The 1998 Handy Awards Weekend . . .

. . . had become an especially meaningful one for me about six weeks earlier. It was then I received word that The Blue Highway was to be awarded that Memphis in May weekend The Blues Foundation's Keeping the Blues Alive award for Blues on the Internet. The gala event was to be held at Memphis' historic and storied Peabody Hotel. So I was off to Memphis, Tennessee for a spectacular weekend of fun, fellowship, and frivolity. The Handy's were pretty good, too.

I've got 25 jpeg images to share with you. They range in file size from about 13k to 70k. (Ain't is always true that the best ones are also the biggest.) I think most web browsers have a jpeg viewer built in, and this should work fine. If not, you'll need to configure a viewer to use with your browser. Try ACDSee for Windows 3.X and Windows 95. It's fast and versatile. Enjoy the pictures, but please do not distribute them without asking me first. You sure as hell cannot use them to make money. Thanks.


First Things First

My day began early on Thursday, April 30, 1998. My flight from Florida departed before 6 a.m., and I found myself at the Memphis airport at about 7:30 their time. In no rush at all, I enjoyed a quiet breakfast at the airport, then to accompany my leisurely read of the local Commercial Appeal newspaper, I tuned my pocket radio to "the Goodwill Station" -- WDIA-AM 1070 -- where the careers of Rufus Thomas and young Riley B. King had taken root some 50 years earlier. My mind eventually drifted back to the there and then, and I began to ponder just what I intended to do with my six hours before check-in.

I'd been to Memphis a half-dozen times over the last 20 years, but not once had I visited the site of one of the most important events of the 20th century, and it had happened there 30 years ago that month. I took a cab to my hotel a few blocks north of Beale, dropped off my bag, grabbed my camera, and marched two miles down Main to Butler Avenue, then a block east to Mulberry Street and the Lorraine Motel -- now home to the National Civil Rights Museum. As the historical marker indicates, this is where the Rev. Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr., was felled by a sniper's bullet on the afternoon of April 4, 1968. When in Memphis, please do visit the site, and give yourself an hour or more to tour the extraordinary museum.


Blues-L And The Blues

Central to my blues world is Blues-L -- the e-mail list of some 800 subscribers that I've been home to since my first days on the Internet in early 1994. For the most part, we're socially compromised folks, and as one zeller once put it, not at all attractive. But regardless, or maybe entirely in keeping with, we take such opportunities as the Handy's to gather, greet, and dash our fantasies about each other. We held such a reception at the offices of the Conaway Brown advertising agency and BlueSpeak magazine, just a block south of the Orpheum Theater and the evening's 19th Annual W.C. Handy Blues Awards.

We drank, chatted, mingled, impressed, unimpressed, and posed for each other for hours. Here, for instance, are photographer-jesters Chuck Winans and Jef Jaisun, and farther from the madding crowd, Dom Forcella and P.W. Fenton. Among my highlights of the trip was meeting "Soul Man" Otis Clay at the reception.


The W.C. Handy Blues Awards

Alas, we all gradually made our respective ways up Main Street to the Orpheum Theater and the evening's main event. P.W. Fenton took this photo from inside the Orpheum. The evening was, of course, spectacular and star-studded. Here, P.W. shares a moment at intermission with the legendary Rufus Thomas. After the show, P.W. met up with Bonnie Raitt. Bonnie, in turn, then shared some special moments with the pride of Como, Mississippi, and a true American treasure -- Jessie Mae Hemphill. Congratulations to all of the year's Handy recipients, the evening's hosts Ruth Brown and Robert Cray, and The Blues Foundation for pulling off a hugely successful event.


Okay, More Schmoozing

But we zellers were just getting started. The following night, we gathered with the blues industry's movers and groovers at Memphis' legendary Peabody Hotel, where in the lobby the ducks walk to the fountain and the Mississippi Delta is said to begin. The occasion was The Blues Foundation's annual Keeping the Blues Alive Awards banquet, where the non-performers of the blues world -- the writers, photographers, promoters, deejays, and Yankee agitators -- are recognized for their "extreme dedication to the cause of promoting and preserving the Blues." I met zeller diva Lea Gilmore before the banquet, and here, Lea poses with fellow zellers Gloria Pierce and Paul Benjaman. And here at Table 23 are, clockwise kinda, Dom, P.W., Jef, Chuck, and Sally Stevens.

So, anyway, yours truly had occasion this night to receive an award. P.W. had graciously agreed to come to Memphis to present the thing, which he did with his usual flair, though I suspect he didn't mind spending this weekend there either. So here I am at the podium, saying ... something, and feeling ... elsewhere. P.W. is ... relaxing. Gloria took that picture. Here's another one from Dom's camera, just before I delivered the punch line. And here's the particular KBA Award. P.W. took the picture while I wasn't looking, and then dressed it up back at the house and sent it to me. There were 18 awards presented that night. One went, in the Literature category, to David "Honeyboy" Edwards (center) for his excellent 1997 autobiography The World Don't Owe Me Nothing. He is seen here with his presenter and fellow country bluesman "Philadelphia" Jerry Ricks.

After the banquet, we found ourselves just a few blocks west at the banks of the Mississippi River, preparing to board a genuine Mississippi riverboat for a moonlight cruise. Here, Smokey Wilson fills the dance floor. Here's a a close-up of "The Man From Mars," and here we've got Gloria and I dancing. I can't speak for Gloria, but for my part, consider this a very rare photo!


Symposiums And Soul

The days were full as well, and not without goosebumps. On Saturday, we gravitated toward Beale Street and the Black Diamond for the spirited "No Black, No White, Just Blues" symposium. Our own Lea Gilmore moderated, with the wisdom of Job. From left to right, we have Lea, writer Larry Hoffman, promoter M.J. RaSool, and blues entertainer Bobby Rush.

Friday, the day before, we took in the "When Down Home Blues Became Sweet Soul Music" symposium at the New Daisy Theater. From left to right are moderator David Sanjek, the great Ruth Brown, writer Bob Santelli, and a woman associated with Stax whose name I didn't get. But the real treat came soon thereafter, when Ruth Brown bared her abundant soul to the meager audience. This was an unforgettable, heartfelt performance that left us all richer for the occasion.

And with that, we boarded the metaphorical Main Street Trolley back home. Sunday afternoon I found myself sitting back at the Memphis airport -- in no rush at all. As I waited for my flight, I again listened to WDIA-AM 1070 on my pocket radio. It was Sunday. They played gospel music and broadcasted sermons. I was inspired and learned some things -- that evil is deception, that there is no power but God's power. I watched people -- the happy and the sad, the strong and the weak. I watched a young, strong, happy family and wished I knew them. I went home, not changed, but changing.


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