It’s been nearly a decade since I broke out the following soapbox. However, it’s never seemed as timely as it does right now.
Maybe because we’ve just ended Mobile’s biggest annual cultural happening. Maybe it’s the innate comparisons Mardi Gras draws with our younger civic sister on the shores of Lake Pontchartrain.
Maybe it’s due to the continual refrain from the foot of Government Street, where an unopened maritime museum next to a ship-less cruise terminal has been five years in the making. Maybe it’s the whine of their begging for endless patience amidst grandiose promises of cultural impact.
Maybe it’s a number of things, but the bottom line stays the same. Mobile needs a Music hall of fame.
I made this case back in November 2007, when Lagniappe HQ was still in a drafty historic home rather than its luxurious penthouse environs high atop Midtown’s Media Row. While this newspaper has moved on, this cultural niche and personal sore spot is still unfilled and evidence for its inception is abundant.
The appeal would be wide. Looking at the member organizations on the Mobile Arts Council roster, there’s a vast swath of entities that could be enlisted to help. The Mobile Symphony Orchestra, Mobile Opera, Mobile Chamber Music Society, the performing arts departments at the universities, the Mystic Order of the Jazz Obsessed, the Gulf Coast Ethnic and Heritage Jazz Festival, practitioners of musical theatre like Joe Jefferson Players, Mobile Theatre Guild, Chickasaw Civic Theater, Theatre 98, the Azalea City School for the Arts, Playhouse in the Park, Bella Voce, Gloria Dei Chorale, Mobile Pops, Musica Sacra and Port City Men’s Chorus all have common stakes in such.
Would they have the combined clout to put this in motion? Our soon-to-open Church of the Blessed Cargo Container had some powerful families who swung their big purses in everyone’s face and “convinced” city government to sink precious millions into their paean to influence.
Aside from now-departed benefactors like Ann Delchamps or Palmer Bedsole, I’m not sure Mobile’s arts realm still has the 400-pound gorillas necessary for that kind of persuasion. It would have to be a matter of multitudes and dedication at the ground roots.
Here’s what happens when you don’t have heavyweights behind you: two years ago, I sat in on a series of meetings for a relatively low-cost idea similar to a hall of fame. It would have highlighted Mobile’s entire performing arts heritage with a walk of fame embedded in the sidewalks surrounding the Saenger Theatre.
There were plans drawn up, studies performed, various personalities from downtown in discussion, equipment circled and a schedule pondered. So what happened?
It got lost in the shuffle of shifting political times, both corporate and governmental. The plans and notes still sit in a file near the site, just awaiting the go-ahead and commitment from those further up a ladder.
Its fate is unknown. I’m not highlighting calendar dates anytime soon.
Unlike the alabaster pachyderm pen across Water Street, a Mobile Music Hall of Fame wouldn’t be a redundancy to self-evident industry visible for free just outside its windows. It’s easy for visitors to find maritime pastimes. Our musical heritage isn’t nearly as prominent and by its very nature, is infinitely more entertaining.
It’s been just shy of 30 years since we launched the Mobile Sports Hall of Fame and it took them almost a quarter of a century before they found a physical home in the RSA Tower. There are lessons there, about both availability and visibility.
Lord knows we have the space downtown for a music hall of fame. There are vacant storefronts to be found, some in spots of prominence like Bienville Square.
Our pre-Lenten festivities serve to remind us of the role music plays in our lives — it wouldn’t be Carnival without it — and reminds us of something we overlook. Little sister New Orleans has built a thriving tourist industry on their culture and arts. The possibilities exist; the draw is there.
A music hall of fame doesn’t have to be exceptionally high-tech. No storm simulators needed.
What it takes is careful curation, collection, information and reproduction. Personal mementos, wardrobe, various odds and ends take on a new light in the right presentation. Old recordings, audio and video bring talent to life and let visitors and Mobilians alike know about these artists that brought beauty and transcendence to the world.
As I’ve written before, the history museum is a sterling example of how to do this “right” and makes the most of its resources. Follow their lead. The kind of music hall of fame we could have built with the funds that disappeared into GulfQuest is staggering.
Of all the arts, music is easily the most marketable. Not everyone goes to the theatre, studies sculpture, dissects literature or bursts into dance but most everybody likes songs of some sort. Now we just have to magnify it from our individual hearts into the heart of the city.