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Wednesday, May 29, 2024

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#ACCESS901: A mighty fine night with the Mitchells

Boo Mitchell got juice; or, rather, the Mitchell family.

Royal Studios 60th anniversary concert at The Orpheum on Sunday night was a star-studded evening accented with stellar performances, including a surprise appearance by Tank, who paid tribute to Al Green, sparkly slip-on loafers and all.

I would venture to say some were rare appearances. I’m thinking particularly of Hi-Rhythm, who sat in as the house band, Boz Scaggs and Al Green’s original backup singers. Oh, and Al Green’s backup singers are not who you think they are. They looked more like they’d be singing backup for Patsy Cline! Never judge a book because those folks were holding it down in the background.

Royal Studios has had its hands on some of the most significant Memphis music, both past and present. Though I fully grasp that music is transcendent, I still found it fascinating how Royal has crisscrossed just about every genre, as evidenced by the lineup. It mirrored the studio’s catalogue – deep soul to country, folk to funk and more.

During his performance, Dave Stewart (Eurythmics), who I don’t think I’ve ever heard actually speak, said he and Annie Lenox both count Memphis music and Delta blues among their top influences. In fact, he’s just recorded an album at Royal with protégé Vanessa Amorosi, who performed alongside him.

In the flow of the evening, I made my way backstage, where I talked with Anthony Hamilton about the Royal Studios legacy.

“It’s a legacy to be a part of. Royal Studios have birthed some of the greats – Dee Bridgewater, Al Green. So many great people worked in the studio. And Willie Mitchell, man, he was the genius behind all of this.” (SCOOP: If you didn’t know, Hamilton is planning to go indie after wrapping a 14-year contract with Sony. You betta be an owner!)

As I observed and absorbed the energy crackling through the audience, I began to understand even more how beloved Willie Mitchell and, now, Boo Mitchell are. They give love to this city and are very much so loved hard in return. Actually, I think the entire Mitchell clan was in the building!

The concert was like a fancy backyard party (sans the grill and Auntie’s potato salad). Meaning, people left their cares and pretenses at the door and came to have a good time.

Much like the cookout, Saturday evening was a night full of this delightful cross-cultural, multi-generational sing-a-long. The lady behind me was like the “Good Times” audience and we travelled from old school to new school with some mashups in the mix as William Bell and Al Kapone put a new spin on an old favorite and The Bar-Kays’ Larry Dodson and James Alexander closed out the night with their version of “Uptown Funk.”

Perhaps the biggest surprise was when Boo received his Beale Street music note, which codifies, immortalizes and, most of all, celebrates his contributions to Memphis music. This honor puts him in the rare air space occupied by his own father, Ms. Ruby Wilson, Robert Johnson, JT, Memphis Minnie and Carla Thomas, among many others that have meaning for Memphians and Memphis music.

Royal Studios is about legacy and evolution. Boo Mitchell and his siblings, Archie and Oona, manage to honor the past and move the company forward. Again, that Al Kapone and William Bell performance…TOPS!

I am as a big a fan of old school as I am new school. I enjoyed the vintage clips as much as the music. And the performances – these folks are legendary. Kirk Whalum, Dee Dee Bridgewater alone…how often do you get to see these sorts of heavyweights come across one stage in one night?

So when I say the audience was singing along, that meant me too, and especially in association with Ann Peebles and Al Green. Can you really call yourself a Memphian if you don’t have deeply entrenched loved for Al Green? Like seriously.

Big congratulations to the Mitchell family for 60 years of black excellence! And really, just excellence PERIOD!

Just as the music isn’t confined to a box, neither are the Mitchells. They represent Memphis well. It was a mighty fine night.

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