News Flash: R&B Awards Honor Gladys Knight And Others

News Flash R B Awards Honor Gladys Knight

O ne night after the Grammy Awards at New York's Radio City Music Hall honored folk-legend Bob Dylan with a few awards that were long overdue, another awards ceremony held across town honored some equally legendary artists who helped sow the seeds for Dylan's and many other artists' work.

The ninth annual Rhythm & Blues Foundation dinner and awards ceremony Thursday at New York's Sheraton Hotel honored such ground-breaking acts as the outrageous Screamin' Jay Hawkins, R&B greats Gladys Knight and the Pips and jazz saxophonist David 'Fathead' Newman.

The nonprofit foundation, whose mission is to 'foster wider recognition, financial assistance and historic and cultural preservation of rhythm and blues artists of the '40s, '50s and '60s,' was founded in 1988 and has to date handed out more than million in grants through its Pioneer Awards program, which pays tribute to musicians for their contributions to contemporary music and includes a cash award of ,000 for individuals and ,000 for groups.

'I think one of the great aspects of these awards,' said Janis Hazel, executive director of the Foundation, 'was to see a lot of these artists, who haven't performed in many years, back in their element again, allowing them to perform in front of their peers and a sold-out audience.'

In addition to performing together for the first time in 14 years, Gladys Knight and the Pips received a special award. Knight, whose recording career spans 50 years, joined her backing band in accepting a lifetime achievement award at the ceremony.

Artists honored with the Pioneer Award included Hawkins, gospel singer Faye Adams, Atlantic Records co-founder Herb Abramson, singers Tyrone Davis, Ernie K-Doe and Kim Weston, and R&B vocal groups the O'Jays, the Five Satins and the Harptones.

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One of the evening's highlights, according to Tanya Jordan, foundation program assistant, was a searing performance from 'I Put a Spell On You' singer Screamin' Jay Hawkins. 'It was just a showstopper,' Jordan said of Hawkins' medley, which included his signature, ghoulish song. 'He was performing like he was 30 years old, and he just got off, with smoke and fire and screaming and everything else.'

Among the artists who showed up to give praise were the enigmatic funk-rocker The Artist Formerly Known As Prince, an avid supporter of the foundation who also attended last year's event. Other attendees were soul star Stevie Wonder, who gave a touching speech introducing Knight in which he recounted how she helped teach Wonder to sing early in his career, according to Hazel.

In other highlights, Parliament-Funkadelic bass player Bootsy Collins presented an award to Famous Flames singer Bobby Byrd, whose work on James Brown's early recordings inspired the Funkadelic bassist's style, according to Collins.

'I would say the highlight, for me, was hearing the honorees say thanks not only for the award,' Hazel added, 'but also for the recognition, something many of them have never really gotten in their careers.' -- Gil Kaufman [Mon., March 2, 1998, 7 p.m. PST]