By Joy Doss, Special to The New Tri-State Defender
I love my city. I do. Warts and all. I am proud of our history and excited about our future. We talk on and on about our rich musical legacy and how it translates to the now.
Well, last week I was at Lafayette’s Music Room in Overton Square, where some of Memphis’ music royalty gathered as The Recording Academy Memphis Chapter celebrated regional Grammy winners and nominees.
It was a glimpse of the now. Folks doing big things presently.
We are bigger than our past and, for that matter, our present. From last month’s launch of David Porter’s new label (Made in Memphis Entertainment) to Marco Pave’s upcoming release of “Welcome to Grc Land” to icons such as Bobby Rush and William Bell, who are still doing their thing AND winning, Memphis is very much so on the map.
Unbeknownst to most, including me, several Memphians were nominated for Grammys or were a part of the process. Vasti Jackson, Boo Mitchell, Luther Dickinson (North Mississippi Allstars) and Kirk Whalum were some of the familiar faces I spotted at the event.
I spoke briefly with Whalum, which is worth noting. He introduced himself (“ummm, I know who YOU are!”), which was kind and humble. I’d seen him a couple of years ago when he was featured at Collage dance Collective’s summer social. His music was outstanding but what made me weak was him speaking French so beautifully and with such ease.
So during this brief exchange, I had to pop the question, especially after finding out he was from the Mound and went to Melrose.
“So how does a boy from the Mound learn to speak French fluently?”
He answered me en francais. Again, weak, I went to my PR game face; no fanning out under any circumstances. I could make out about 70 percent of what he said and was glad for the translation. Paraphrasing, the sax maestro linked his French mastery to having lived with a French family while studying abroad. Just wanted to share that fun fact!
Earlier in the evening, I’d encountered 4-time Grammy nominee Bobby Rush, who won his first Grammy in February, capturing the Best Traditional Blues Album for “Porcupine Meat.” Almost 84, Rush, who has been recording since 1951, was as sharp as a tack.
“If you don’t get old, you die young,” he said. “I am thankful to God to be around…. I accept this award…for the guys who were here before me…who did more than I did but didn’t get it. This is for them.”
Bell, the Grammy’s Best Americana Album winner this year, is a Grammy winner after 60 years in the game.
“It was a long journey but well worth the trip,” he said. “I accept it, like Bobby, because of all of the guys that came along with me but are no longer here. (They) left a legacy behind of soul and blues and jazz.”
Bell is the first blues artist to snare the Grammy’s Best Americana Album prize.
“Music is really a universal language,” he said. “Musicians have integrated together…even when it was not en vogue. We have made a difference through music. If we can give back through our music and change the world, that’s the best job you can have.”
Bell and Rush benefitted from greats such as Rufus Thomas, Bobby “Blue” Bland, Muddy Waters and Howling Wolf, who chose to pay it forward. Now they are following suit, mentoring young musicians via Berkley College of Music and the Stax Music Academy.
Legends breeding legends. All the snaps to these gentlemen for walking in greatness and bringing Memphis along for the ride!