They televised the wrong music awards show this week. The best performances and most-deserved honors didn't happen at Wednesday's Grammy show, but at the Rhythm & Blues Foundation's Pioneer Awards Thursday night at the Hollywood Palladium.
The difference between the two was clear as soon as Arthur Prysock, the first of 13 award recipients, was slowly assisted to the podium and, tearfully said, "It's been a long time trying, but it's been a wonderful trip up here."
But then the singer, whose career started with '40s big bands and flourished with his smooth soul of the '50s and '60s, raised his eyebrows and with a sly grin asked presenter Mary Wilson for a kiss. This was a night marked by--as the song title made famous by another recipient, Lloyd Price, says--"Personality."
Not all shed tears, but each speech was full of emotion, from Darlene Love's fiery call for perseverance to 79-year-old Mabel Scott's churchy gospel preaching. Though most of the presenters were more famous than the honorees (including Little Richard presenting to Price and Whitney Houston introducing her mother, Cissy Houston), no one was overshadowed.
And nothing overshadowed the musical performances, where the Moonglows' harmonies sounded every bit as tight as Boyz II Men's did at the Grammys, Inez & Charlie Foxx were as sassy as ever on their 1963 hit "Mockingbird" and Scott shook and shimmied through "Elevator Boogie" as if she were trying out for Salt-N-Pepa.
It didn't hurt that all were backed by a group led by Billy Vera and featuring guitarists Steve Cropper (from Booker T. & the MG's, another award recipient) and Ry Cooder, along with horn players Maceo Parker and Fred Wesley from James Brown's classic band.
The only disappointment was that Fats Domino, honored with the Ray Charles Lifetime Achievement Award, couldn't be coaxed into performing. But that didn't keep the crowd--ranging from top music industry executives to plain old fans--from leaving with a collective smile on its face and song on its lips.