The 16th annual W.C. Handy Heritage Awards
6 p.m. Sunday at the Historic Daisy Theater, 323 Beale. Tickets: $30. For more information, call 901-527-3427, or e-mail firstname.lastname@example.org
From the porch of the tiny W.C. Handy Memphis Home & Museum at 352 Beale, it's hard to see the Beale Street Brass Note Walk of Fame, where so many of the city's musical heroes have been lauded in recent years.
But Elaine Turner, whose company Heritage Tours operates as a tourist spot the relocated home where Handy lived from 1909-1917, isn't so concerned with the oft-repeated names represented there. Instead, she is dedicated to promoting the less-heralded performers — forgotten stars and side players alike — whose stories also are an important part of the Beale Street legacy. Some examples include Lewis Keel, a respected New York jazz saxophonist, and longtime Beale blues mainstay Carl Drew, both past Heritage Award recipients who died in the past week to little fanfare.
"These are people we feel need to be recognized," Turner says of the impetus for the annual W.C. Handy Heritage Awards, which returns for a 16th year on Sunday.
"Some of the people we honor will never get a brass note, but they have nevertheless made an impact on Memphis music."
Over the years, Turner estimates the Heritage Awards have honored more than 150 performers and music industry players. The recipients are chosen by a five-person committee of prominent local music authorities and historians, headed this year by former Manassas High School band leader and Isaac Hayes arranger Emerson Able, who received a brass note on Beale earlier this week.
Heading the list of this year's honorees are Lifetime Achievement Award recipients Otis Clay and Denise LaSalle, both Mississippi natives who were important recording artists at Memphis' Hi Records in the 1970s.
Also being honored are four longtime Beale regulars: guitarist Mark Anthony Lee (Bobby "Blue" Bland, Lynn White, Albert King), keyboardist Solomon McDaniel (The King Bees), saxophonist Homer Hamilton (Big Ella, Major Lance, The Bar-Kays), and bassist James Jackson (Albert King, The King Bees, Rufus Thomas).
As the Lyte Speed R&B Orchestra, the quartet formed the house band for the first 15 years of the Heritage Awards. This year, as honorees, they will get a break, with their traditional role being filled by The Authentic Beale Street Preservation Band, an all-star group of past Heritage Award winners, including Stax keyboardist Marvell Thomas, trumpeter William "Nokie" Taylor, and Leroy Hodges of the Hi Rhythm Section.
"The ones that are receiving the awards this year, they'll get a chance to relax," Turner says. "But we'll have plenty of other people getting up to play."
Among those will be Mississippi bluesman Bobby Rush, who will be setting aside his usual big band Southern soul show to do his acoustic blues set as the night's featured performer.
Broadcasting personalities Leon Gray and Pat Mitchell Worley, host of the globally syndicated radio show "Beale Street Caravan," will host the event that will be held at the Historic Daisy Theater, 323 Beale.
Proceeds from the event will go to support the W.C. Handy Memphis Home & Museum.
The Heritage Awards return to Beale Street on Sunday after being held last year at the Holiday Inn-University of Memphis, where organizers drew about 300 people to a ceremony that included honors not just for world-famous soul singer Al Green but also lesser-known Beale characters like the late Rudy Williams, "The Mayor of Beale Street."
The awards' move back was prompted by the occasion of the 100th anniversary of the publishing of "The Memphis Blues," a Handy composition that is among the first published blues songs.
"We felt Beale Street was the appropriate place to have the awards because Handy wrote the blues on Beale Street," Turner said. "He walked through those very doors at the (Historic) Daisy."
Turner also sits on a panel of prominent civic leaders who were tasked by Mayor AC Wharton with envisioning the future of Beale.
"It is our hope that the W.C. Handy Museum will remain a major attraction on Beale Street," says Turner, who estimates the museum draws about 10,000 visitors a year. "People come to Memphis from all over the world, and when they come to Beale Street, they want to hear music. They want to hear blues and soul and all of that.
"But W.C. Handy is the one that gave Memphis that identity. We want them to pay homage to Handy by coming to his home and learning about his history and about how he created this music to get a fuller story of the history and background of Beale Street and why it's so important."