Lu Vason, a great spirit, visionary & genuius
Lucious “Lu” Augustas Vason was born on April 6, 1939 in New Orleans, Louisiana to his parents Lucious A. Vason, Sr. and Dolly Lucas Vason.
Raised in Berkeley, California, he graduated from Berkeley High School and enrolled at Contra Costas College in Richmond, California. He left college to join the Army where his tour took him to Germany. When he returned to California, he started a career as a fashion model in print advertising for different companies. His ads appeared in various newspapers and magazines; e.g., Newsweek and Time Magazine. Vason was one of few African American models in the San Francisco Bay area at that time. He also became an extra in the movie industry with one of his most notable parts being a stand-in for Sidney Poitier in “Guess Who’s Coming to Dinner.”
While modeling, he decided to pursue a career as a hairstylist. He attended Alameda Beauty College and Charms in Alameda, California and became a stylist for various beauty pageants in the San Francisco Bay area. He created hair styles for celebrities like Vonetta McGee, Margaret Avery, Marilyn McCoo and Florence LaRue of the 5th Dimension. He was also the hairstylist for Patricia Harris, the first female Black Ambassador for the United States under President Kennedy, and singer/ actress Lena Horne.
Hair styling propelled Lu to begin writing newspaper articles for a small African American newspaper, the Berkeley Post. After interviewing a member from the music group Delites, he was offered an opportunity to enter the entertainment world by becoming their manager. Vason moved on to various management positions with the Whispers, Natural Four, and the Pointers of Pair who later became the Pointer Sisters.
From management, he gradually crossed over to promotions by becoming the lead booking agent for various artists in the Bay area and later became a concert promoter. He partnered with a friend in Denver to promote the P-Funk Tour across the United States. The P-Funk Tour and this friendship led him to settle in Denver permanently where he began working with the renowned promoter, Barry Fey. This chapter in his life led him to promote shows with some of the greatest stars in music, including Prince, Diana Ross, Earth Wind & Fire, Michael Jackson and The O’Jays.
In July 1977, he attended Cheyenne Frontier Days, the Granddaddy of Rodeos, with his assistant, Linda Motley. Vason felt the experience was exciting but lacked Black cowboys and cowgirls. His vision to start his own African American Rodeo circuit was realized in 1984 when he founded the Bill Pickett Invitational Rodeo. The Bill Pickett Invitational Rodeo is the only African American touring rodeo in the United States and throughout the world. The rodeo has traveled to more than 33 cities across the United States and has drawn local and international media attention.
Now in its 31st year, the Bill Pickett Invitational Rodeo has touched hundreds of thousands of people—young, old, black and white—all over the world as they share the story of the African American cowboy and cowgirl. In truth, Lu knew that even if the history books never write the story, television never does a documentary, or the movie studios never produce a blockbuster on the big screen, the story of the Black cowboy and cowgirl will have been written in the minds and hearts of those who have visited or participated in a Bill Pickett Invitational Rodeo.
In addition to the Bill Pickett Invitational Rodeo, Lu had his own entertainment company, Lu Vason Presents and continued to book concerts, plays and other forms of cultural activities for the community. Lu’s vision to create a jazz festival in the Denver community became a reality in 2013, when he produced the 1st Annual Denver Jazz Fest, featuring Kenny Latimore, Tower of Power, Hiroshima, Brian Culbertson and other jazz groups. In February 2015, Lu introduced Colorado to “OperaJazz,” a fusion of opera and jazz featuring internationally acclaimed mezzo soprano Angela Brown.
Lu never allowed barriers to hold him back and has been recognized by various cities and organizations from coast to coast for his contributions to society. He has received such awards as the BM&T APEX Award for Distinguished Service, the 2005-2006 African American Voice Citizen of the Year Award, 2010 Urban Spectrum African Americans Who Make a Difference Award and the Do It Yourself Award. In 2010, Lu was inducted into the Blacks in Colorado Hall of Fame and in 2011, received the MLK Responsibility Award. In 2015, he was awarded the Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. Lifetime Achievement Award.
Lu was a pioneer and visionary. He believed that each of us has an obligation to our brothers, sisters and especially the children to expose and educate them about African American accomplishments, no matter the industry or activity.
Lu created Soul Strollin’ – the magazine for black tourists and Denver newcomers. The magazine provided information about where to go to purchase hair products, soul food, entertainment, and places to stay in Denver’s historic “Five Points.” Lu’s commitment to serving the black community was unmatched. When he produced the Miss Black World Pageant, Lu required that contestants be judged not only on their appearance, but also on their level of black consciousness and commitment to serve their community.
Lu was a strong advocate for black-owned businesses by utilizing them as ticket venues, limousine companies, and always taking the performers to the black-owned restaurants and radio stations. He prioritized recycling the black dollar and played an important role in helping the black community of Denver thrive.
Lu Vason departed this life to the Lord’s embrace on May 17, 2015, in Aurora, Colorado. Those left to cherish Lu’s memory and mourn his loss include his loving and devoted wife, Valeria Howard Vason of Centennial, Colorado; his sons, Elder Corey (Sheri) Vason of Seattle, Washington and Ralph (Rena) Young, Lithonia, Georgia; five daughters, Evangelist Sherry (Cedric) Lea of Martinez, California, Brianna (Teron) Coleman of Los Angeles, California, Lashell “Yetunda” Roy of Washington, DC, Karese Young of Oakland, California, Shelly Robinson of Antioch, California; one sister, Irma Jean Vason Morrison of Pensacola, Florida; 15 grandchildren: Kylan and Lelanie Roy, Shekina, Latress and Cameron Suddeth, Breianna, Ariel, Nia and Jalen Vason, Coy Young, Ryan, Nicolas and India Young, 5 great-grandchildren and a host of nieces, nephews, cousins, surrogate children and many friends.