Thursday, October 9, 2014

Stevie Wonder at the Cannon Center Saturday

Posted By on Thu, Oct 9, 2014 at 11:44 AM

click to enlarge stevie-wonder.jpg
"We have to be proud and start acting on that pride,” songwriter and performer David Porter says of Memphis and its soul music. “This music, and the brand value that soul music has for this city should be embraced and acted upon. I’m happy to see that many in this community are doing just that. That’s what I’m doing here.”

Porter, a fundamental Stax luminary whose songwriting with Isaac Hayes created the Memphis sound, founded Consortium MMT, a developmental effort to foster Memphis soul talent locally and to create connections with industry operators and performers at the national level. Porter partnered with the Memphis Chamber of Commerce and other sponsors to create the Consortium as a bridge between Memphis and big-time talent. There have been similar efforts. Where those lacked credibility, this effort is on another level. Witness the Consortium’s inaugural Epitome of Soul award ceremony honoring Stevie Wonder at the Cannon Center on Saturday, October 11th. Wonder will perform, along with Chaka Khan, Jordan Sparks, Sharon Jones, and others. The band will be led by Rickey Minor, bandleader for the Tonight Show and American Idol.

People may associate Wonder with Detroit and L.A. But he is an example of how Memphis soul reaches beyond the borders of Shelby County.

“Stevie loves what was being done at Stax Records,” Porter says. “About six years ago, when Stevie was in Memphis, he wanted to do a tour of the museum. Everybody knows who Stevie Wonder is. So the museum was closed down for a minute, and Isaac Hayes and I personally took Stevie Wonder through a tour of that museum. We explained to him everything that he was not able to see in such a way that it was an emotional experience for all of us.”

Wonder will be the first recipient of the Epitome of Soul Award, an annual award to honor those who shaped soul music.

“The Epitome of Soul will be an award that we will present every year to someone of high credibility,” Porter says. “There is no greater example to launch this than Stevie Wonder. The fact that Stevie Wonder is the first recipient of this award sets the bar quite high. It also sets the bar for credibility of soul associated with Memphis. The award is the Epitome of Soul. Why not take it to Soulsville U.S.A.? Hi Records, Stax Records, American Studios, and all the great music that has out of this city, why not take it here?”

Memphis music once employed thousands of Memphians, and not just musicians, but recording, warehousing, pressing, and promotion folks as well. Industry consolidation and the Internet did a number on the music business. But Memphis’ identity is inextricably linked to music and influenced many musicians. Even Stevie Wonder.


“We talk about what [ideas] we get from each other,” Porter says of Wonder. “He said, ‘Listen to ‘We Can Work It Out’ [from 1970s Signed Sealed & Delivered]. The bass pattern and the pattern of that was motivated from what I was listening to you guys do on Sam & Dave.’ He has a tremendous love for people. Anyone who knows Stevie knows that. Additionally, he loved the concept that I was putting together here in Memphis. So much so that he agreed to come here to support this. In order to appreciate that, you have to understand that Stevie Wonder does not work in 1800-seat venues. That’s not what he does.”

Well, he’s doing that for the Consortium MMT. And a Motowner isn’t the only counter-intuitive force behind Porter’s effort. The infamously private Southeastern Asset Management signed on as title sponsor of the Epitome of Soul Award. The Memphis Chamber of Commerce allocated office space in its building at 22 North Front to host the Consortium’s production and artist development tools. Those tools include audio-production equipment and another essential element: mentoring from those who have succeeded in the past. We are losing those eminences all too quickly, and the Consortium is working to preserve their insights and legacies with video interviews.

“Valerie Simpson, writer of 'I’m Every Woman,'  and 'Ain’t Nothing Like the Real Thing.’ She’s just one person who deals with the songwriting. Jimmy Jam, producer of Janet Jackson, Celine Dion, Mariah Carey … The list goes on and on. Recording artists: Earth, Wind & Fire, Phillip Bailey, Verdine White, Ralph Johnson, and Eric Benét. Bobby Womack. These are individuals we have on film. Even when Bobby was not well, he wanted to do this, and he filmed this. He gave some of his thoughts and ideas that we can use for as long as this program exists. So that is an example. We have 130-plus video vignettes of artists talking about the creative processes in songwriting, recording, and record production.”

Porter is aware of the earlier efforts to accomplish this and says he’d be on the golf course if he wasn’t convinced it would work.

“The thing that needs to be expressed is that there are a lot of wonderful people who want to support the arts. And I’m talking about private citizens, just people. They want there to be meaningful outcomes when they do support it. What I wanted to see happen was not just to come up with an organization that would encourage young folks and all of that, but also to come up with some deliverables at the end for all of their hard work. A component of what we are doing is putting together a pool of credible talents in songwriting, record producing, and recording and having that focused. So when we go talk to industry assets that are serious about looking for talent, we have at least one place that they can go to and hear and see a pool of vetted talent by credible industry professionals. That way, there is credibility in Memphis that they can easily see.”

Porter had a pivotal role in shaping Memphis’ musical legacy. But he is focused on the role he can play in shaping the future.

“You can’t keep living in the past,” he says. “You’ve got to deal with the future. My answer to that is that, one day, the future will be the past. If you are wise, you will take advantage of all that was in the past to set an even more solid foundation for your future. Having the energies that caused success to happen in years past, integrating that with young people who have ambitions was something that could be done. I felt that I could be one of the facilitators for that.” 



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