Clarksdale’s 23rd Sunflower, tribute to Ike Turner a ‘howlin’ success despite triple-digit heat wave

Press release from the 23rd edition of Clarksdale’s Sunflower River Blues and Gospel Festival, August 25, 2010


CLARKSDALE – The 23rd edition of Clarksdale’s classic Sunflower River Blues and Gospel Festival’s and its tribute to hometown celebrities Ike Turner and the Rocket 88 musicians was a howlin’ success, agree organizers.

“Despite triple digit temperatures and a Saturday morning shower that moved the acoustic stage into the Civic Auditorium, everyone packed inside and had a great time,” says co-chairman and local music historian Melville Tillis.

Thousands of music fans cheering main stage performers Friday and Saturday nights swelled the festival grounds and John Lee Hooker Lane to overflowing, and traffic was brisk inside the air-cooled VIP tent with linen-covered tables, chilled refreshments, and front row seats, says John Sherman, VIP chairman.

Joining Sunflower headliners Super Chikan Johnson, Jimbo Mathus, the Homemade Jamz Blues Band, and Cedric Burnside and Lightnin’ Malcolm in the electric crowd-pleasing circle was Johnny Rawls, winner of the 2010 Blues Music Award Album of the Year: “Ace of Spaces.”

Acoustic favorites Robert Belfour, Arthniece “Gas Man” Jones, Pat Thomas, and Eddie Cusic moved over a bit for Lucious Spiller, a young new high-energy guitarist so overcome emotionally he cried on stage.

However, Big Jack Johnson and company including Dale, his super drummer, Terry “Big T” Williams, and the poetic Boston sax man Dick Lourie were equal to the task of following Spiller’s standing ovations.

Shardee Turner and the Rising Star Drum and Fife Band marched in procession and continued the 23-year-old tradition launched by her late grandfather Othar Turner in 1988.

Kicking off festival activities Friday morning was the dedication of a Mississippi Blues Trail marker honoring Ike Turner outside the Alcazar Hotel where he once worked as an elevator boy and was exposed to blues and gospel music through Robert Nighthawk and WROX Radio located on the hotel’s second floor.

Attending the ceremony and the participating afterward in the “Remembering Ike Turner and Rocket 88” musicians in a panel discussion moderated by blues historian Jim O’Neal at Ground Zero Blues Club were family members and friends. Included were Velma Turner of Yazoo City, Ike Turner’s second wife who said Ike always called her “Number 2”; Velma’s daughter, Lynn Turner Bullock and her husband; Ike’s Clarksdale cousins: Shine Turner; Myra Turner, celebrated soloist with Chapel Hill Baptist Church Choir who sang “Tribute” honoring Ike as a finale to the program; former Turner blues drummer now gospel vocalist C. V. Veal; and former Turner trumpet player, festival co-chairman Melville Tillis.

On Saturday night, C. V. Veal was honored with the Sunflower’s Julius Guy Gospel Heritage Award, and Clarksdale businessman and longtime Sunflower supporter Wade Fondren was presented the Early Wright Blues Heritage Award.

Sunday’s gospel festival featuring Christopher Coleman, Edna Nicole Luckett, the Voices of Joy, The Myles Family, Chapel Hill Men’s Chorus, The Fella Singers, and Lisa Knowles and the Brown Singers performed to a packed house at the Civic Auditorium.

The 24th annual Sunflower Festival has been scheduled for August 12-13-14, 2011.

The Ike Turner marker is unveiled outside the Alcazar Hotel on the corner of Third and Yazoo in Clarksdale. Pictured are (from left) Kappi Allen, local tourism manager; Ike’s cousin, Myra Turner of Clarksdale; Ike’s son-in-law James Bullock of Yazoo City;former drummer C. V. Veal of Clarksdale; and Clarksdale Mayor Henry Espy.

Alex Thomas, director of Mississippi’s Blues Heritage program; Kappi Allen, Coahoma County tourism manager; Jim O’Neal, founding editor of Living Blues magazine and research director for the Blues Trail program; Clarksdale Mayor Henry Espy;

The “Remembering Ike Turner and Rocket 88” panel includes (from left) bluesman and Ike’s cousin Shine Turner of Clarksdale; former Turner drummer C. V. Veal of Clarksdale; Ike Turner cousin Myra Turner, who sang a tribute to Ike; former Ike Turner trumpet player and festival co-chairman Melville Tillis; Ike Turner’s son-in-law James Bullock and his daughter, Lynn Turner Bullock; Ike’s second wife, Velma Turner of Yazoo City who says she was called, “Number 2” and moderator Jim O’Neal

C. V. Vealgets a close look at the City of Clarksdale’s “Walk of Fame” bronze plaque honoring Ike Turner near the Delta Blues Museum. Veal was presented the Sunflower’s prestigious Julius Guy Gospel Heritage Award at the festival.

Catching up on news about Ike Turner following the Ground Zero panel discussion are C. V. Veal, local musician who played drums in Ike’s band; Ike’s second wife Velma Turner of Yazoo City; and Ike’s daughter, Lynn Turner Bullock.