Pioneer Awards Laud R&B Legends

Friday, September 8th 2000, 12:00 am
By: News On 6

NEW YORK (AP) — Aretha Franklin, Smokey Robinson, Erykah Badu and Bonnie Raitt were among the stars who paid tribute to forgotten soul singers of the past at the Rhythm & Blues Foundation's 11th annual Pioneer Awards.

While superstars such as Stevie Wonder and the late Marvin Gaye were also honored Wednesday night, the bulk of the four-hour ceremony was dedicated to lesser-known acts such as the Chi-Lites, who faded into obscurity although their harmonies on hits such as ``Have You Seen Her'' helped define the sound of the 60s and the 70s.

``It's one the most important awards that we ever received,'' said Chi-Lites founding member Eugene Record. ``They (the R&B foundation) do things that are very unusual as far as helping artists who have fallen on hard times, and I don't know any organization that does that for musicians and entertainers.''

In addition to bestowing long-overdue recognition, the foundation awards most honorees with cash — $20,000 for groups, and $15,000 for individual artists.

Motown founder Berry Gordy helped boost the foundation's coffers, announcing a $750,000 donation to aid former acts from the legendary label who are struggling.

``These are our pioneers, the people that we got something from, we benefit from, so we have to look out for them like all people do,'' he said. ``It's everyone's responsibility. It's our legacy.''

Some of the artists honored by the foundation in years past were cheated out of their royalties and received little during their brief celebrity.

``Many artists did not get adequate compensation, and even today, find it very difficult to survive even though their music is known and played,'' said Mary Wilson, one of the original Supremes. ``As human beings, they're sort of forgotten. I think the Rhythm & Blues organization gives not only sort of an award, but also gives them something that they need inside, as human beings, to be respected.''

Besides the Chi-Lites, the foundation gave pioneer awards to Huey ``Piano'' Smith, who performed on the hit ``Don't You Know It/High Blood Pressure''; Sylvia Robinson, who had a hit with ``Love is Strange'' in 1957 and years later helped start the rap revolution with the discovery of the Sugarhill Gang; Clyde Otis, who wrote and produced songs for artists including Nat ``King'' Cole and Dinah Washington; The Impressions, whose hits include ``It's All Right''; Johnnie Johnson, a legendary pianist who discovered and played with Chuck Berry; and Betty Wright, who may best be known for her hit ``Clean Up Woman.''

Wonder received the lifetime achievement award, while Gaye's children accepted the Legacy Tribute award on his behalf. Ahmet Ertegun, founder of Atlantic Records, received the R&B Founders Award.

The event also served as a concert and jam session, as the honorees performed some of their biggest hits. Wonder's performance was perhaps the most rousing, as he sang a medley of hits like ``Superstition,'' and ``I Was Made To Love Her,'' with Raitt, Badu, Sister Sledge, Robinson and Dionne Warwick singing backup.

Wonder called for today's performers to unite with past artists for an album that would feature old hits and give back royalties to those singers and their families.

Though Wonder has received countless accolades, he said this award held a special significance for him.

``It really is the essence of how I began,'' he said. ``I was an R&B artist, a rhythm and blues artist, and I have great respect and I am very proud of that.''


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