Memphis has bade more than its share of farewells in recent years to favorite sons — especially those who achieved renown in the international language of music. We said goodbye to one of the most fluent and successful of these Tuesday — in Willie Mitchell, the legendary producer of so many class acts at Hi Records.
Al Green, Booker Little, Phineas Newborn, Al Jackson, Ann Peebles: Mitchell worked with all of these and many, many more, and he was a formidable artist in his own right, as composer, as trumpeter, and as the leader of his own combo. Historians of music will mention him in the same breath as Sam Phillips and a handful of other eminent pathfinders and musical guides.
“Poppa Willie,” he was called, in tribute to his influence, and, at 81 when he died, he was still a force. No golden oldie, he remained active well into the current century, reviving dormant labels and looking for new talent even as he saw to it that the venerable musical tradition he represented got its proper respect.
Mitchell himself is entitled to a generous share of that, and, make no mistake, an admiring world will make sure that he gets it.