Mud Island River Park in Downtown Memphis was the setting for The Ultimate Family Reunion, featuring the ageless hip-hop legend Kurtis Blow, the Stax Music Academy Alumni Band, the jazz, gospel and soul vocalist Jiana Hunter, and The Pursuit of God Praise group.
Sponsored by WRBO-FM Soul Classics 103.5, the radio station generally combines a well-known recording artist with local talent. Hence Kurtis Blow, the first commercially successful rapper and record producer, and the first to sign with a major record label.
The crowd gathered at the park in the sweltering heat to hear Blow and the local talent. They sang gospel, R&B or hip-hop.
Hunter, who is well known in the gospel circuit as a songstress and composer, did a great job in giving the crowd spiritual nourishment. The next group to perform was The Pursuit of God Praise Group. Their rich gospel sound clearly stirred the crowd.
Next up: the Stax Music Academy Alumni Band. I thought this band was in a class of its own. The staff at Stax should be very proud because some of the band members have moved on to attend different colleges.
I had the pleasure of interviewing a couple of the alumni band members and wanted to know where they are now. Former lead singer Tangela Mathis, who put on an unforgettable performance at the Memphis Grizzlies Staxtacular 2014, now attends Berklee College of Music in Boston on a full scholarship.
Mathis said one of the things she misses most about Memphis is the weather. Boston is very cold in the winter, she pointed out. However, she didn’t miss a beat with her charismatic and great voice at the reunion.
Andrew McNeil, who played drums for the Academy, also attends Berklee College of Music. Trombonist Clifto Jackson, who stayed home, plays in a band for the University of Memphis. He’s majoring in music education. And co-lead singer Baye Snappy attends Wiley College in Texas. These future music legends had the crowd dancing and singing throughout their entire performance.
Next up was Blow, who sang his hit songs along with a medley of other hip-hop classics. The crowd responded favorably to the hop-hop legend’s timeless songs by singing with him. He returned the favor by working the crowd throughout his performance.
“Keep God in your life,” he exhorted the excited crowd. “If you can idolize people like Kobe Bryant, LeBron James and other superstars, you should convert that energy towards God.”
But what blew me away was this 55-year-old man break dancing. He was so good at it that the guys he called on the stage to break dance threw money at him. After performing at the “Family Reunion,” he went on to perform at the Hard Rock Cafe for the Kevin CavanJay Braden Old School Bash in front of a standing-room only crowd.