Meridian R&B and Soul Music
Rhythm & blues and soul singers have been major contributors to Meridian’s deep African American musical heritage, extending the legacy molded by gospel, jazz and traditional blues artists. David Ruffin of the Temptations and his brother Jimmy moved to Detroit and starred as icons of the Motown sound, while Al Wilson became a hitmaker in California, and Eddie Houston, Pat Brown and Patrice Moncell enlivened the southern soul circuit in Mississippi.
David and Jimmy Ruffin head the list of renowned R&B and soul singers to emerge from Meridian. David, born in Whynot in 1941, and Jimmy, born in Collinsville in 1939, grew up in Meridian singing with their father Eli Ruffin’s family gospel group, among others, before hitting the big time in Detroit. In the 1950s the Ruffins lived at 316 46th Avenue. David sang “My Girl,” “Ain’t Too Proud to Beg,” and other 1960s hits with the Temptations, while Jimmy’s greatest success came with “What Becomes of the Brokenhearted” in 1966. Acclaimed for his emotional power and showmanship, David led a troubled life and died of a drug overdose in Philadelphia in 1991, while Jimmy relocated to England to continue his career.
Other Meridianites also sang with local church choirs or gospel groups before turning to secular music. Al Wilson, born here in 1939, moved with his family to California in the 1950s. His career peaked with “Show and Tell,” a No. 1 hit in 1974. Wilson died of kidney failure in Fontana, California, in 2008. Eddie Houston, who traveled widely with his own gospel group in his early years, was born on the Taylor farm on U.S. Highway 45 in 1934. In Meridian he held a job at Soule Steam Feed Works and began performing in both black and white nightspots such at Club Ala Miss, Club 493, King of Clubs and Spot Drive Inn. Houston recorded 45s for blues singer/deejay Sherman “B.B.” Johnson’s Mel-O-Juke label and, under the production of George Soule, at the Malaco studios in Jackson. In 1969 he moved to Nashville. Soule (b. 1945), one of a number of white participants in the soul music scene, compiled an impressive resume as a songwriter and session musician in Jackson and Muscle Shoals, and had his own hit single on the soul charts in 1973, “Get Involved.” The Six Soul Survivors, who recorded for Bob Reetz’s local RAP label, included Paul Davis (1948-2008), who later enjoyed national pop hits such as “I Go Crazy.” Radio stations WTOK, WQIC and WOKK provided a training ground for Johnson (1925-1982), Soule and other musicians who worked as disc jockeys, recorded commercial jingles, or performed on live broadcasts.
The blues and southern soul styles of Meridian natives Pat Brown (nee Patricia Rush, b. 1949) and Patrice Moncell (Gathright, b. 1962) earned them several Jackson Music Awards among other accolades. Brown, a former schoolteacher best known for her 1996 hit “Equal Opportunity,” sang locally before moving to Jackson. There she recorded for Johnny Vincent’s Ace and Avanti labels, leading to extensive touring and the formation of her own company, Tapna. Moncell, who recorded for the Soops and VJM labels, was named for opera singer Patrice Munsel. She grew up singing classical and church songs and toured Europe as a gospel singer before blues and soul audiences embraced her talents. Moncell and Brown both appeared in the film Last of the Mississippi Jukes.
content © Mississippi Blues Commission
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