Wilson Pickett, The Gentrys, James Carr among Memphis Music Hall of Fame's class of 2024

Deep soul singer James Carr, hitmaking garage band The Gentrys, session musician/songwriter Spooner Oldham, prolific rap producer Jazze Pha and R&B legend Wilson Pickett are among those set to be enshrined in the Memphis Music Hall of Fame.

The Hall of Fame announced its latest group of inductees during a press event Tuesday afternoon Downtown, inside the former Hard Rock Cafe, which is set to become the site of the J.W. & Kathy Gibson Center of Memphis Music.

Additionally, opera star Kallen Esperian and famed vocal group Rhodes, Chalmers & Rhodes will also be inducted among this year’s performers. The 2024 Memphis Music Hall of Fame class also includes veteran Memphis music businessmen Jack Soden, head of Graceland/Elvis Presley Enterprises, and Kevin Kane, head of Memphis Tourism.

Attendees watch as Spooner Oldham and the other 2024 inductees to the Memphis Music Hall of Fame are named during a press event inside the former Hard Rock Cafe, which is set to become the site of the J.W. & Kathy Gibson Center of Memphis Music, in Downtown Memphis, Tuesday, June 18, 2024.
Attendees watch as Spooner Oldham and the other 2024 inductees to the Memphis Music Hall of Fame are named during a press event inside the former Hard Rock Cafe, which is set to become the site of the J.W. & Kathy Gibson Center of Memphis Music, in Downtown Memphis, Tuesday, June 18, 2024.

“Every year, this announcement is so special because it could not be held in any other city on the planet," said John Doyle, president and CEO of the Memphis Music Hall of Fame. "You could celebrate soul in Detroit, or country in Nashville… but how cool to be in a city that, musically, shook the planet and that can celebrate a panorama of music. This year we've got rock, soul, opera, rap, pop and a couple of behind-the-scenes figures who elevated Memphis music."

The newly minted hall of famers will be formally inducted Sept. 27 during public ceremonies at the Cannon Center for the Performing Arts. Carr and Pickett will be enshrined posthumously. The other Hall of Famers are expected to attend the Cannon Center event. Tickets for the ceremony are on sale now at Ticketmaster.com.

"If folks want to be blown away," said Doyle, "filled with pride over a city that changed the world, then come out in September to see Memphis music at its best, and celebrate it."

The Gentrys
The Gentrys

The Memphis Music Hall of Fame — operated by the Smithsonian-branded Memphis Rock 'n' Soul Museum — was launched in 2012 as a way of honoring musical greats from or associated with Memphis and the Mid-South.

After enshrining 25 members in its first year, the Hall has generally inducted six to eight new members each year. With this year’s nine-person class, the Hall will reach a total of 106 members, a roll call that features local and international music icons from B.B. King to Elvis Presley to Justin Timberlake.

More than just big-name performers, the Hall has also sought to honor influential songwriters, session players, producers, label heads and behind-the-scenes business figures. Beyond rock, pop and R&B, the Hall has focused its efforts in acknowledging Memphis trailblazers in jazz, gospel, classical and opera — and this year’s class once again runs the gamut of Memphis music. Here is a closer look at the inductees.

James Carr

Hailed as one of the greatest soul singers of all time, the Mississippi-born, Memphis-raised Carr made some of the genre’s essential recordings in the 1960s for the local Goldwax label. Carr’s performance on the immortal “Dark End of the Street,” remains his best-known work, though he released a series of hit singles during the era including “You’ve Got My Mind Messed Up” and “A Man Needs a Woman.” Although his career was affected by mental health struggles, Carr enjoyed a comeback in the 1990s, releasing a pair of critically acclaimed albums before passing away from lung cancer in 2001.

Wilson Pickett

Emerging from the cotton fields of Alabama, Wilson Pickett moved to Detroit where he established a small star with vocal group The Falcons, before signing to New York label Atlantic as a solo artist. Pickett’s career was somewhat floundering by the time he arrived in Memphis to record at Stax Records in 1965. But it was in the Bluff City where Pickett would reel off a string of classic sides — “In the Midnight Hour,” “634-5789” and “Don’t Fight It” — that would really make his reputation. The relationship with Stax was short-lived, however, and the fiery Pickett would move on, continuing his recording odyssey at a number of other iconic Southern studios — including FAME in Alabama, American in Memphis and Criteria in Miami. Picket — regarded as one of soul music’s most dynamic singers and performers — died in 2006 at age 64 after suffering a heart attack.

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The Gentrys

The success of Memphis band The Gentrys helped ignite the Bluff City’s garage rock explosion. The group — led by singer Larry Raspberry and future pro wrestling legend Jimmy “Mouth of the South" Hart, and featuring a collection of Treadwell High School alumni — scored with 1965’s top 5 hit “Keep on Dancin,” a record which also helped put Chips Moman's American Sound Studios on the national map. The Gentrys would follow with a series of other classic tracks, including “Every Day I Have to Cry” and “Brown Paper Sack," as well as a cover of Neil Young's "Cinnamon Girl." The group continued on in various incarnations into the early 1970s, recording for the MGM and Capitol Records labels.

Spooner Oldham

2020 inductee Spooner Oldham during the the 50th/51st Nashville Songwriters Hall of Fame Gala at Music City Center in Nashville, Tenn., Monday, Nov. 1, 2021.
2020 inductee Spooner Oldham during the the 50th/51st Nashville Songwriters Hall of Fame Gala at Music City Center in Nashville, Tenn., Monday, Nov. 1, 2021.

One of the most evocative keyboardists in American music, Alabama native Dewey “Spooner” Oldham, has played and recorded with biggest stars in music over the course of his career, from Bob Dylan to Neil Young, Jackson Browne to Linda Ronstadt. But many of Oldham’s greatest works came in the 1960s in Memphis and Muscle Shoals, where he worked a session player and songwriter. Along with his frequent partner and fellow Memphis Music Hall of Famer Dan Penn, Oldham would write hits for the Box Tops (“Cry Like a Baby”), James and Bobby Purify (“I’m Your Puppett”) and Percy Sledge (“It Tears Me Up") among others. With his Memphis induction, Oldham adds to his many honors; he’s already a member of the Rock ‘n’ Roll Hall of Fame, the Songwriters Hall of Fame, and the Alabama Music Hall of Fame, among others.

Jazze Pha

The induction of Jazze Pha, aka Phalon Anton Alexander, marks another family affair for the Memphis Music Hall of Fame. The son of bassist James Alexander of the Bar-Kays (who were inducted in 2013), Jazze Pha has cut his own path as a rap songwriter, beatmaker, producer and record executive. Since the ‘90s, Pha has been responsible for hits by Ciara, Bow Wow, Mary J. Blige, T.I. and has worked with a who’s who of the hip-hop world including OutKast, Nelly, Lil’ Wayne Too Short and Slick Rick, among many others. In addition to his own Sho’Enuff label, Pha also worked with Cash Money Records, siring a string of gold and platinum productions. Pha and his father Alexander join other family inductees, including Rufus and Carla Thomas, and Sam and Knox Phillips in the Memphis Music Hall of Fame.

Rhodes, Chalmers & Rhodes

Charlie Chalmers was a rock ’n’ roll sax man and arranger, part of Memphis’ Hi Records from its early days as a rock 'n' roll label. Sisters Sandra and Donna Rhodes had come up in a local family band — their parents Dusty and Dot had been signed to Sun Records in the ‘50s— singing close, genetic harmonies. Together, the trio — known professionally as Rhodes, Chalmers & Rhodes — would provide the distinctive backing vocals for some of the most iconic soul and R&B songs ever recorded. Working at the revamped Hi Records as part of producer Willie Mitchell’s musical cast of characters, Rhodes, Chalmers & Rhodes would become an essential ingredient in Al Green’s iconic hits for the label. They would also sing on records by Otis Clay, Boz Scaggs, Isaac Hayes, Jimmy Hughes, Ann Pebbles, O.V. Wright, Syl Johnson, The Staple Singers, Ben E. King and more, as well as cut their own sides for Warner Bros.

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Kallen Esperian

Kallen Esperian sings God Bless America during the Honoring Priscilla Presley: The Artist, The Woman event Friday, July 22, 2022, at Theatre Memphis. The event featured speakers and music performances.
Kallen Esperian sings God Bless America during the Honoring Priscilla Presley: The Artist, The Woman event Friday, July 22, 2022, at Theatre Memphis. The event featured speakers and music performances.

Hailed as one of the greatest sopranos of her generation, renowned opera star Kallen Esperian has called the Bluff City home for 40 years. Esperian catapulted to the world stage as a winner of the Luciano Pavarotti International Voice Competition in her early 20s. Since that time, she’s had leading roles in every major opera house in the world, been paired with tenors such as Luciano Pavarotti, Plácido Domingo and Jose Carreras, both in opera and in concert, and performed as one of The Three Sopranos, the counterpart to The Three Tenors. Esperian has recorded for both Atlantic and Decca Records. In addition to an honorary doctorate degree from Rhodes College, she has received numerous awards including the Dorothy B. Chandler Award, the Mafalda Favero Award, the Arts and Humanities Award from the Germantown Arts Alliance and the Amphion Award from the Memphis Symphony, as well as served as the Emissary of Memphis Music and earned the Distinguished Achievement Award from the University of Memphis.

Jack Soden

A native of Kansas City, Missouri, Soden was working in money management when he met Priscilla Presley in the early 1980s and helped the Presley family develop a plan for opening Graceland. Forty years later, Graceland has become one of the nation’s premier tourist attractions with more than 600,000 visitors annually. Under Soden’s leadership the company has grown to more than 400 employees, bringing an estimated $200 million per year to the Memphis economy — while Elvis Presley Enterprises has steadily grown into a entertainment, licensing, merchandising and music publishing juggernaut.

Kevin Kane

Kevin Kane, head of Memphis Tourism, reacts after he is named as one of the 2024 inductees to the Memphis Music Hall of Fame during a press event inside the former Hard Rock Cafe, which is set to become the site of the J.W. & Kathy Gibson Center of Memphis Music, in Downtown Memphis, Tuesday, June 18, 2024.
Kevin Kane, head of Memphis Tourism, reacts after he is named as one of the 2024 inductees to the Memphis Music Hall of Fame during a press event inside the former Hard Rock Cafe, which is set to become the site of the J.W. & Kathy Gibson Center of Memphis Music, in Downtown Memphis, Tuesday, June 18, 2024.

A native Memphian, Kevin Kane joined the local Convention and Visitors Bureau in 1991 and set about to transform the city’s image. Kane’s vision of Memphis as a destination for culture tourism would be essential in shaping the city’s brand. With Kane leading the way, the marketing of Memphis — as “Home of the Blues, Birthplace of Rock ‘n’ Roll” — was developed and defined, firmly establishing the Bluff City as a global destination for music lovers. Kane, now head of the renamed Memphis Tourism, is also president and CEO of the Memphis Management Group, which manages the Memphis Convention Center and the Cannon Center for the Performing Arts.

This article originally appeared on Memphis Commercial Appeal: Memphis Music Hall of Fame announces class of 2024: See who they are

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