The cream of the R&B crop recently congregated at Philadelphia's Kimmel Center Verizon Hall to honor not only legends, but more importantly, those overlooked throughout the genre's rich history. The occasion was the Rhythm & Blues Foundation's 20th anniversary, as well as its 15th Pioneer Awards Show Gala.
Co-hosted by former Pioneer Award honorees Dionne Warwick, Bonnie Raitt, and Jerry Butler, along with Emmy winner Wayne Brady, the evening's festivities kicked off with a musical montage, culminating in Pioneer Awards handed to Bill Withers, Teena Marie, R&B/blues singer Sugar Pie DeSanto, Kool & The Gang , the Whispers, and Motown session superstars the Funk Brothers. Chaka Khan received the Foundation's "Lifetime Achievement Award"; former Stax and Motown Records executive Al Bell received the Ahmet Ertegun Leadership Award, newly named for the late Atlantic Records founder; and the Legacy Award was given to the family of soul legend Donny Hathaway.
The evening kicked off with a seven-minute overture, conducted by Musical Director Bill Jolly and his orchestra musically telling the story of Rhythm and Blues development through -- the drum, cotton field chants, gospel, jazz, blues, R&B, doo-wop, rock, soul, funk, hip-hop, rap, and neo-soul. Visual montages included Clara Ward, the Dixie Hummingbirds, B.B. King and others. During the big band segment, Raitt broke ranks with pop and the blues to sing the jazzy "In the Mood," as Duke Ellington, Cab Calloway and Count Basie's images weaved in and out. Butler and Warwick sang their signature songs, "For Your Precious Love" and "Walk On By," respectively. And Brady flashed his versatility with electrifying renditions of James Brown's "It's a Man's World" and "Sex Machine."
Former Spinner G.C. Cameron sang his "It's So Hard to Say Goodbye to Yesterday" (later made popular by Boyz II Men), to an accompanying video of Isaac Hayes, Ertegun, Brown, and others who passed away over the past two years; Public Enemy's Chuck D covered rap and hip-hop, and included PE anthem "Fight the Power"; Kenny Lattimore and Brady sang a Donny Hathaway segment that included a raucous turn with "The Ghetto"; The Funk Brothers were accompanied by Kindred the Family Soul on a Motown medley: Neo-soul superstar Anthony Hamilton performed "I Can't Let Go," with an ensemble of Gary "U.S." Bonds, Mabel John, Maxine Brown, Chuck Jackson,, Kindred the Family Soul, Vivian Green, Jaguar Wright, Stax session guitarist Steve Cropper, Steve Jordan, Jean Wright, Betty Wright, Bunny Sigler, Warwick, Butler, Brady, Raitt and many others.
This special evening featured performances by honorees Bill Withers, DeSanto, the Whispers, Khan, Marie, the Funk Brothers and 76-year-old DeSanto, who stole the show when she performed "I Wanna Know" and threw in an amazingly limber forward flip that won her a standing ovation. The surprise of the evening was a rare appearance by the Queen of Soul, Aretha Franklin, who presented a "Lifetime Achievement Award" to a tearful and grateful Chaka Khan. The finale, "I'll Take You There" turned into a once in a lifetime reunion music fest that included the aforementioned performers as well as the Dixie Cups, Martha Reeves & the Vandellas, Kim Weston and John Oats.
The Rhythm & Blues Foundation was founded in 1988 with the intention of preserving the genre's historical and cultural importance, as well as providing a helping hand to those in need. Respect was the over-riding sentiment, as tears and hugs flowed freely from the stage.
For more information on the Rhythm & Blues Foundation click to on to http://www.rhythmblues.org/.