Justin Fox Burks
Dr. Herman Green, the saxophonist supreme who started out on Beale Street in the 1940s, and who, after travelling the world playing his horn with giants from John Coltrane to Lionel Hampton to Stevie Wonder, became a Beale Street institution in his own right for the past 40 years, turns 88 on May 27th. It's a Sunday, a day when, for over three decades, he's been reliably playing with the funk/soul/jam outfit FreeWorld on Beale. So naturally, it's party time!
"It just so happens," says FreeWorld co-founder Richard Cushing, "that we play Blues City Cafe every Sunday anyway. It really dovetailed together nicely." Cushing adds that, although Green's health has been less than ideal lately, he'll be there and "he's really looking forward to spending this special birthday evening with all his friends, family, fans & loved ones."
Cushing adds that "we have a bunch of special musical guests lined up to join us on stage to honor Herman that night," hinting that the guests may include super fans such as Jim Dandy or Carla Thomas. Seeing the Queen of Memphis Soul will no doubt resonate deeply with Green, who got his start in show business thanks to her father, the late Rufus Thomas.
Such a celebration also resonates with the location, which had a specific mission under its previous name. "Blues City Cafe used to be Doe's Eat Place," notes Cushing. "And they envisioned the band box there to be kind of like Preservation Hall in New Orleans: a place where the old players always had a home, at least once a week." Certainly it has served that mission well with Green, who's been a fixture there. But, Cushing adds, "Under doctors orders, Herman hasn't had a thing to drink in over six months, so please refrain from buying him his formerly beloved shots of vodka."
While Green has not been playing as much lately, he still blows on occasion, and on May 12th, he carried out a tradition of 25 years by playing at the Memphis College of Art graduation commencement, marching the new graduates in to the ringing sounds of his saxophone. It was MCA that granted Green his honorary doctorate. (Read more about Green's life in our 2017 profile of him, below).
So it's likely you'll hear his legendary tone at some point, depending on the doctor's health. Either way, it's a perfect way to ring in Memorial Day, honoring one of Memphis' greatest living players, who's held his own among the titans of jazz, blues and soul for nearly a century.
Dr. Herman Green's 88th Birthday Party, Blues City Cafe, Sunday, May 27, 9 pm - 2 am.