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Celebrating 40 Years of

Black Rodeo, Culture and Legacy

About The Bill Pickett Rodeo


The Bill Pickett Invitational Rodeo celebrates and honors Black Cowboys and Cowgirls and their contributions to building the west. We highlight the irrefutable global appeal of Black Cowboys and Cowgirls in the West and the stories behind a sub-culture that is still strong today. BPIR also serves as a cultural event and opportunity for families to enjoy and embrace the cowboy culture, while being educated and entertained with reenactments, history highlights, and western adventure.


The Bill Pickett Invitational Rodeo remains committed to its vision of educating people about Black Western Heritage and honoring the contributions of Black Cowboys and Cowgirls. BPIR will persist in delivering an affordable, family-friendly entertainment experience that is both educational and enjoyable, maintaining its track record of engaging audiences of all ages and backgrounds for the past 39 years.


The Bill Pickett Invitational Rodeo (BPIR) ensures continued engagement with a key demographic while also appealing to a wider audience. By partnering with BPIR, your corporation aligns with an established entity dedicated to educating Americans about the diverse history of the American West. This partnership offers your company an opportunity to be part of an exhilarating event that caters to audiences of all ages, cultural backgrounds, and income levels, while also allowing you to target specific regional markets within a national platform.

BPIR presents a cost-effective way for any company to engage with African-American consumers across the United States, who collectively spend nearly 1 trillion dollars annually on various consumer goods. Moreover, the Bill Pickett Invitational Rodeo reintroduces an essential aspect of Black Western Heritage into contemporary society, offering a blend of family entertainment, educational experiences, excitement, and celebration.

Valeria Howard-Cunningham
President and Producer


Celebrating our 40th Year!

The Bill Pickett Invitational Rodeo (BPIR) concluded its 2023 tour with resounding success, boasting 10 sold-out stops across the USA, including Denver, CO; Fort Worth, TX; Memphis, TN; Oakland, CA; Los Angeles, CA; Atlanta, GA; and Washington, DC. The overwhelming love and support from friends, family, supporters, vendors, sponsors, media, photographers, and communities in each city were met with heartfelt appreciation. Check out the highlights here.

And 2024 promises even greater excitement! Celebrating its 40th year, Team BPIR is gearing up for a year filled with festivities, reflections, enhanced winners' perks, and host exceptional entertainment. After all, this is THE GREATEST SHOW ON DIRT!

Among the many anniversary celebrations planned for 2024 is the unveiling of the BPIR 2024 Buckle Series. The BPIR Texas Connection Series will feature four rodeos in Ft. Worth, TX at the Ft. Worth Stockyard Coliseum, while the BPIR Legacy Series will encompass rodeos in Denver, CO; Memphis, TN; Oakland, CA; Los Angeles, CA; and Atlanta, GA. What's new for 2024? We've paved separate paths to the finals for each buckle series, with the highest money winner in each event taking home the prestigious BPIR Series Buckle.

Under the visionary leadership of CEO/President and promoter Valeria Howard-Cunningham, BPIR remains steadfast in its commitment to elevating the legacy established by its late founder, Lu Vason. Valeria Howard-Cunningham stands as the sole Black woman owner and promoter of the only African American family touring rodeo circuit across the USA.

"The rodeo holds a rich history, legacy, and significance within the community," remarks Valeria Howard-Cunningham. "I am as enthusiastic about our future today as I have been in the past. Over the past 40 years, our organization has navigated challenges, celebrated triumphs, and evolved in ways we could have only dreamed of. Our history is rich with tales of perseverance, growth, and with the unwavering support of our members and community. As we mark our 40th anniversary—a significant milestone—it remains vital to continue educating the world about the invaluable contributions of Black cowboys and cowgirls in shaping the West and showcasing their talents and contributions today."

The BPIR maintains a vibrant culture through innovation and a commitment to enhancing its impact in our communities. Through its non-profit arm, The Bill Pickett Rodeo Invitational Foundation (BPIRF), BPIR will introduce a groundbreaking program called Saddle Up with BPIRF. This initiative will provide students and young adults with opportunities to explore career paths in Agriculture through mentorship, scholarships, and hands-on experience in collaboration with the United States Department of Agriculture.


Lu Vason, Founder & Visionary

The Bill Pickett Invitational Rodeo was the brainchild of a visionary promoter who distinguished himself as an innovative leader in special events marketing. Lu Vason, a native of Berkeley, California, relocated to Denver in 1977, bringing with him over 50 years of experience as a producer, media impresario, and marketing consultant. Widely recognized as a trendsetter and creative force, Vason's influence extended beyond rodeo circles—he was credited with launching the careers of musical acts like the Pointer Sisters and managing various other artists. Additionally, he established Aries Concerts and the Jazz Lives Series, further solidifying his reputation as an industry maverick.

Vason's interest in rodeo was piqued during the 1977 Cheyenne Frontier Days in Wyoming, where he observed a notable absence of Black cowboys participating in the event. This observation sparked his curiosity about the awareness of the significant historical contributions made by Black cowboys in the United States. Convinced that it was time to shed light on the cultural legacy of the Black cowboy, Vason embarked on a mission. In 1984, he launched an all-Black rodeo named in honor of the legendary Black cowboy, Bill Pickett, renowned for originating the "bulldogging" technique. Now, some 40 years later, the Bill Pickett Invitational Rodeo stands as a beloved series, captivating audiences across the United States and reaching millions with its celebration of Black cowboy culture.


Lu Vason, the visionary behind the Bill Pickett Invitational Rodeo, undertook the challenge of dispelling the misconception of a lack of Black presence in the development of the American West, while simultaneously transforming his traveling rodeo into a resounding success. The Black rodeo served as a potent tool in his dual mission of educating people about the Black West and establishing a lucrative enterprise.

The inaugural Bill Pickett Invitational Rodeo, launched in 1984 in Denver, Colorado, was born from Vason's experience at the renowned Cheyenne Frontier Days in Wyoming. Reflecting on his visit, Vason remarked, "My experience was exhilarating but lacked one crucial element: Black cowboys." His journey led him to the Black American West Museum of History in Denver, where he encountered the remarkable story of Bill Pickett and the Black West.

"Many knew the name Will Rogers," Vason noted, "but few were familiar with Bill Pickett, and even fewer knew he was Black." Born in 1870 in Texas, Pickett pioneered "bulldogging," a daring maneuver where he leapt from his horse onto a steer's shoulders, ultimately bringing it down by anchoring his feet into the ground. This move, now known as steer wrestling, remains one of the most captivating spectacles in rodeo history.

For Vason, the Bill Pickett Invitational Rodeo was not just a business venture; it was his passion. "Concerts offer financial rewards," he explained, "but the rodeo is educational; I aim to promote the culture of the Black West." Raised in New Orleans and Berkeley, Vason emphasized the importance of connecting with the history of Black Americans who played a vital role in shaping the nation.

Throughout his illustrious career as a producer, Vason provided access to a piece of history that had long been overlooked. Today, children and adults alike can journey to witness firsthand the dust of the bull pen, the fearless prowess of Black cowboys, and the bold demonstrations of bulldogging—a legacy that remains as authentic now as it was over a century ago. As the Bill Pickett Invitational Rodeo celebrates its 40th year, the enduring legacy of Lu Vason continues to inspire and educate.

[Lu Vason: April 6, 1939 - May 17, 2015]