By Roger Friedman
September 03, 2008
I’m sad to say that I won’t be able to get to Philadelphia on Sept. 9 for the 20th annual Rhythm and Blues Foundation’s Pioneer Awards. Kool & the Gang, the Whispers, Chaka Khan, Bill Withers and Teena Marie are among those getting awards. The great Al Bell is getting the Ahmet Ertegun Leadership Award. Donny Hathaway is being honored posthumously, and the Funk Brothers are getting a Sidemen Award.
I do hope that hosts Bonnie Raitt, Dionne Warwick and Jerry Butler have salutes planned for Isaac Hayes, Jerry Wexler, Al Wilson, Luther Ingram, the Spinners’ Pervis Jackson and the other great contributors to the legacy of R&B who passed in the last year.
The Rhythm and Blues Foundation is now settled in Philadelphia under the auspices of Kenny Gamble and Leon Huff, after having homes in Washington, D.C., and New York. The foundation hit an apex in 1999 when it put on an Oscar-like, lavish soiree in Los Angeles. The event nearly sent the Foundation into a vat of red ink from which it has barely recovered.
From ’99, things went from bad to worse. They hit bottom in 2003, when the inductees received empty envelopes instead of checks. On the sly, the very devoted Bonnie Raitt and Bruce Springsteen made up the difference a few weeks later. The memory of that incident still stings.
According to its Form 990 tax filings, The Foundation finished 2005 and 2006 in the red, even though there was money in individual funds earmarked for Motown artists and Universal Music artists. (There is still no fund specifically for Stax or Memphis musicians, or those from Philly, Chicago, New Orleans or other places from which soul sprang.)
In 2007, the Foundation actually had about a little less than $2,000 left after expenses. (The total amount in the funds comes to $2.8 million.) Technically, any R&B artist who ever had a hit record can apply to the Foundation for assistance. In 2007, the Foundation says it disbursed $128,207 to artists. About $160,000 went to salaries.
But the real mandate of the Foundation — which was created with an endowment by the late legend Ruth Brown after she sued Atlantic Records for back royalties — is to raise awareness of the rich history of R&B. That this is still going owes more to Bonnie Raitt’s persistence and goodwill than anything else. She’s a mensch. Or is it mensch-ette?
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