Friday, May 13, 2011

Vocalist Toni Green to headline 18th annual Juneteenth festival

            In the South Memphis community where Stax Records spun its way to chart-topping success, the sweet sound of soul music would have to be attributed to the early label mates who grew up in and around the area now known as Soulsville USA: Isaac Hayes, David Porter, Rufus and Carla Thomas, Maurice and Verdine White, and others.
            Where Trigg and Florida intersect, another rising star in the Soulsville area was honing her vocal skills at school talent shows, clubs, and elsewhere for recognition and a pittance. It didn’t take any arm-twisting, however, for Isaac Hayes and other superstars to realize that Toni Green was key to their success as a back up singer. The memories, she says, are still fresh in her mind.
            In the meantime, the songstress would go on to record numerous solo projects and make a name for herself in the U.S. and Europe. She is scheduled to perform in June at the 18th Annual Juneteenth Freedom & Heritage Festival in Douglass Park, in North Memphis, and in Porretta Terme, Italy, at the Porretta Soul Festival in July.
            “Isn’t that something!” says Green, thrilled that she will receive top billing at this year’s Juneteenth festival featuring a plethora of musical acts from June 17-19: R & B, hip-hop, old school, classical, Neosoul, and gospel.
            Green also performed at Juneteenth in 2008. She was tapped this time to headline the roster of talent at this year’s salute to the nation’s historically Black Greek Letter Organizations collectively referred to as “The Divine Nine,” a phrase coined by author Lawrence C. Ross Jr.
            The Divine Nine is comprised of the Alpha Phi Alpha Fraternity, Alpha Kappa Alpha Sorority, Kappa Alpha Psi Fraternity, Omega Psi Phi Fraternity, Delta Sigma Theta Sorority, Phi Beta Sigma Fraternity, Zeta Phi Beta Sorority, Sigma Gamma Rho Sorority, and Iota Phi Theta Fraternity.
            The group is also a collaborative of the National Pan-Hellenic Council, Inc., an umbrella organization formed May 10, 1930, on the campus of Howard University in Washington, D.C., and incorporated in 1937 in the state of Illinois. The headquarters is located in Decatur, Ga.
            “For African Americans on black college and university campuses, it’s (Black Greek Letter Organizations) a way to set yourself apart,” says Glynn Johns-Reed, founder of the Juneteenth Freedom & Heritage Festival. “The root of the organization is to uplift the black community. [And] I still see that and a lot of involvement in the community as relevant today.”
            Aside from the entertainment component of Juneteenth, there will be ample food vendors, games, exhibits, horseback rides, kiddy rides, and more. Douglass Park is located at Chelsea Avenue at N. Holmes Street. Admission to the park is free.
            For more information, log on to or email Glynn Johns-Reed at, or call 901-385-4943.

More about Toni Green...
            The soul in Green’s voice was first heard and cultivated in Soulsville. She was 13 when she debuted on the Hi London label. But it was her vocal maturation that propelled her forward, although her voice, music and stage presence, she says, could be attributed to the legendary Stax artists who paved a way for her.
            “I grew up in the music world,” says Green, who was surrounded by the music of cousins John Garry and Dickie Williams of the Mad Lads, one of Stax’s successful groups, and her father, a jazz singer “who had a voice like Nat King Cole.”
            As a budding vocalist, Green sang at her mother’s social club and at high school talent shows at Southside, where she graduated, Booker T. Washington and George Washington Carver. “That’s where you knew who were the best sopranos, tenors, vocalists, groups and bands,” she says.
            Her vocal coaches, she adds, were the best in the world. She studied at the Juilliard School of Arts in New York and has a range of seven octaves. “We were taught to sing correctly as opposed to getting on stage half way. You had to be correct.”
            Green sings blues, jazz, gospel, country & western, rhythm & blues, and a little hip-hop, but describes the music she’s making today as “the big band sound” or “Southern Soul,” which is a melding of various genres.              
            Hayes wasn’t the only superstar who recognized Green’s vocal mastery. She sang with him on his successful Hot Buttered Soul tour and went on to back up or work with such luminaries as the Bar-Kays, Luther Ingram, Millie Jackson, Dennis Edwards, Marvel Thomas, Jean “Bowlegs” Miller, The Memphis Horns, The Doobies, Tennie Hodges, and many more.
            In 1998, Green went solo with her first compilation of songs on the CD “Mixed Emotions.” Produced by Quinton Claunch’s Soultrax imprint, the CD was infused with the Memphis sound. In 2002, she released another CD called “Strong Enough” on Good Time Records, a third disc in 2003 called “Southern Soul Music,” and yet another one in 2006. Then she released a two-song CD in 2009 with Willie Mitchell overseeing production.
            Green’s discography -- about 10 full-length CDs in addition to the Mitchell-produced, two-song CD -- is just one half of her contribution to music. Although it’s the half that launched and sustains her career, the other half, she says, is devoted to charity and teaching school children the art of music as a producer, writer, bandleader and performer.
            “I’m giving back,” says Green. “I’ll go to the elderly homes and sing for them, and I’m hoping to be an inspiration to young people.” After she touches down in Italy, and stays in the country for one-to-two months, “I will be teaching stage presence and performance.”
            What may come as a surprise to Green’s fans is that she has a degree in special education and a degree in corrections. She has classroom experience in both the Shelby County Schools and the Jefferson County Public Schools in Louisville.
            Never one to rest on her laurels, Green keeps a full schedule nonetheless, but always mindful of where she’d honed her skills.
            Fans would be surprised as well to learn that Green handles her own business affairs. “I’m my own person, because I haven’t found anybody to work as hard as I do,” she says. “I work overtime. I do what I got to do.”
            By the way, part of the work that consumes Green’s time is being a mother. She has two adult daughters and an adult son in college. One of her daughters is a mother; and the other, a college student.
            The road to success hadn’t been that easy, says Green, adding, “For every door that was shut on me, here comes God with another plan.”
            Green is still following that plan -- wherever it leads her.
            “I’m a praying woman and I’m blessed.”

Additional Green tidbits...

            Green is hyped about the performance this year in Douglass Park, an outdoor community event that draws thousands of festivalgoers. She has also performed at other outdoor venues such as the Umbria Blues and Jazz Festival in Orvieto, Italy, the Africa in April Cultural Awareness Festival and Firehouse Black Arts Alliance, both in Memphis, and a Juneteenth festival in Louisville, Ky.
            Green has received numerous accolades, kudos, citations and awards. In 2008, the Nantucket Dreamland Foundation in Kentucky tapped Green for its “Female Artist of the Year.” In 2009, she was the recipient of the W.C. Handy Heritage Award, an annual salute to authentic Beale Street musicians.
            In 2010, the Memphis Music Foundation presented Green with the Emissary Award. That same year she received the Jus’ Blues Award for “Producer of the Year” from the Jus’ Blues Music Foundation. She is nominated again this year in two categories for Jus’ Blues Awards, which will be decided by the number of votes cast by industry professionals and the general public. Votes can be cast on line at
            The stage has been the foundation upon which Green has succeeded in the music industry. It is not a surprise that she would lend her talent to writing and singing jingles for Kentucky Fried Chicken, McDonald’s, Chevron Mobile, and others for Allen-Martin Productions, Inc. in Louisville. She also wrote the theme song for the City of Louisville, and was voted “Best Female Vocalist of the Year” for three consecutive years. Louisville’s mayor and the governor of Kentucky honored her as well.
            Green is set to return to the studio to record her 12th CD. She already envisions it a rousing success. 

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