First Class: 25 Memphis music legends to be enshrined in Hall of Fame

WC Handy

WC Handy

Jimmie Lunceford

Jimmie Lunceford

Jim Dickinson

Photo by Ebet Roberts

Jim Dickinson

Rufus Thomas

Photo by Stax handout

Rufus Thomas

Elvis Presley

Elvis Presley

Bobby "Blue" Bland

Photo by Stan Carroll

Bobby "Blue" Bland

Dewey Phillips

Photo by Unknown

Dewey Phillips

Al Green

Photo by 1996-98 AccuSoft Inc., All right

Al Green

Lucie E. Campbell - (1885-1963) was a gospel composer and an activist for civil justice. She defied the 'Jim Crow' streetcar laws when she refused to relinquish her seat in the section reserved for whites, and as president of the Negro Education Association she struggled with governmental officials to redress the inequities in the pay scale and other benefits for Negro teachers.

Lucie E. Campbell - (1885-1963) was a gospel composer and an activist for civil justice. She defied the "Jim Crow" streetcar laws when she refused to relinquish her seat in the section reserved for whites, and as president of the Negro Education Association she struggled with governmental officials to redress the inequities in the pay scale and other benefits for Negro teachers.

Three 6 Mafia

Three 6 Mafia

Nat D. Williams

Photo by Unknown

Nat D. Williams

ZZ Top

ZZ Top

The Staple Singers

The Staple Singers

W.C. Handy

W.C. Handy

Otis Redding

Photo by Stax handout

Otis Redding

B.B. King

Photo by handout

B.B. King

Estelle Axton and Jim Stewart

Photo by Tom Barber/ Press-Scimitar

Estelle Axton and Jim Stewart

Willie Mitchell

Photo by Handout / The Webbs

Willie Mitchell

Jerry Lee Lewis

Photo by Dave Darnell

Jerry Lee Lewis

Isaac Hayes

Photo by Charles Nicholas

Isaac Hayes

Sam Phillips

Photo by Memphis Press Scimitar

Sam Phillips

Booker T and the MGs

Photo by Anonymous

Booker T and the MGs

Howlin' Wolf

Photo by handout

Howlin' Wolf

Memphis Minnie

Photo by Unknown

Memphis Minnie

Estelle Axton at STAX in a photograph dated May 13, 1968.

Photo by Jim McKnight

Estelle Axton at STAX in a photograph dated May 13, 1968.

After years of talk and planning, the Memphis Music Hall of Fame becomes a reality next week, as its inaugural class is inducted during an event on Thursday at The Cannon Center for the Performing Arts.

The Hall of Fame initiative, part of the Smithsonian-connected Memphis Rock 'n' Soul Museum, was launched with an event last month at Downtown venue The Warehouse announcing a class of 25 Hall-of-Famers. The group includes Bluff City icons like W.C. Handy, Elvis Presley, B.B. King, Jerry Lee Lewis and Al Green; lesser-known figures like jazz saxophonist George Coleman, gospel songwriter Lucie Campbell, and Booker T. Washington high school bandmaster W.T. McDaniel, and many others.

For Rock 'n' Soul executive director John Doyle, it was imperative to make the induction ceremony an inclusive event. "We wanted to keep the ticket prices low, in order for the public to be able come out," says Doyle, noting that seats are available for as little as $30. "A lot of what we want to do with the Hall of Fame is about education, both through the website and the gallery, but a lot of it is about paying tribute and really giving credit to the musicians who put Memphis on a global map. And we want the public to share in that."

Thursday's ceremony is being produced by Willy Bearden. Best known for his documentary films on Memphis institutions like Overton Park and Elmwood Cemetery, Bearden also is a longtime event producer, having done work for the local Grammy chapter as well having helmed the Blues Music Awards for the past 15 years.

Rather than a traditional award ceremony heavy on acceptance speeches, Bearden is developing a thematic show that will tie in the lives of the honorees with the larger story of Memphis music.

He's tapped a house band that will be led by noted saxophonist Jim Spake, and organizers expect as many as 10 musical guests to perform. Among those slated to play are Memphis Music Hall of Fame inductee Bobby "Blue" Bland, and many second-generation acts who will honor those who have passed.

Luther Dickinson will pay tribute to his late father, Jim Dickinson; Dexter and Otis Redding III will play for Stax icon Otis Redding; while Vaneese and Marvell Thomas will celebrate the inimitable Rufus Thomas. In between the music, a group of storytellers will touch on the careers of the honorees through words and a series of video mini-documentaries. "We're going to talk about the lives and careers of these inductees, and show how it makes Memphis unique," Bearden says.

For Doyle, the idea of an unconventional induction ceremony was essential to the launch. "That was part of our idea from the outset," he says. "We wanted to pay tribute to these folks — not just have it be a cattle call. This is their night, and so it's up to us to put together a production worthy of them. We really wanted to have it be a show both for the audience and for the inductees."

The rest of this year's class includes the expected anchors of labels like Sun Records (Sam Phillips, Presley, Lewis), Stax Records (founders Estelle Axton and Jim Stewart, Booker T. & the MGs, Isaac Hayes) and Hi Records (Green, producer Willie Mitchell).

A group of artists from outside Memphis who were integral to the city's legacy — Redding, the Staples Singers and ZZ Top — will also be inducted.

Following last month's announcement, there has been some hand-wringing over who was included and who was left out, but far less than organizers and originally anticipated. "We knew that when we chose this inaugural group that it would never be perfect in everybody's mind," Doyle says. "To be able to peg everybody who is deserving and leave no one out would be an impossible task. But it does seem like the nominating committee did a stellar job in the eyes of the public."

Among the notable names missing from this year's class are Johnny Cash, Chips Moman, the Memphis Horns and The Bar-Kays. Doyle agrees, and notes that the organization plans to add more names — with 10 to 15 additional inductees each year for the next several years, with a rough goal of 300 Hall of Fame members. "We see this as part of a process, a long tribute to Memphis' greatest musical icons," Doyle says.

The plan is for the Rock 'n' Soul Museum, which will administer, fund, and house the Hall of Fame, to have a physical gallery in the museum by mid-2013. But Doyle adds that the work will continue beyond that, with talk of expanding to a standalone location for the hall, as well as online and interactive initiatives.

"We won't be done for decades to come with this," he says. "This is the just the beginning."

Memphis Music Hall of Fame Induction Ceremony

7 p.m. Thursday at the Cannon Center for Performing Arts, 255 N. Main. Tickets: $30, $50 and $100; available at all Ticketmaster outlets, ticketmaster.com or (800) 745-3000. For more information, go to memphisrocknsoul.org.

2012 Inductees

Estelle Axton and Jim Stewart

Bobby “Blue” Bland

Booker T. and The MG’s

Lucie Campbell

George Coleman

Jim Dickinson

Al Green

W.C. Handy

Isaac Hayes

Howlin’ Wolf

B.B. King

Jerry Lee Lewis

Jimmie Lunceford

Professor W.T. McDaniel

Memphis Minnie

Willie Mitchell

Dewey Phillips

Sam Phillips

Elvis Presley

Otis Redding

The Staple Singers

Rufus Thomas

Three 6 Mafia

Nat D. Williams

ZZ Top

© 2012 Go Memphis. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten or redistributed.

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