by Gina Alligood
Some of us lucky folks attended the Texas Chapter of the Recording Academy’s 25th Anniversary Gala at the Moody Theater at ACL Live. It’s rare when an audience is treated to so much amazing talent on one stage in one evening.
You might almost forget that the real goal of the evening was to contribute to the Academy’s MusiCares Foundation which provides health, financial, and rehabilitation aide to musicians in need. In 1987, following the news that music legend Woody Herman, who after an impressive career spanning more than 60 years, died penniless and alone, the Academy took steps to ensure no other musician suffered this kind of tragedy. In 1992 the foundation provided $26,000 to musicians in times of need, and over the years they have been able to distribute an additional $60 million dollars. That’s huge.
The Texas Chapter did itself proud with a line up that represented every genre; Tejano, country, blues, pop, gospel, and hip hop! This is all thanks to Executive Director Theresa Jenkins, the creative genius behind the diverse powerhouse line up of talent (which includes Texas, Oklahoma, and Mexico.) She is a much respected and loved figure in the local chapter and when Christine Albert, former National Chair, shared sobering news that Teresa is in treatment for cancer and could not attend, the emotions of the crowd were palpable. Throughout the show her presence was clearly felt, as performer after performer took a moment to send appreciation and love her way.
Los TexManiacs kicked off the after dinner show with a rousing burst of musica tejano, a Grammy category thanks to the efforts of the Texas Chapter. Max Baca’s deft bajo sexto finger work and Josh Baca’s hot licks on the button accordion took us ‘Down in the Bayou’ and then worked their way to lively Tex Mex with a rock and roll vibe. Little Joe Hernandez, a pioneer of the Tejano genre, stepped into the mix with his guitar and horn player. There was absolutely nothing little about his smooth and powerful vocals. Before exiting the stage, he leaned into the mic for one last personal message to the audience, “Please save the children.”
As Los TexManiacs left the stage the crowd was pumped up by local legend Ray Benson who most fittingly slipped into a swinging set with “Miles and Miles of Texas”. Ray told of his first Grammy, one he had to pick up in Memphis, which led him and fellow musicians to come home and make sure Texas was rightfully represented in the Recording Academy by founding its own chapter. Fiddle player Katie Shore followed singing sweet and clear to Benson’s signature bass for a hopping rendition of hit “Route 66”.
Next, Marcia Ball made herself at home sitting cross legged behind her piano, grinning and belting out her latest hit, “Shine Bright”, her foot swinging to the exuberant beat of rhythm and blues, until you felt like you were sitting there right beside her. The music was all the more upbeat watching the way Marcia and her band were clearly enjoying playing together. Shine Bright was a jewel of a song, gifting us with a shout out to singular heroes like Jackie Robinson and RGB. A notable message on a night celebrating such a diverse group of musicians who are committed to supporting and honoring their sense of community.
Motown gospel Grammy-nominated musician Brian Courtney Wilson further reminded us of our bond, despite our differences, as he humbly called listeners to ‘notice one another and to hug the neighbor beside them’. On the floor you could see and feel the hands raised in agreement as he took us to church with his resounding tenor voice belting out the deeply moving “A Great Work.”
As the room was awash in the afterglow of Brian’s performance, Yolanda Adams, (President of the Texas Chapter and a multiple Grammy award-winning gospel singer) took the stage. The perfection of her powerhouse voice defies description. The audience couldn’t stay quiet, and punctuated her vocal runs with shouts and applause . When “Someone Watching Over You” came to an end the crowd offered the first standing ovation of the evening.
Just when you’re certain it can’t get any better, Yolanda called Brian Courtney Wilson back on stage to pay tribute to Donnie Hathaway and Roberta Flack in a performance of “You’ve Got a Friend”. Generously pouring everything they had into the duet, they shared a heartfelt exchange and it was a special moment.
Nothing tipped the proverbial hat to the importance of the diversity of talent of the Texas chapter like the inclusion of the Oklahoma band of brothers, Hanson. You had to love their telling of being discovered at SXSW, as they pandered songs, Oliver Twist-like, to anyone who would listen. They proudly began their set with the infectious 1997 pop hit “MMMBop”, delighting the crowd with the solid three part harmony we fell in love with from the start. Twenty years later, we are happily reminded of their tight musicianship that well-earned their invitation to the stage tonight.
Bringing us back a bit closer to home, the band Midland, hailing from Dripping Springs, performed next. Mark Wystrach, Cameron Duddy, and Jess Carson stepped well-dressed and confident onto the stage. Their final tune swept the audience into the whiskey smooth harmonies of their country rock hit “Drinking Problem”. Mark Wystrach took a moment to speak from the heart, first by joining the previous artists with gratitude to Teresa Jenkins for her stellar work in showcasing Texas talent, and then by thanking Texas music fans themselves for coming out to listen to the music every night of the week.
Teased throughout the evening that Houston hip hop was in the house, the audience’s energy was palpable when Paul Wall cruised onto the stage with his breakthrough song “Grillz”, confirming that he is still the people’s champ.
The audience was in full rhythmic beat with Wall as he passed the baton to the underground King BunB, who kept the vibrant beat going with “Get Throwed”. Then“Still Tippin’” Slim Thug joined the boys as the trio seamlessly carried on the conversation weaving and exchanging movement and verse with beautiful ease and perfect collaboration.
The collaborations throughout the show made this an even more special and rare night. A metaphor for a celebratory evening of camaraderie and shared respect for the diverse brilliance of Texas music talent.
In addition to the music, the gala was an elegant affair that included a red carpet and cocktail reception and formal dinner that raised money for MusiCares. At the end of the night, past and present officers and board members gathered arms around each other to send out well wishes to Teresa. The Texas Chapter is as much about the music as it is about the human beings that make it and celebrate it together.
The Texas Chapter’s 25th Anniversary Gala was everything a Texas musician and music lover could hope for.
Learn more about the Texas Recording Academy Chapter here.
Check out our complete gala photo gallery