INTRODUCTIONS: Meet Gene Dobbs Bradford


In January of this year, the Savannah Music Festival (SMF) announced Gene Dobbs Bradford would take the reins as its new Executive Director. 

Prior to taking his current position, Bradford was president and CEO of Jazz St. Louis for 23 years. 

With Bradford at the helm, Jazz St. Louis went from $300,000 dollar budget to $3 million. He also launched a successful capital campaign in 2012 that raised $8.5 million to expand facilities and community engagement programs.  

Bradford arrived in Savannah in late February, and is thrilled to call Savannah his new home along with finally being able to see the SMF live and in person.  

“It’ll be the first time that I’ve had a chance to do that. I’ve always wanted to come down to visit the music festival, and unfortunately it came at a time that was really busy in St. Louis,” said Bradford. “One thing that I’ve always known about the festival is that it has a really high level of artistic quality, and I think that this year’s lineup is no exception.”  

 In addition to welcoming people back to live music, Bradford also discussed his plans for the festival’s future. For him, that starts with getting to know the community, and then building upon the festival’s foundation that spans 23 years.  

“I think for the next month or so it’s really going to be about learning the community first. I want to make sure that I have an understanding of the dynamics before we really start thinking about what changes we might want to make. Because we want to make sure that it’s going to be something that will impact the community in a meaningful way, and not just be something foisted upon them,” explained Bradford.  

Bringing more diversity to the festival and reaching audiences that may not feel a connection to the current festival lineup is a goal of Bradford’s. 

“The program that we have currently is very high quality, but I think one of the things we want to do is have an eye towards attracting other audiences that we’re not currently getting,” said Bradford. 

Bradford made it clear that programming intent on bringing people back every year will not be phased out. With SMF being a cross-genre festival, Bradford hopes to expand on what is already offered while also making the festival more appealing to a younger audience. 

Bradford says he understands the importance of music as an educational tool. In St. Louis, Bradford spearheaded educational programs that reached out to over 200,000 students. For SMF, community engagement and education are core tenants, and those coincide with Bradford’s mission to serve students. 

For example, created in conjunction with Carnegie Hall, SMF’s Musical Explorers program brings kindergarten through second grade students in from the Savannah Public School System, allowing them to discover different types of music.  

“Kids are exposed to everything from classical to jazz, blues, bluegrass and world music so it’s very exciting to see,” said Bradford.  

With the festival finally returning to conventional in-person programming, Bradford is looking to maintain the high quality of entertainment, while continuing to bring people together through their shared love of music.  

“I don’t think anything brings people together like music does. It’s one of the most powerful art forms that we have,” said Bradford. 


Alex Arango

Alex Arango is a multimedia journalist and Savannah local. He has a passion for quality community journalism, and is looking forward to serving the city that he has always called home.
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