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Bill would make R&B R.I.’s official state music

Representative David Bennett notes Providence was home to the Celebrity Club, which played R&B and was considered the first integrated nightclub in New England

Representative David A. Bennett, a Warwick Democrat.Handout

PROVIDENCE — Rhode Island already has an official state song — “Rhode Island’s It For Me” — but now a legislator is proposing an official state music: rhythm and blues.

Representative David A. Bennett, a Warwick Democrat, acknowledged that he was a drummer in a rock ‘n’ roll band whose favorites include Led Zeppelin, Pink Floyd, and King Crimson.

But he said he introduced the bill to make R&B the state’s official music genre at the request of the Rhode Island Rhythm & Blue Preservation Society. And he said he believes the designation would help unite people around music that is popular with people of all races, and that it contains elements of pop, soul, funk, hip-hop, and electronic music.


“It’s a blend, and that is the theme,” Bennett said Thursday. “It was the first blend that allowed people to go to the same place and enjoy the same thing, and it was good for our society.”

He noted that Providence was home to the Celebrity Club, which was filled with R&B music and was considered the first integrated club in New England, welcoming Black and white musicians and audiences.

Paul Filippi, the father of former House Minority Leader Blake A. Filippi, founded the club in 1949 in the city’s Randall Square neighborhood, bringing in legends such as Billie Holiday, Louis Armstrong, Count Basie, and Duke Ellington. The club closed in 1960.

“It brought people together,” Bennett said. “That is the big thing, and they were together nonviolently.”

The bill is scheduled to come before the House Committee on Special Legislation after Thursday’s House session.

Bennett said some of his colleagues have joked about why he isn’t backing a rock ‘n’ roll bill. And he acknowledged that Rhode Island is home to nationally recognized events such as the Newport Jazz Festival and the Newport Folk Festival.


But Bennett said musicians often play rhythm and blues at the Newport Jazz Festival. And he said an official state music genre “has to include everybody.”

If the bill passes, R&B would be added to the list of Rhode Island State Symbols, which includes the state appetizer (calamari), state drink (coffee milk), state bird (Rhode Island red), and state insect (American burying beetle).

In 2021, legislators made northern star coral (astrangia poculata) the official state coral, and in 2022, they made trilobites the official state fossil.

Edward Fitzpatrick can be reached at edward.fitzpatrick@globe.com. Follow him on Twitter @FitzProv.