CALIFORNIA (CBM) – Cowboys, cowgirls, and rodeo enthusiasts are mourning the passing of Lu Vason, the creator of one of America’s longest running all-Black touring rodeos, the Bill Pickett Invitational Rodeo.
Vason, who had just celebrated his birthday in April, was 76.
Longtime friend and California Rodeo Coordinator, Margo Wade LaDrew states of Vason: “Over the past 20 years working with Lu to promote the BPIR, he became a mentor, father and trusted friend that I will miss and cherish always. In his memory, we will continue his Legacy of the Bill Pickett Invitational Rodeo “The Greatest Show on Dirt” as we celebrate our 31st rodeo tour.”
Vason, who grew up in Berkeley, California and moved to Denver in 1977, has over 30 years experience as a producer, media impresario and marketing consultant.
Assemblymember Cheryl Brown was a sponsor of the rodeo for over 25 years, “I’ve known Mr. Vason for 30 years. He’s always been positive, energetic and dedicated. In addition to being the founder of Bill Picket Rodeo, he was an active promoter of the show,” said Assemblymember Brown. “As a promoter, he focused on the true history of our country. He talked about the largely forgotten Black American cowboys and cowgirls, which represented 25 percent of that population. As Co-Publishers of The Black Voice News, Hardy and I supported the Bill Picket Rodeo Show by providing media coverage, serving as a ticket outlet, and organizing busloads of youth to attend the event. Mr. Vason was full of encouragement. He will truly be missed.”
Friend, actor, and rodeo participant, Glynn Turman stated of the passing of Vason, “There was a round up early this morning. One of my dearest friends was part of the pack God hand picked which souls He wanted. The corral was filled with those who had lived long lives. They were known as leaders, innovators, and ground shakers. My dear friend Lu Vason, was right up front.
“As God gave each one of them their wings, Lu looked back and smiled. He smoothed down his hair pulled tightly in a mangled gray ponytail, secured his white cowboy hat, and proceeded to fly. …I will miss my dear friend but to think of him, I have to smile. I know that at this very moment he is fine. He is free.”
Vason is credited with creating the Pointer Sisters and managing various other artist. He formed Aries Concerts and the Jazz Lives Series promoting various concerts and concert tours.
In 1977, during Wyoming’s Cheyenne Frontier Days, Vason’s interest turned toward rodeo. His curiosity was aroused when he noted that there were no Black cowboys participating that day. Were people aware of the role that the Black cowboy had played in this country’s history?
Vason was convinced that the time had come to uncover the cultural past of the Black cowboy. In 1984, he created an all Black rodeo named after legendary cowboy, Bill Pickett, who originated “bulldogging”. Some 23 years later the Bill Pickett Invitational Rodeo is now a popular series, which reaches over 130,000 spectators annually across the United States.
As BPIR producer he challenged the false perception of an absentee presence of Blacks in the development of the West, while molding his touring rodeo into a success. The Black rodeo has been a powerful tool in his goals of educating people on the Black west as well as building a profitable business.
The first Bill Pickett Invitational Rodeo, held in 1984 in Denver, Colorado was an inspiration Vason had after visiting the Cheyenne Frontier Days, the grand-daddy of Rodeos, in Wyoming, “my experience was exciting but lacked one thing,” according to Vason in an interview. “Black cowboys.” While in Denver he visited the Black American West Museum of History where he was introduced to the history of Bill Pickett.
“People knew the name Will Rogers,” said Vason “But who they hadn’t heard of was Bill Pickett and if they had, they didn’t know he was Black.”
Bill Pickett, born in 1870 in Texas, created ‘bulldogging,” a move where he rode alongside a steer, jumped onto its shoulders and brought the steer down by digging his feet into the ground. The modern day version of the move is called steer wrestling and remains one the most intriguing exhibitions throughout rodeo history.
The Bill Pickett Invitational Rodeo is where Vason kept his focus and his biggest hope of producing Rodeo Soul, a show he incorporated and wanted to see on BET or some sport’s channel.
Concerts only have financial rewards,” said Vason. “The Rodeo is educational, I’m trying to promote the culture of the Black west.”
California Black Media President and former Bill Pickett Invitational Rodeo Queen, Regina Brown Wilson said: “The world lost a courageous and compassionate man, and I have lost a mentor and a friend who dedicated his life to spreading African-American culture and entertainment through his signature and national event “The Bill Picket Rodeo.” His selflessness and passion to develop his annual event that brought families together and provided unique experiences to inner city and underserved kids will forever be etched into the many lives he touched.”
Through his impressive career as a producer he has made it possible for many to have access to a piece of denied history. Children and adults today can travel a short distance by bus, car or maybe even horse, to a place where the dust from the bull pen, the fearless strength of Black cowboys and the audacious displays of bulldogging is as authentic now as they were over a hundred years, ago.