B.B. King ‘stars’ again at MCVB annual luncheon

Peabody groundskeeper nets first “Pick Award”

by Florence M. Howard Special to The New Tri-State Defender | 6/18/2015, 3:12 p.m.
Peabody groundskeeper nets first “Pick Award”
Willie Parker, a Peabody groundskeeper, was named the winner of the Memphis Convention and Visitors Bureau “Pick Award” at Tuesday’s annual MCVB meeting. (Courtesy photo)

The late B.B. King starred at this week’s annual meeting of the Memphis Convention and Visitors Bureau.

The finale for the luncheon held at the Peabody on Tuesday, June 16, the tribute was preceded by a memorial moment highlighting 21 other contributors to the Memphis Blues scene, including locals James Govan, Glynn Johns Reed, and Venita Smith.

The 30-minute tribute to B.B. King included a 4-minute video of clips from his performances and interviews with record producer Lawrence “Boo” Mitchell, Rodd Bland of the Bobby Blue Bland band and Tom “T.C.” Coleman.

The Spirit of Memphis Award presented to King posthumously was accepted on his behalf by Coleman, along with King’s granddaughter, Crystal Smith. Drummer for the band, Coleman traveled with B.B. King to 69 countries and was hired by him six times and fired five times. King, he said, was proud of having a club named for him in Memphis.

“B.B. King was loved (in) Memphis, Tennessee,” said Coleman. “He was the King of the Blues. He gave the world the Blues experience.”

The tribute concluded with a concert by Marcella and Her Lovers featuring B.B. King songs, such as “Rock Me Baby,” “Everyday I have the Blues” and other hits.

Memphis Convention and Visitors Bureau (MCVB)President Kevin Kane said the tribute was “a nod to the legacy of B.B. King and his contribution to the future.”

The annual meeting also highlighted tourism attractions in various parts of the city, including Memphis International Raceway, the Mid-South Farm and Gin Show, National A Cappella Convention held at Briarcrest, Stax Academy, the Jay Uiberall Culinary Academy, Overton Square, and the Conservancy at Shelby Farms. The MCVB also honored Jack Belz, chairman of Belz Enterprises, Willie Parker, a Peabody groundskeeper, and Jay Sieleman, president/CEO of The Blues Foundation.

Also named 2015 Outstanding Lodging Employee of the Year, Large Property by the American Hotel & Lodging Association in April, Parker emerged from four finalists as the first winner of what Kane, the luncheon MC, called the “Pick Award,” which will be given four times a year.

Associates of “Mr. Parker” say he always goes beyond the call of duty with passionate enthusiasm, said Kane.

“Mr. Parker’s job requires that he work in extreme weather conditions. It doesn’t matter if it is 15 degrees outside or 115 degrees, he works diligently, making sure the grounds are top notch for the Peabody’s guests. Mr. Parker has been hearing impaired and mute since birth. He started at The Peabody on a government funded job readiness program for the hearing impaired. After the funding for the program had been exhausted, the management team could not imagine life at The Peabody without Mr. Parker so he was hired full time.”

With other senses so keen that he can anticipate guests’ needs without saying a word, Parker “charms his guests with exceptional and personalized service, making each and every one of them feel special. His colleagues say Willie Parker has a humble heart and never expects special privileges. Likewise, he always finds a way to lend a helping hand to those around him and those in need.”

The finalists were: Marie Dortch from the Residence Inn, Annie Neal from the Sheraton Memphis Downtown and Marius Scott from the National Civil Rights Museum.

Nearly 600 people attended the luncheon.