Willie Mitchell (seated) and (from left) Leroy Hodges, Mabon "Teenie" Hodges, Archie Turner Mitchell, Rev. Charles Hodges and Howard Grimes gave records from Hi that special sound. Gerald Cyrus
Mitchell Fan Response Is Impressive
Family touched by reaction; funeral set for music giant
By Bob Mehr
Memphis Commercial Appeal
Saturday, January 9, 2010
The news of Willie Mitchell's death this week has prompted fans and critics to ponder the legacy of one of unassuming giants of Memphis music.
But for his grandson, Lawrence "Boo" Mitchell, there has hardly been a moment to pause and reflect.
"My phone hasn't stopped ringing," he said. "The reaction has been unbelievable. I've gotten calls, e-mails, texts from people in Asia, Denmark, France, Canada, Australia, from all over the world.
"Some are people who knew him, and a lot are folks who were just fans. We're finding out how many people his music touched."
Mitchell, 81, died Tuesday at Methodist University Hospital from cardiac arrest, after being in ill health for several months.
Memphians will be able to pay their respects to Mitchell next week: On Monday, a public viewing will be held from 2 p.m. to 6 p.m. at N.J. Ford & Sons Funeral Home at 12 South Parkway W.
On Wednesday at 2 p.m., a memorial service will take place at Hope Presbyterian Church at 8500 Walnut Grove Road in Cordova.
Beginning in the mid-1950s, the Mississippi-born Mitchell became one of Memphis' top band leaders. But his greatest contributions would come in the '60s and '70s as a producer and arranger at Hi Records and Royal Studios, where he developed a signature soul sound and helped mold Al Green's million-selling career, as well as those of R&B stars such as Ann Peebles, O.V. Wright and Otis Clay.
Boo Mitchell said the memorial will include a video presentation, featuring footage from throughout Mitchell's storied career. Speakers are expected to include Memphis Mayor A C Wharton and interim Shelby County Mayor Joe Ford, as well as local Grammy chapter head Jon Hornyak and deejay George Klein.
A musical tribute is also planned, with a lineup tentatively expected to include Peebles, Clay, Solomon Burke, Shirley Brown and J. Blackfoot.
Green is on tour in Australia. He was traveling to the country when news of Mitchell's death broke.
Speaking with the Sydney Morning Herald, Green said: "We are all dealing with the loss. He was the mecca of soul and R&B and we're just glad that we had him for so long."
The memorial send-off will be an opportunity to say goodbye for fans but, especially, for Mitchell's family.
"Everybody's been strong and trying to holding up," his grandson said. "It's been a busy time, so there hasn't been an opportunity for the devastation to set in, which is kind of a good thing. But the moment things quiet down, you get to where you miss him."
Boo Mitchell, who, along with Archie Mitchell, has been running the day-to-day operations of Mitchell's Royal Studios for a decade, plans to continue their work at the South Memphis recording facility.
"(Willie) wanted us to keep making music," he said.
In lieu of flowers, the Mitchell family requested donations be sent to the non-profit Willie Mitchell Foundation and Scholarship Fund c/o Royal Studios, 1320 Willie Mitchell Blvd., Memphis, TN 38106, or that contributions be made in Mitchell's name to MusiCares at 1904 Wedgewood Ave., Nashville, TN 37212 (or call 877-626-2748).
Services For Willie Mitchell
A public viewing will be 2 to 6 p.m. Monday at N.J. Ford & Sons Funeral Home, 12 S. Parkway West.
A memorial service will be at 2 p.m. Wednesday at Hope Presbyterian Church, 8500 Walnut Grove in Cordova. The service will include a video presentation and performances by Solomon Burke, Ann Peebles, Otis Clay, Shirley Brown and J. Blackfoot, among others.
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