I traveled to Nashville (Music City) last week to be a panelist for a discussion about diversity. The panel was okay, but it was the morning in Nashville filled with amazing stories about some of the legends of black music that still resonates with me.
The musical energy in Nashville is palpable. Music venues abound in this new South city, and almost everyone is either in the music business or knows someone in the business. Case in point, the shuttle driver who regaled me with stories of the biz on our trip from the airport to my hotel. The driver-by-day, musician-by-night has played in and around Nashville for more than 30 years. He told me of seeing Little Richard who resides in a downtown Nashville apartment several times a week still resplendent in make-up and rhinestones. Little Richard (Richard Wayne Penniman) at nearly 80 years old lives a good life, according to the driver, because of another legend, Michael Jackson.
Jackson, who bought the publishing rights to a broad range of music in the mid 1980s (including the Beatles catalogue) owned the greatest hits of Little Richard. The story goes, Michael phoned Richard, invited him to a meeting, and returned the music rights to this living legend. Kudos to Michael Jackson for his compassion.
As the driver and I approached my hotel, he excitedly informed me that B.B. King had performed in Nashville the night before and was staying at my hotel. King’s entourage was loading equipment and suitcases into his bus when we pulled up to the hotel; that’s when I felt my music fan persona fully surfacing in all it’s Sybil glory. I checked into my room, grabbed my camera, and returned to the lobby to catch a glimpse of the King of the Blues.
I sat in the lobby for a couple of hours (I recently heard the term “lobby lizard” for what I was doing–it sounds slightly better than stalker) and it paid off when I met and chatted with B.B. King’s daughter, Shirley King, a musician in her own right. Shirley has a fabulous spirit and love for her father (she performs in Chicago as the ‘daughter of the blues’) and invited me to take a picture with her and her dad when he finally emerged from the elevator into the lobby.
B.B. is wheel-chair bound, so is Little Richard who is recovering from hip-replacement surgery, but their influence has no boundaries. These men, through their genius, tenacity and hard work have helped to shape the landscape of American music; and their contributions have been widely recognized. They are both inductees in the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame.
Another thing they have in common: “Lucille” a number 1. hit for Little Richard in 1957, and B.B.’s iconic, ebony and pearl, Gibson guitar. The legends never fall.