Dorothy Moore crowned Sunflower Fest favorite

Multi-talented celebrity vocalist Dorothy Moore connects instantly with the Sunflower Festival’s audience of thousands Saturday night.

Super cool soul master Johnny Rawls is a favorite at the 2011 Sunflower Fest in Clarksdale

Nathaniel Kimble closes down the Friday night main stage at the 24th annual Sunflower River Blues Festival in Clarksdale.

Gospel superstar Evelyn Turrentine-Agee presents an energetic performance at Sunday’s Sunflower River Gospel Festival in the Civic Auditorium.

Press Release from the Sunflower River Blues and Gospel Festival – Sunday, Aug. 14 – Panny Mayfield, festival publicist…

CLARKSDALE – Although relief from triple-digit heat is a contender for crowd favorite at the  Sunflower’s 24th season, the festival crown belongs to headliner Dorothy Moore.

Connecting emotionally with thousands, the rich voice of multiple Grammy nominee projected the distillation of vintage wine, occasionally laced with humor and culminated with the wrenching lyrics of Misty Blue.

“A couple from Little Rock stopped me on the street this morning to praise the awesome show of Dorothy Moore,” commented John Sherman, festival VIP chairman.

“Many also were impressed with the cool performance of Johnny Rawls,” continued Sherman.

 Melville Tillis, festival co-chairman, repeated remarks from dozens who called the festival, “out of sight, better than last year, and getting better.”

Although the weekend crowd is estimated in the 20,000-range, Sherman believes the Saturday night crowd was bigger because of cooler weather, while Tillis likes the sweltering “soul-oriented” Friday night bunch attracted by David Brinston and Nathaniel Kimble.

Tillis says “Fantastic, downhome music” were accolades attached to performances by Earnest “Guitar” Roy and the TCB Blues Band headed by Otis Taylor.

 Poignant programs honoring six late members of the Sunflower Festival family were transformed into into vibrant celebrations featuring family members and friends sharing memories at Ground Zero Blues Club Friday afternoon, and on the Saturday night main stage.

Participating were Anjeanette Johnson, widow of Big Jack Johnson, his son, Jack Junior; Lisa Jefferson, daughter of Wesley Jefferson; Joe Wiley and Joshua Wiley, brothers of Foster “Tater” Wiley;  Angela and Calvin Moore, daughter and son of Sarah Moore; Mae James, widow of Michael James and her sister, Lee;  John Ruskey, friend of several; and poet Dick Lourie of Boston, who played sax with Big Jack Johnson who read a poem about Big Jack. Sunflower musician and vendor chairman James Alford was remembered by friends.

An English visitor suggests that acoustic blues purists quickly adjusted to the transition from the interior depot stage to the Main Stage with the aid of beverages from the VIP tent.

Memorable performances were kicked off by Arthneice “Gas Man” Jones playing with Terry Williams, Eddie Cusic, Pat Thomas, and T-Model Ford who appeared despite two hospitalizations earlier in the week.

Master bluesman “Mr. Johnnie” Billington talked about teaching more than music to kids, and Shardee Turner and the Rising Star Fife and Drum Band closed the morning stage.

On the Sunflower River stage other musician taking up the beat were Robert Belfour, the Mellow Blues Duo from France, Lucious Spiller, Bill Abel and Cadillac John, Jimmy “Duck” Holmes, Kenny Brown, Terry “Harmonica” Bean, and Johnny Lowe Bowe.

Two members of the Sunflower River Blues Association were surprised on the Saturday night stage with the association’s top awards.

Claudett Williams was honored with the Julius Guy Gospel Heritage Award for her contributions to gospel music, and Shelley Ritter, director of the Delta Blues Museum, was honored with the Early Wright Blues Heritage Award for her contributions to blues.

Friday morning’s Blues Trail Heritage Marker honoring Clarksdale’s New World District was unveiled outside Messenger’s on Martin Luther King Blvd.

The 10 a.m. ceremony featured talks by George Messenger who described his family’s 100-year-history in business; Kappi Allen, Coahoma County Tourism director; Alex Thomas, director of Mississippi’s Blues Trail program; Al Jones, a member of the Coahoma County Tourism Commission Commission; and others.

At 2 p.m., Friday a bronze Walk of Fame plaque honoring Big Jack Johnson was unveiled outside Red’s Blues Club on Sunflower before a large crowd of family and friends. Presiding was Tana Vassel of the Chamber of Commerce. Speaking were Red Paden, Anjeanette Johnson, Jack Johnson Jr., and others.

A capacity crowd nearing 2,000 packed the Civic Auditorium for the annual Sunflower River Gospel Festival starring Chris Coleman, Edna Nicole Luckett, the Chapel Hill Men’s Chorus, The Myles Family including a rare appearance of the oldest Myles son home briefly from the military; the energetic 30-plus member Jamar Esaw Triad & Christ from Minnesota, and gospel superstar Evelyn Turrentine-Agee from Detroit.

Festival co-chairman Tillis announced the Sunflower’s 25th anniversary will be held August 10-11-12, 2012, with a spectacular array of celebrities.