Little Jake Mitchell and the Soul Searchers at Arts Garage, June 16

One of the best moments in Little Jake Mitchell's childhood singing career was, he says, "When I played with Sam Cooke, 1957 at the Palladium Ballroom in Tampa,

Florida, King Curtis was the band that was playing, and the Skyliners." He was 13 years old. The singer was discovered by a man who owned a few fish markets in Tampa. He heard the young man's voice, and asked, "'Who's that singing?' And it started from there." He then recorded his first album for Chicago's Chess Records in 1957 and again in 1966 with Detroit's Impact and Newton records, later founding his own label, Golden Hits Records.

He's performed all over the country with such names as BB King, Sam Cooke, Jackie Wilson, and James Brown. One of the most memorable shows he played was in 1958 at the Florida Bar in Pahkee. "There was a man got killed right in front of me while I was on stage singing," he says. "The band that backed me up at the time were the Skyliners, one of the best bands that ever played in the state of Florida." A native of this state, Mitchell knows what he's talking about. 

The musician currently lives in Gainesville, but also finished up his schooling there as a youth, though not at the University of Florida. In 1960, he performed at the University of Florida's homecoming Gator Growl, earning the honor of being the first African American to perform at the ceremonies. He calls himself "a born Gators fan" and still attends games.

Mitchell still tours with his backing band the Soul Searchers and recently went with them to the semi-finals of the 2012 International Blues Challenge. "I really used to love it during my younger days. Meeting so many different people and seeing the excitement. I just love music. I love seeing people happy," Mitchell relates. While he's on stage, he notes, "Once you've been entertaining as long as I have you can feel the audience and you know that they like. And when I sing, I sing from my heart." 

Of all of those he's worked with, BB King was the one who most starstruck him. Mitchell referred to him as his godfather. "He gave me the motivation to continue to do what I'm doing." They even played at the Palms of Hallendale together back in the day. Mitchell said with certainty of his mentor, "He led me in the right direction." 

Little Jake Mitchell and the Soul Searchers at 8 p.m. June 16 at Arts Garage, 180 NE First Street, Delray Beach. Advance tickets $20 to $30, at the door, $25 to $35. For more information artsgarage.org or call 561-450-6357. 

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