A 'legendary' weekend: Baseball legacy, music giants highlight Sam Hairston Celebration

October 2, 2010 9:49:00 PM

Jan Swoope - [email protected]


Growing up on Plum Grove Road in Crawford, Sam Hairston loved the sound of a zinging pitch, the crisp thwack of a bat. From the dirt lot ball he played as a child, to making history in Major League and Negro League Baseball, the late Lowndes County native left a legacy that inspired the upcoming Sam Hairston Celebration Oct. 13-16.  


What began many months ago with a casual suggestion to honor the baseball standout has bloomed into a four-day event culminating in a concert with two Rock and Roll Hall of Fame artists with legendary status themselves.  


Soul-blues and R&B greats Bobby "Blue"Bland and Percy Sledge will co-headline The Legends Concert Oct. 16 at 6:30 p.m. at the Riverwalk in historic downtown Columbus. Festivities will open with regional legends Big Ben Atkins and the Class  


of ''65. 


"This all started off very modestly, but it has really grown, way beyond our early expectations," said Celebration co-organizer Glenn Lautzenhiser.  




On the diamond 


Hairston is credited as the first African-American signed by the Chicago White Sox, in 1951. His career as a player, scout and coach spanned 53 years, 47 of them with the White Sox. Before debuting with Chicago, he played in the Negro Leagues'' Birmingham Black Barons and the Indianapolis Clowns, amassing eye-opening stats. 


Lautzenhiser said, "He was an incredibly talented ball player. He hit 300 or better 14 times in his career, and won the ''triple crown'' of baseball -- winning the homerun, RBI and batting championship in the league -- and that''s a very unusual feat, at any level of baseball." 


As the father of major leaguers Jerry Hairston Sr. and John Hairston, and grandfather of MLB players Jerry Hairston Jr. and Scott Hairston, the Crawford native is patriarch to the largest three-generation dynasty in baseball history. The Celebration entertainment committee felt it only appropriate to bring in musical artists who have made their own indelible mark. 




On the stage 


Percy Sledge and Bobby "Blue" Bland are synonymous with some of the most memorable sounds and songs of an era. 


Sledge is hard-pressed to guess how often he''s sung the eternal "When a Man Loves a Woman" since its 1966 release. But the Leighton, Ala., native says he never gets tired of singing the classic, which ranks No. 54 on Rolling Stone magazine''s "500 Greatest Songs of All Time." 


"Oh no, never. That song, that''s been with me my whole career," he shared by phone from Baton Rouge, La., Wednesday. "I''ve had some great records, but that one, people can''t wait to hear it."  


After his No. 1 debut, Sledge''s recordings included tracks like "Out in Left Field" and "It Tears Me Up," written by Dan Penn, of Vernon, Ala., along with Spooner Oldham. 




Shoals vibe 


Sledge recalled the storied Muscle Shoals scene of the ''60s.  


"Especially after ''When a Man Loves a Woman,'' we had so many great artists to come there to record, from all over the world. We had such a different sound from most studios; my producer said we were so much below sea level, we had a great bottom bass sound ... Most of the studios in the Tennessee Valley were low, making it very mellow," the 2005 Rock and Roll Hall of Fame inductee recalled.  


He continued, "We had so much fun in those days recording. I miss those days ... but wonderful things have come my way." 


Sledge will reportedly be backed by some of the best, including bassist David Hood, another Leighton native. Hood co-founded the Muscle Shoals Sound Studio, where he produced for artists including Bob Dylan and Paul Simon, and played with Bobby "Blue"Bland. (Hood is also the father of Patterson Hood, prolific songwriter and frontman of alt-country/rock heavyweights, the Drive By Truckers. DBT played Starkville''s Cotton District Festival in 2006, and the one-off MUWsic Fest at Mississippi University for Women in 2004.)  




The lion 


Fives decades after he first broke into the R&B Top 10, Bobby "Blue" Bland still loves what he does. 


"It feels real good," he said via phone Tuesday from his home in Memphis. "If you love what you''re doing, it''s not really a hard job. You just have a good time and enjoy yourself." 


An original member of The Beale Streeters, the soulful singer has been called the Lion of the Blues. With songs like "Cry, Cry, Cry," "I Pity the Fool," and "Turn On Your Love Light," he proved to be a staple. He, too, worked with Vernon''s Dan Penn. 


Bland was inducted into the Blues Hall of Fame in 1981 and the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame in 1992. In 1997, he received the Recording Academy''s Lifetime Achievement Grammy. A year later, he was the recipient of The Blues Foundation Lifetime Achievement Award. 


The Rosemont, Tenn., native''s influence has surfaced across the board, in covers by acts like Whitesnake to Kanye West. Van Morrison included a previously unreleased duet with Bland of "Tupelo Honey" on his 2007 compilation album, "The Best of Van Morrison, Vol. 3." 


Both headliners look forward to returning to an old stomping ground. 


"Mississippi''s been good to me," said Bland. 


Sledge drawled, "I''m quite sure I''ll enjoy myself in Columbus; I''ve been there before, you know. I always have a good time in Mississippi ... it''s always been one of my favorite places to go." 




Get tickets 


General admission tickets to the concert are $20.  


VIP tickets (limited to 100) are now on sale for $50, according to concert co-organizer Steve Rogers. "With the VIP pass, you get free barbecue, ribs and all the fixings, an open bar, autographs, pictures with the musicians and baseball players, plus big screen TVs for watching college football and baseball," he said.  


In Columbus, get tickets at the Tennessee Williams Welcome Center (300 Main St.), Main Street Columbus (107 Fifth St. N.), Columbus Arts Council (501 Main St.), Bryan''s Record and Pet Center (2003 Main St.), the Columbus-Lowndes Recreation Authority (2535 Main St.), Legends Bar (2005 13th Ave. N.) or at the gate. Or purchase online at www.columbus-ms.org.  


Shuttles, including Columbus'' double decker bus, will begin running from downtown to the festival site at 4:30 p.m. Concert-goers are asked to bring lawn chairs, but no coolers. Food and beverages will be sold on site. 


The concert is a presentation of the Sam Hairston Celebration Committee and the Columbus Cultural Heritage Foundation. For more information, visit www.columbus-ms.org, or contact the Heritage Foundation at 800-920-3533.

Jan Swoope is the Lifestyles Editor for The Commercial Dispatch.