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Ashley R. Williamson reads Willie 
Mitchell Tribute program The tribute for music producer Willie Mitchell attracted a diverse audience in the industry. Above, Ashley R. Williamson of WilliamSong Music, Inc.

Celebrating the Life of a Memphis Record Producer

Willie Mitchell

Copy and Photos by Ben Harrison
research by Ann Perrett
© all rights reserved

amily, friends, fans and artists at his memorial tribute Jan. 13. used words that left the memory of a man's presence in their lives--authentic, kind, generous humanitarian, creative, classy, always quality. Spoken and sung, they were called up and delivered like the steady clarion rings of a church bell. And the bell was ringing for long-time Memphis music producer Willie Mitchell.

During most of his career Mitchell flew under the radar of popular mass recognition that reflected the light of the big stars like Elvis, BB and Jerry Lee.

But to those in the industry worldwide, Mitchell walked a large footprint. Already he had a successful recording career in the mid-60's even before he produced for Al Green at Hi Records with such hits as How Time Slips Away.

At Hi he is credited for the "instantly recognizable 'Hi sound' (churning organ fills, sturdy horn arrangements, a steady 4/4 drumbeat, etc.)," according to the program of the family-produced tribute held in the sanctuary of the Hope Presbyterian Church in Memphis, TN (USA).

With two large on-stage video screens projecting speakers and performers in a sanctuary that seats 5,000, music people gathered to speak and sing about a man who recorded and produced six decades of Memphis music and who has been called "the soul of the Memphis sound."

Leon Griffin, WHBQ-TV meterorologist, emceed the ceremony and told of meeting Mitchell while working in the late 50's on WHBQ's local program Talent Party hosted George Klein. While the Talent Party camera panned dancing teens with duck-tails, rolled up sleeves, poodle skirts and two-tone oxfords the show featured local musicians. And one musician on set several times was Dr. William Donati.

Says Donati, who played on Talent Party with Lawson and Four More: "An appearance on Talent Party was a real career boost for bands. George Klein was always a friend of local bands. We didn't play live, so groups would go to Sonic Recording on Madison Avenue, where Roland Janes engineered for a modest fee. Memphis bands could perform on a show with a major star like Jackie Wilson. GK was admired by local musicians and Talent Party was always a must-see on Saturday afternoon."

(cont'd above)
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Donati now records in Las Vegas as well as writes books on American culture and teaches English literature. He also has a full production satirical music video he made with the writer of this article.

Legendary blues artist
	Solomon Burke sings with Hi Rhythm
Solomon Burke was among the last artists (along with Rod Stewart for which Mitchell did string and horn arrangements for Stewart's album Soul Book) to record with Mitchell. Burke, above, wrapped the program.

Legendary blues artist
	Solomon Burke sings with Hi Rhythm
Kevin Page accompanied by Hi Rhythm in foreground. (Several stage shots show the projected image from video camera.)

Bobby O'Jay
Memphis radio DJ Henry Nelson told of working with Willie at the station.

Tom Gladney was The Rolling Stones' Keith Richards bodyguard when the group came to Memphis in 1986 to meet Mitchell. Gladney subsequently became Mitchell's bodyguard.

Two men photo
Mason Reltherford, former owner of (now closed) Club Manhattan and Myron Crower, photographer.

The Hope Presbyterian Church sanctuary, which seats 5,000, has video screens on stage and is equipped with audio and video production capability. Willie Clayton is seen on stage through video monitors.

View from stage right

Leon Griffin
Sen. Steve Cohen (Dem) sent staff member to speak. So entertaining and personable was he like politicians are supposed to be, amont other things, he presented Cohen's entry into Congressional Record, we include the center shot above.

(cont'd above)
Other Willie Mitchell related links:
Ann Peebles
Commercial Appeal
Los Angeles Times Mark Richens Commercial Appeal blog New York Times
Pitchfork Rolling Stone
Willie Mitchell Groovin'
World News
The artist Tony Gandy
Portrait artist Tony Gandy worked through the night to prepare his piece (left, 4th down) for the ceremony.

John Fry, president of Ardent Studios, borrowed from another recently passed Memphis musician, Jim Dickinson, saying, "I am just dead; I'm not gone. He is much loved."

AC Wharton
Memphis Mayor AC Wharton

Former Stax Records producer Al Bell said in an emotional, cathartic presentation how Mitchell literally put food on his table when he, Bell, was dealing with his own personal issues. Bell concluded, "And now I can rest and he can rest, too."

Others offering reflections were Jon Hornyak, David Porter, DJs Bobby O'Jay and Henry Nelson and democratic politicians AC Wharton, Dr. Willie Herenton, Harold Ford, Sr. and Rep. Michael Cohen. Both city and state presented proclamations. Rep. Cohen entered remarks into the Congressional Record. His office sent a representative.

Harold Ford, Sr. From the family of Memphis Politicos, former US Representative Harold Ford, Sr.

Live music was performed by Minivan, Don Bryant, Hi Rhythm, Kevin Page, Preston Shannon, J. Blackfoot, Willie Clayton, Otis Clay and Solomon Burke. Singers John Mayer and Steve Jordan made remarks on tape. Other taped portions included Mitchell receiving the Trustee's Award at the 50th Grammy's Award in 2008. Singer Robert Cray sent a telegram.

Willie Herenton Former Memphis Mayor Dr. Willie Herrenton in low key remarks said he knew Willie Mitchell growing up in South Memphis.

Dressing well and always speaking correctly, the latter remembered by his son, Lawrence "Boo" Mitchell, in final remarks, flanked by his many grandchildren. "And what did we always say when we saw Poppa?" he asked them.

"We love you, Poppa!" they shouted.