Willie Mitchell Memorial Service by Robert "Nighthawk" Tooms

Posted on 1/18/2010 by Robert "Nighthawk" Tooms

(Memphis, Tennessee)As promised, here's some photos from the incredible Willie Mitchell Memorial service that was held for the public this past week. After the family had their formal service on Tuesday the mourners were serenaded by a contingent of professional Memphis Musicians on Beale street. For more on this please check out this article:

At this week's memorial, hosted by my friend, WMC-TV's Leon Griffin, the tributes began with words from both the current and past Memphis mayors and from Lawrence "Boo" Mitchell who runs Hi Records' Royal Studio everyday operations in conjuntion with brother Archie Mitchell. Boo and Archie were both beloved by Willie and he adopted both of them. Up until his recent broken hip and subsequent heart attack, Willie Mitchell went to work at his studio every day.

More tributes came from local NARAS President John Hornyak and then Ardent Studios founder John Frye, who has recorded Bob Dylan, Big Star, Led Zeppelin, Isaac Hayes, B.B. King, R.E.M., Stevie Ray Vaughan. Fry began Ardent in a garage in 1959 and formally incorporated into a business in 1966.

Hi Rhythm drummer Howard Grimes and the author

Bandmates reunite, Howard Grimes and Robert "Nighthawk" Tooms

In addition, former Senator Harold Ford Sr., radio hosts Bobby O'Jay and Henry Nelson spoke to the assembly.

author and Mojo Schicke of the Minivan Blues Band before the show begins. Joe and I were lucky to get to road dog many days in the Reba Russell Band

Marvell Thomas (son of Rufus Thomas)and Teenie Hodges

former mayor Willie Herenton addresses the crowd

Lawrence "Boo" Michell

An emotional Al Bell, who once ran STAX, spoke about his love of Pops Mitchell and said that thanks to Pops' kind generosity he was able to feed his family and keep a roof over their heads during the demise of the once highly profitable record label.

former STAX executive Al Bell

Minivan Blues Band backs up Hi artist Don Bryant who starts the music

Joe Schicke sings background vocals and strokes guitar for Don Bryant

Songwriter David Porter, who wrote many songs with my friend, the late Isaac Hayes, spoke at the service. David's list of hit songs include "When Something is Wrong with my Baby" by Sam & Dave, "B-A-B-Y" by Carla Thomas, "Hold On, I'm Comin'" by Sam & Dave, "Your Good Thing (Is About to End)" by Mabel John and "Soul Man" by Sam & Dave.

Teeny Hodges and David Porter

Don Bryant and the Minivan Blues Band with Howard Grimes, horns and strings

From the Hi Records site: Born April 2, 1942, in Memphis, Tennessee, Donald Bryant grew up the son of a gospel singer. Bryant later formed his own gospel quartet with four of his brothers. One of the most underrated soul singers on Hi, Bryant brought gospel fervor and sincerity to a number of exceptional singles. A prolific songwriter, Bryant impacted the label’s visibility by penning successful tunes for other artists on Hi’s roster, including Ann Peebles, whom he later married.

that's my buddy Howard Grimes drumming on all those Al Green hit records
Good God Almighty he is an awesome drummer!

the very big stage at Hope Presbyterian Church

After the spoken tributes, a parade of talented singers and musicians grace the stage starting with Kevin Page. Next, Don Bryant sang accompanied by the Minivan Blues Band. The famous Hi Rhythm section, comprised by Teeny Hodges, LeRoy Hodges, Charles Hodges, Archie Turner Mitchell and Howard Grimes performed and also accompanied several of the singers present. A beautiful string and horn section was also there playing Willie Mitchell's arrangements.

Teeny Hodges plays flawlessly despite infirmity

Lannie McMillan, who once played in my band, blows sax with Hi Rhythm

former band mates and friends, Leroy Hodges and Howard Grimes

Teeny, LeRoy "Flick" Hodges, and Howard Grimes

the same ensemble joined by Archie "Hubby" Turner Mitchell on keys
Hubby is Willie Mitchell's step-son and a good friend of the author

Next Preston Shannon performed followed by J. Blackfoot, and Willie Clayton who stole the day with some amazing long, high falsetto notes. Bluesman Otis Clay followed with an excellent performance. Finishing the day was the wheelchair-bound Solomon Burke, who threw his fedora up in the air as he was wheeled on stage. The crowd was moved by these world class entertainers at this meeting of talent which will never likely be repeated again.

Preston Shannon sings an Al Green tune behind horns and strings
Lannie McMillan, Scott Thompson, Mark Franklin and Jim Spake were in this amazing ensemble

Solomon Burke finishes the show in largess

Solomon Burke
backed by the Rhodes Sisters (Sandra and Donna Rhodes, and Brenda Barnett)

These superb background vocalists sang with Al Green on many of his hits, including “Let’s Stay Together.” Green asked the sisters to join him back in the studio in 2003 for his album, “I Can’t Stop.”

Solomon gets wheeled off the stage, still singing

songwriters Nancy Apple and Teeny Hodges after the show

Driving home, as the sun goes down in the west, I was reminded how fortuante I have been to have been steeped for a lifetime in this amazing musical intersection of SOUL, COUNTRY, GOSPEL, ROCKABILLY, this home of the BLUES and birthplace of ROCK and ROLL. In so many ways Willie Mitchell and all the people he gathered together have made my life so much richer, more vibrant, and meaningful.

"On a good day, the sun is shining bright
On a good day, everything's alright,
On a good day, I can tell the truth from a lie,
On a good day, I can fly with the birds in the sky,
On a good day...."

- Willie Mitchell

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©2010, Robert "Nighthawk" Tooms


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