Highlander reaches 75th anniversary

September 3, 2007

Many moons ago, before NPR’s Morning Edition existed, Bob Edwards was the co-host of All Things Considered. When the East Tennessee chapter of the Society for Professional Journalists needed a speaker for a banquet, we invited him to come, offering to pay all expenses and, as I recall, a painfully small honorarium. To our surprise and delight, Edwards accepted, and in making the arrangements, he commented that he wanted to come to Tennessee to visit the Highlander Research and Education Center. Highlander is celebrating its 75th anniversary this weekend, and NPR–sans Edwards–did a piece on Sunday’s Weekend Edition.


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Fisk to be fleeced by Wal-Mart heiress?

August 30, 2007

As blogged here earlier, Nashville’s Fisk University is in such bad financial shape that it is trying to sell off portions of the Alfred Stieglitz Collection, the greatest art collection in the state.

Now comes news that Wal-Mart heiress Alice L. Walton wants to buy a half interest in the Stieglitz Collection for a mere $30 million. The estimated value of one painting alone–the Radiator Building shown below–is $20 million.


If this dirty deal goes down, the Collection would spend half the time at the new Chrystal Bridges Museum of American Art. The irony of this offer is unreal: the ill-gotten gains from Wal-Mart, a company whose predatory business practices have led to the extinction of hundreds of family-owned hardware stores, drug stores, and other small town establishments is now being used to take advantage of Fisk when the university is on its financial knees.

According to the offer put forth by Chrystal Bridge–the name sounds like a resident of some Arkansas trailer park–the Stieglitz Collection would spend half of the year in Bentonville, a hick town mostly visited by manufacturing representatives who come to the Wal-Mart Death Star in hopes of selling more cheap, Chinese-made goods to the company.

The best story I have seen on this sad situation is in Christine Kreyling’s article in the Nashville Scene.

This blog is part of a much larger website, also entitled Tennessee Guy, that contains travel and cultural information about Tennessee. Visit it here.

“Black Elvis” appears in Washington Post

August 14, 2007

Lots of people are obsessed with The King. Here’s the latest, via the Washington Post Style section.

Fisk vs O’Keeffe Museum: another option

August 7, 2007

As reported in the Nashville Tennessean, Fisk University and the Georgia O’Keeffe Museum have settled a lawsuit brought by the Museum that sought to prevent Fisk from selling a Georgia O’Keeffe painting now owned by the University. Radiator Building–Night, New York (shown below) is part of the 101-painting Alfred Stieglitz Collection of modern art given to Fisk by the artist in 1949. If the agreement is approved by Davidson County Chancellor Ellen Hobbs Lyle, Fisk will sell the Radiator painting to the Museum for $7.5 million, and will gain permission to sell Marsden Hartley’s Painting No. 3.



According to David West, the spokesman for Fisk, “the scope of our financial challenges requires a large infusion of cash to provide a lasting fix for our circumstances.” The key word here is “lasting.” Fisk has an increasingly difficult time raising money and fulfilling its mission. The University should reassess what it can do and should do. My recommendation? Sell the entire collection, and use that money to transform Fisk into an institute that will better fit the 21st Century.

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Stax tonight!

August 1, 2007

Tonight most PBS stations will host Respect Yourself: The Stax Records Story. This documentary tells the story of how blacks and whites came together in Memphis to make music that still rocks the house. Names such as Isaac Hayes, Sam & Dave, Booker T and the MGs, and Otis Redding developed their sound in the Stax studios, which were located in a former movie studio.

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Loving the Loveless Cafe and Motel

July 19, 2007

If someone in Hollywood set out to create the perfect Southern eatery, they would conjure up the Loveless Cafe. This place used to be a mom-and-pop hotel southwest of Nashville on Highway 100 back in the days before the mom-and-pop hotel owners were named Patel.

The Loveless family shifted from the motel business to serving meals, and they gained fame as a good place out in the country to eat down home food. It didn’t hurt that country music stars were known to come there for cholesterol-heaped breakfasts, which were served all day and fit the lifestyles of people for whom wasted days and wasted nights was more than a song title.


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American Legacy features DeFord Bailey

May 22, 2007

American Legacy, the magazine of African-American history and culture, has an insightful article in their summer issue on Deford Bailey, the first black star of the Grand Ole Opry. Bailey played harmonica on the very first show in which the name “Grand Ole Opry” was used, in 1927, and continued performing until 1941, when he got in the middle of a royalties fight between ASCAP and BMI and quit.

Unlike his blues counterparts, Bailey played a country-flavored harmonica. You can hear several of his songs here. While on the Opry, he was very popular with audiences and performers alike. The fact that the Opry was on radio and listeners could not see him made it easier to break a black performer into country music.

Bailey put up with a great deal of racism in his life. He was often referred to as “the mascot” of the Opry, and when he traveled with Opry stars, he was refused service at hotels and restaurants. When he left the Opry, he set up a shoeshine business in downtown Nashville and ran it, according to the article, until 1971, when he was 72 years old. He died in 1982, and was voted into the Country Music Hall of Fame in 2005.



This blog is part of a much larger website, also entitled Tennessee Guy, that contains travel and cultural information about Tennessee. Visit it here.

Victor Wooten: remarkable Tennessee musician

April 30, 2007

Victor Wooten played Boulder last week and I was there. Victor is one of the most famous bass players in the world; he is the only person named by Bass Player Magazine as “bass player of the year” for three years. What he can do with a bass is unreal. He plays it like a guitar–on Thursday he was using a slide–and bass players from all over Colorado clustered at the front of the stage to steal his licks. Victor is generous with his talent. He conducts a bass camp every summer and sells videos demonstrating his technique. Several videos of him are on YouTube.

Most people know him as the bass player for Bela Fleck and the Flecktones. Bela’s group could almost be named “Bela Fleck and Wootens,” for joining Victor in the band is his older brother Roy, a drummer known in that group as “Futureman.” Victor and Roy are just two of the remarkable Wooten brothers: Regi, Roy, Rudy, Joseph, and Victor. When not touring with Bela and Roy, Victor takes to the road with Regi and Joseph plus other musicians, and that’s who played to a packed house in Boulder.


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Isaac Hayes’s Memphis restaurant closes

April 23, 2007

Voicing a chef on South Park doesn’t necessarily translate into success in the restaurant world. Isaac Hayes’s Restaurant & Nightclub closed its doors in Memphis on Saturday night. The club/restaurant, located in Peabody Place, had been a popular nightspot for over five years. The website happily soldiers on, however, at least for now.

No word yet on how many employees or suppliers will get the shaft.


National ‘Discover Your Inner Elvis’ campaign launches

April 17, 2007

The keepers of the Elvis flame have rolled out television ads, a new website, and print ads to revive the lure of the King and to get people to visit Graceland. Here’s a New York Times article on the effort, which notes that “Cirque du Soleil is developing an Elvis-themed tour and has signed a deal for a permanent Elvis show based in Las Vegas from 2009 while American Greetings is planning to expand its line of Elvis Christmas tree decorations and greetings cards.”

The Elvis folks need to do something, for the King has begun to slip. Last year he dropped to second place in the roster of top-earning dead celebrities. This year marks the 30th anniversary of his death.

I downloaded the latest brochure for Graceland, which you can do here, and looked to see how Elvis is being pitched. To say that the brochure disappoints is an understatement. An older couple on the cover looks as if they are killing time while waiting for the four-hour effects of Cialis to wear off. A white-bread family of four is seen oohing and ahhing over the Elvis artifacts. There is not one black face in the entire piece.

Elvis became The King because he was a white trash rebel with nothing to lose who had the audacity to take black music and blast it into the consciousness of white America. That Changed Everything. He became who he was because he came of age in a city where the musical planets had lined up for a Mississippi-born boy who would listen to the Statesmen one night and buy clothes on Beale Street the next day.

The way to keep Elvis alive is to keep the focus on the music. Encourage people to remix his songs. Remember what Junkie XL did with “A Little Less Conversation” in 2002? That song, one of the minor pieces in the canon, became a number one hit in over 20 countries.

Just a few miles from Graceland is Soulsville, the celebration of Stax Records. The Elvis people should enter into a partnership with Soulsville and encourage some of the 600,000 people who come to Graceland to visit this studio where black music, loved and championed by Elvis, came into its own.