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Handy Heritage Awards deliver annual 2-in-1 pleasure

For the 21st year – as in years past – the Annual W.C. Handy Heritage Awards served to honor “Authentic Beale Street Musicians” and treat attendees to the music that earned the artists such acclaim.

Case in point: After awards presenter Elaine Lee Turner delivered the program’s dedication in memory of Stax musician, songwriter and producer, Marvell Thomas, his sister – Carla Thomas – and Spencer Wiggins rendered a musical tribute to one of Marvel Thomas’ songs. In between, Percy Wiggins – Marvell Thomas’ friend and fellow stax artist – presented the Memphis Music Legend Award to Thomas’ widow, Naajee.

The Guest House at Graceland was the venue for the celebration, which was presented by the W. C. Handy Museum and Heritage Tours and commemorated the 144th birthday of the “Father of the Blues.” The celebrity co-hosts were R&B recording artist Toni Green and radio and TV personality, Leon Griffin.

Receiving the Lifetime Music Achievement Award was “Diva of Soul” and Grammy Awards nominee Shirley Brown. Green paid tribute to Brown, whom she considers her mentor, with a dynamic rendition of one of Brown’s signature hits.

Also receiving the Lifetime Music Achievement Award was singer/songwriter and Stax recording artist William Bell, who was unable to attend. The Bar-Kays’ James Alexander made the presentation to former Stax executive Deanie Parker, of the Bar-Kays. Quoting Bell, Parker said, “Help us continue our legacy and pass it on.  We represent the heart and soul of the Memphis music community.  Thank you for recognizing me in my hometown.”

James Nelson received the award in the gospel category presented by Rev. John Wilkins, a former honoree.  After receiving her award, Melvia “Chick” Rogers-Williams, a powerhouse of soul and rhythm and blues, showed why she received the Chicago Queen of Soul Award during her stay in the Windy City.

Bluesman Blind Mississippi Morris was presented his award by fellow bluesman Earl “The Pearl” Banks, both regulars on Beale Street. Designated as one of the 10 best harmonica players in the world by Blues Harp Magazine, Morris did his thing to the pleasure of the crowd.

R&B musician Kenneth Jackson, an accomplished composer, trumpeter and master teaching artist, was presented his award by former honoree Thomas “TC” Clay.  A musical tribute to Jackson was performed by another former honoree, Eddie Harrison of Eddie Harrison and the Short Kuts.

STAX soul recording artist Randy Brown received his award from another honoree, Robert “Chilil” Chisem of The Climates. A fixture on the international circuit, Chisem gave the Memphis audience the rare opportunity to experience what audience’s abroad hear frequently.

Throughout the evening, Mark Anthony Lee and the Lyte Speed R&B Orchestra kept the music flowing and toes tapping with the “Memphis Sound.”

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