NEW YORK (AP) - Murphy's Law took full effect at the 12th Annual Pioneer Awards Thursday
(Nov. 8) evening at New York's legendary Apollo Theater - just about everything that could go wrong did. Most notably, the evening's biggest names - Al Green
and Sly Stone - failed to show up.
Green, who is now a minister in Memphis, was scheduled to receive the Lifetime Achievement Award at the event, which is organized by the Rhythm and Blues Foundation to honor the legends of the genre. The audience at the Apollo - which included Prince, Martha Reeves, Wilson Pickett, and a host of music-business executives - was expecting him to lead a rousing finale.
But when CBS journalist Ed Bradley announced that Green couldn't attend (evidently a last-minute surprise to even the show organizers), many in the crowd booed and headed for the aisles. Singer Betty Wright (who had a hit in the early '70s with "Clean Up Woman," and who had once sung backup for Green) valiantly tried to salvage the moment by pinch-hitting a version of Green's "Let's Stay Together," but it wasn't the same.
At least that was a surprise. The absence of Sly Stone was not. Stone is notorious for showing up - or not - wherever and whenever he pleases. Ironically, however, his old band mates (the entire Sly and the Family Stone group was being honored) compensated by providing the most spontaneous moments when they accepted their award. Led by bassist Larry Graham, they stood at the podium and coaxed the house band (which included Paul Shaffer, who had introduced them) into a stirring rendition of "I Want to Take You Higher," bringing the crowd to its feet. Graham, who has lately been touring and recording with Prince, then refused to leave the stage until he had finished a long speech about fairness of royalty payments. "We don't own our masters," he announced. Freddie Stone (Sly's brother), attempting to ease the tension, jumped in: "But we know the master."
With all the talent in the house, and all the platitudes spoken by presenters to celebrate among these trying times, one wonders why the organizers wouldn't allow the Family Stone to just pick up and play a few hits - hell, Prince
would have made a nice substitute for Sly - and truly create some memories. But it was not to be.
Even co-host Dionne Warwick was implored to sing at the end - to appease the need for some sort of finale - but refused. Isaac Hayes, the other host, just threw up his hands, and they ended the evening on an awkward note.
But to be fair, it was the female recipients who really salvaged the evening. Not only did they show up for their awards, they rocked the house: Fontella Bass strutted through her biggest hit, "Rescue Me"; Dee Dee Sharp (now a doctor of psychology) resurrected her early '60s novelty-dance tune "Mashed Potato Time"; and the Emotions proved they can still hit every high note in "Best of My Love."
The rest of the Class of 2001 included the Motown songwriting team Holland-Dozier-Holland; jazz/blues saxophonist Big Jay McNeely; and New Orleans singer-writer-producer Allen Toussaint (also a no-show). The Legacy Tribute went to the late jump blues legend Louis Jordan.
The Rhythm and Blues Foundation was created to provide financial assistance to the genre's early pioneers, most of whom do not receive fair (if any) royalty payments for their work. The Pioneer Awards serves a role similar to the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame - each year a new class of recipients is inducted. 2001 Pioneer Award Recipients: Sly and the Family Stone, Holland/Dozier/Holland, Allen Toussaint, Fontella Bass, the Emotions, Dee Dee Sharp, and Big Jay McNeely. Legacy Tribute: Louis Jordan
Lifetime Achievement Award: Al Green