is about the perseverence of the human spirit in the face of great adversity, about things that are not awarded with trophies, money or fame — a story as old as mankind.
“It’s the kind of story we tell and retell because we need to hear it and keep it going, to keep up the challenge to write, sing, speak up, teach and learn, cross rivers or deserts or throw a perfect first ball,” Jutz shared.
He described the song as very “bluesy.” Jutz noted the Blue-Grays baseball team was very good and had a great reputation in East Tennessee and beyond despite the era of Jim Crow and segregation. “Many of the players of these small-town teams went on to play major league baseball,” he said.
The independent semi-professional African-American baseball team consisted of young men from Elizabethton, Johnson City, Kingsport, Greeneville, Middle Tennessee, Bristol, and Martinsville, Va. The Blue Grays played against some of the most famous Negro Southern teams. Some of them also played with the Indianapolis Zulu Clowns, the Alabama Black Barons, and the Nashville Cubs.
Among the members of the Elizabethton Blue Grays were James “Chick” Forney, James Napier, Garland Norwood, Russell Smith, Lester Forney, Nathaniel Duffield, Ted Hartsaw, Jiggs Taylor, JuJu Thomas, Rob Bass, and Slim Avery, just to name a few.
Jutz noted that during the era the Blue Grays played, the team traveled at night to avoid any racial problems and during road trips, the team sometimes had to stay at churches or at places the team was familiar with. Even though there was some areas that didn’t have the most positive reception, this squad still persisted through some tough times.
“Tim told me the story of the Blue Grays. I know exactly nothing about baseball — but I can write a song about people. I owe a lot of thanks to Tim for writing and recording this song with me, but most of all thanks to the Blue Grays for being heroes,” said Stafford on the release of the Blue Grays recording.
Both Jutz and Stafford are heralded among the top songwriters in the bluegrass genre as well as veteran performers.
No doubt, the Blue Grays would be surprised to learn that a song had been written and recorded about them. They last took the field in 1955.

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