A filmmaker who's producing a documentary about the great Bakersfield Sound performer Billy Mize is one of the Arts Council of Kern's grant recipients for 2013.

William J. Saunders is the grandson of Mize, who many residents will remember from his early days on local television in the 1950s and '60s.

"Nearly my entire life he's been unable to speak due to a stroke, so conversation was never an option," Saunders said.

"I knew he was a country singer, and I knew he had some ties with Merle Haggard, but the discovery of the Bakersfield Sound movement and Billy's tragic personal story was awe-inspiring."

Several years ago, Mize was admitted to an experimental speech rehabilitation clinic to learn how to sing again -- and he did.

"I knew it was time to get the cameras rolling," said Saunders, who worked for NFL Films as a director/producer/editor for several years before going freelance.

Making the film has been a voyage of discovery. He estimates his grandfather logged about 7,000 hours of TV time.

"Billy's primary career was in television, so the footage for the story is all there," he said.

"He was an original cast member on 'Cousin Herb's Trading Post' and Buck (Owens) actually used to play lead guitar on Billy's show."

Saunders plans to use the $500 he got from the council to help fund the premiere of his film. At this time he's not sure of the date or the place but said it will be in a Bakersfield venue. His company, Old Center Entertainment, is based in Tehachapi.

Saunders is one of nine recipients of this year's grants, which total $10,000.

Executive director Michael Millar said the money is part of $65,000 in funding the council received in October from the Kern County Board of Supervisors. He said the remaining $55,000 will be used for general operating expenses.

A three-member committee from the council's board made the selections. Applicants were asked to focus on how their arts organizations will contribute to arts access, advocacy and education for Kern County's residents and visitors.

The committee's decisions were based on artistic quality; artistic and management capabilities; and innovative programming.

Three organizations based in Bakersfield received awards in various amounts. They are Bakersfield Art Association, $500; Boys & Girls Club of Kern County, $1,500; and Imagine Ballet, $1,500.

Two are located in the Frazier Park area: Center for the World Festival, Inc., $1,500 and Frazier Mountain FOCUS Central Art Camp, $1,500.

In addition to Saunders' film company, two others in Tehachapi got grants: Camp Kiya, $1,500 and Summit Singers, $1,000.

Kern River Valley Art Association, the ninth recipient, received $500.

Harlem and Beyond

Those who view the PBS documentary "The Tuskegee Airmen: They Fought Two Wars" on Monday at the Bakersfield Senior Center will get some background on what Buford A. Johnson will talk about later this month as part of the annual Harlem and Beyond events.

Johnson, 84, served as an aircraft mechanic in the World War II squadron that led the way to the eventual integration of the United States military.

A frequent speaker, he has been quoted as saying he was drafted by the Navy but enlisted in the Army Air Corps because the only things blacks could do on a ship was shine the captain's shoes or cook.

The film is a visual reminder of the prejudice the fliers faced on the home front as well as the insults they endured from white servicemen.

It also recounts their heroic service escorting B-17 and B-24 bombers on long bombing runs over central Europe during the war.

Harlem and Beyond coordinator Brenda Scobey, a retired librarian, said records show they flew 15,000 sorties and 1,500 missions.

In 1949, Johnson's P-47N Thunderbolt was one of four aircraft selected to be used in the U.S. Air Force Gunnery Meet at Nellis AFB, Nev.

John Holway's book, "Red Tails: An Oral History of the Tuskegee Airmen," is the companion piece to the documentary. Both are based on interviews with surviving members of the squadron.

The term "Red Tails" refers to the tails of their fighter planes, which were painted bright red.

If you can't make the show on Monday, it will be shown again next week at two different venues: at 2 p.m. Feb. 7 at the Beale Memorial Library and 6 p.m. the same day at South High School. Admission is free.

Valentine's dance

With "Love is in the Air" as their theme song, members and guests of the Laf-A-Lot dance club will celebrate Valentine's Day a bit early on Saturday at the Kern City Town Hall on Saturday.

"There will be a famous couples' costume contest -- like Romeo and Juliet, or Mae West and W.C. Fields, " said club president Shari Fortino, adding that costumes are not required.

Also featured is a performance by the Rosewood Rockers, an energetic group of senior-citizen line dancers who initiated flash mobs last year at Valley Plaza food court and the Bridal Fair at Rabobank.

Music will be provided by the Bakersfield Swingtime Orchestra, with lead vocalist Mike Smothers.

High school artists

For the second year in a row, Bakersfield College has opened its Wylie and May Louise Jones Gallery to high school artists.

The exhibit, Panorama Invitational 2013, includes the work of students from 12 schools in the metropolitan Bakersfield area and one in Tehachapi.

An opening reception will be held from 5:30 to 7 p.m. on Wednesday. The exhibit can also be seen through Feb. 27 during the gallery's open hours, 1 to 4 p.m. Monday through Thursday.

Gallery director Margaret Nowling said in a news release that high school artists find exhibiting in a gallery to be an invigorating experience. For some students, the ability to exhibit can become the necessary push to help (them) strive for achievement in future works. Students are selected for the show by high school art teachers.

A range of media is represented and includes drawings, paintings, collages, mixed media and sculpture.

Murder mystery

I'm thinking that dressing like the bank-robbing duo Bonnie and Clyde would be appropriate for the upcoming "Murder at the Museum" dinner party.

Koral Hancharik, executive director of the Buena Vista Natural History Museum, said the fund-raising event has a double theme: Valentine's Day and the 1930s.

Eulogio R. Villansenor is the writer and director of the mystery which will have guests searching for clues throughout the museum to reveal the murderer.

Buena Vista is located in downtown Bakersfield. It is a repository for fossils, including those collected from Sharktooth Hill north of the city, and other natural history items.