An event of historic proportions unfolded the evening of July 16 at the Pantages Theatre in Minneapolis: the music celebration of the year, the 30th anniversary of the Minneapolis Sound, and the return of the 2010 Minnesota Black Music Awards. Founded by Pete and Valerie Rhodes, the Black Music Awards (MMBA) have recognized the uniqueness of Minnesota and its talent for nearly 30 years and continues a tradition with star pageantry rivaled only by the BET Awards.
The Minnesota Black Music Awards was first held on May 12, 1982, at the historic Prom Center in St. Paul. From 1982 to 1999, over 50,000 music patrons attended the MBMA program. After a 12-year hiatus, Mint Condition headlined this year’s return of the MBMA.
The highlight of the 2010 MBMA was a celebration of the 30th anniversary of the artists and music of the famed Minneapolis Sound. Like popular Black music centers before them – Motown, Philly Sound, Memphis Rhythm & Blues – the Minneapolis Sound rocketed into music stardom with Prince and a succession of artists who created a unique style in contemporary music enjoyed and emulated worldwide.
This year, the MBMA took an approach that was bold and decisive by moving to recognize not just artists, but also the people who make the business of show business continue to soar in Minnesota. The MBMA is an event that almost every artist, whether Black or White or Latino, young or old, dreams of being a part of. This is the one event that delivers the recognition duly deserved by Minnesota’s singers, dancers, writers and publishers.
This year’s event was a multi-level production beginning with a music symposium. The symposium panel included Ben Obi of Savannah Street Music; Kirk Johnson, producer, musician and owner of Hip Fit; Robert “Bobby” Marsh, producer, songwriter, and owner of Synico Staffing; Bobby Z, musician and producer; Pepe’ Willie, producer, songwriter, publisher, and owner of PMI; Jamecia Bennett, singer, songwriter, and mother of American Idol’s Paris Bennett; Andre Fisher, producer, writer, musician and businessman; and Matt Fink, musician.
Panel members spoke about the responsibility of the artist in business as well as music. Andre Fisher said, “You must do your homework and get an education about the business, that’s the most important thing. Be a part of the broader perspective of music and have something to fall back on if all else fails. And don’t just listen to your friends and family, but get your music out to the public and get some feedback from them, because that’s who buys your music.”
The panel reached out to the attendees and emphasized the need to know who made music what it is today. Said Pepe’ Willie, “You have to be forthright. You have to know your history and know who Jackie Wilson was, and Stevie Wonder, and their contributions to the music that set history in place.”
Pete Rhodes asked Bobby Z of Prince and The Revolution about his experience working with Black artists and how he felt about being White in the Black music scene back then. “I used to like to be the substitute drummer,” Bobbie responded, “because I would get to learn a lot of styles and…because the expectation was so low…
“My brother David, who in some respects is the godfather of Minneapolis music, started K Bank, which was Cook House studios, and did Funky Town and Soma Records in the ’60s,” Bobby continued. “He made me know funk music, and it was, to tell the truth, more fun. It gave me, the drummer, more power. I was not interested in stagnation and was always looking for that musical messiah.”
He spoke of how he found Pepe’ Willie in an ad in the newspaper looking for a drummer, and how Pepe’ was colorblind. and that they hit it off from the beginning. He explained how he and Prince hooked up after that, and the rest is history.
“It was always about the music, not the money,” said Bobby, “and I was so proud to be a White drummer playing Black music, and will always be. It gave me the versatility I needed, and it was the greatest opportunity.”
The artist symposium was a great opportunity for artists to get some direction straight from the people who continue to make it happen in Minnesota entertainment. As the evening progressed, the VIP section was packed with more then a hundred people, and the room was abuzz with anyone and everyone, from independent producers to musicians from all over the state.
We spoke with Billy Steele, composer and performer with the Steele family, and asked him what the return of the Minnesota Black Music Awards meant to him. “It’s so wonderful, and I’m so excited for the Minneapolis Sound and the future of Minnesota music,” he said.
“As far as receiving an award, it’s a great honor, and I look forward to the future with the MBMA,” Steele continued. “We need this for so many reasons, to recognize the future of music in Minnesota and to continue the tradition of success in business.” He spoke briefly about his current work with the youth of Minnesota and beginning a new direction in education and music.
By the time the award ceremony began, the theater was full of chatter and excitement. It was clear that there were people from all walks of life in attendance. The night was a already a resounding success, and the music hadn’t even begun.
Jamecia Bennett, Debbie Duncan, Kathleen Johnson, Gwen Matthews, Timotha Lanae and Thomasina Petrus performed a song, “The Ladies of Jazz,” that tore the house down. Paris Bennett was nothing less than spectacular with her vocal acrobatics and extreme seasoned stage presence after breaking through the international scene on the American Idol television program.
Mint Condition was the show stopper and did not disappoint. The Sounds of Blackness, decked out in all white, gave a moving performance and let everyone know how much they love Minnesota and appreciate the years of support. Hip hop groups Heiruspecs and New Congress gave a great performance and set in motion the trend of positive hip hop lyrics for Minnesota.
This year’s award recipients were represented by the foundation of business in Minnesota with Q Bear (Broadcaster Award), Ray Seville (Promoter Award), The Dakota Jazz Club (Music Venue Award), Dee Henry Williams (Broadcaster Award), Urban Lights (Entrepreneur Award), HSRA Music (Education Award), T. Mychael Rambo (Theater Arts Award), Gary Hines (Legacy Award), The Steele Family (Legacy Award), and Mint Condition (Founder Award).
The future is bright for Minnesota music, and the return of the Minnesota Black Music Awards solidifies the commitment to growth and expansion for Black people in Minnesota – not just in music, but in business as well.
Minneapolis Mayor R.T. Rybak declared the weekend of July 16 Minnesota Black Music Awards Week. At the same time, after 30 years of broadcasting, KMOJ radio was granted power expansion by the FCC from 1,000 watts to 9,600 watts. These are landmark movements toward the advancement of colored people and the good fight for equality and self-determination.
For more information on the 30th anniversary and the history of the MBMA, visit mnblackmusicawards.com.
Donavee Chappell welcomes reader responses to email@example.com.