Rock Falls’ Bellson Music Festival will host wife of renowned jazz musician

Louie Bellson, jazz musician, honored at Bellson Music Festival

Louie Bellson playing the drums.

ROCK FALLS – Special guest Francine Bellson will attend the third annual Bellson Music Festival that honors her late husband, Louie Bellson, a Rock Falls native and nationally acclaimed jazz drummer.

The event will take place Saturday, June 8, at RB&W District Park in Rock Falls from 11 a.m. to 9:30 p.m. Several bands, including former Journey drummer Steve Smith, are scheduled to perform in celebration of Louie’s 100th birthday.

Louie Bellson, born in 1924 in Rock Falls, was not only a jazz drummer. He also was a composer, arranger, bandleader and jazz educator. During his career, he performed on more than 200 albums, with Duke Ellington, Count Basie, Louie Armstrong and many more influential jazz musicians of the time.

Francine, a Silicon Valley physicist and engineer at the time, met Louie on a jazz cruise, “A Salute to Duke Ellington,” where Louie was performing as one of the “Ellington Alumni.” The two were engaged a few months later. Louie made the announcement to the world live on The Tonight Show with Johnny Carson in 1992. They were married shortly after.

They traveled the world together – Francine selling CDs and creating memorabilia for gigs while Louie performed and recorded his music. Eventually, Francine became Louie’s manager, publicist and photographer.

“He’d play vigorous drum solos, always cool and smiling... it was the audience who got out of breath,” Francine said in an email interview with Shaw Local.

But she never completely gave up her passion for science. The two developed a joint career talk, “The Physicist & the Percussionist,” that they performed at school events nationwide. The presentation connected their two passions by exploring the relationship between music and science.

Francine produced Louie’s last two CDs, “The Sacred Music of Louie Bellson” and “Louie & Clark Expedition 2″ on their Percussion Power label.

“Louie’s music was always upbeat, positive [and] inspiring, not sad or destructive,” Francine said.

Louie died in Los Angeles in February 2009 and was buried in Moline, Illinois. In 2010, a memorial headstone, designed by Francine, was unveiled and dedicated at his gravesite.

Today, Francine runs the Louie Bellson Legacy website and the BellsonBeat Newsletter and manages his estate.

Louie never forgot about his Rock Falls roots and came back to visit quite often, according to a news release from Rock Falls Tourism. Francine said it has been a “sheer pleasure” working with Rock Falls Tourism on the Bellson Music Festival, coordinated by tourism director Melinda Jones.

“The load is light when you have a common goal, honoring the legacy of a famous native son, a true American legend,” Francine said.

For more information about the Bellson Music Festival, visit the event page online or email Jones at director@visitrockfalls.com.

For more information about musician Louie Bellson, visit his legacy website.

Payton Felix

Payton Felix

Payton Felix reports on local news in the Sauk Valley for the Shaw Local News Network. She received her Bachelor of Arts in English from the University of Illinois at Chicago in May of 2023.