Opinion » Viewpoint

COMMENTARY: That's the Blues


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*(sung to the tune of Aretha Franklin’s “Chain, Chain, Chain”)

"Our objective is to make sure we are always concerned with the music, history and culture of what made Beale Street and Memphis special." — Performa chief executive John Elkington.

“I think the King Biscuit name resonates well with the blues and the roots music of this region.  I think a festival in the fall would be a welcome addition to the landscape of the community and the King Biscuit name certainly has a 'cool' factor to it." — Kevin Kane, Memphis Convention and Visitor’s Bureau

(Quotes from The Commercial Appeal)


Shame on John Elkington and shame on Kevin Kane.  Both are grown men who have extensive experience in the marketing of regional music and culture.  Both should know better than taking the good name and goodwill that Helena, Arkansas’ Sonny Boy Blues Society has built up for the name King Biscuit with their blues festival over the last twenty years and using it to promote a Memphis music festival.  By taking the name (through a lawsuit) and using it for a café and music festival on Beale St. in Memphis, Performa and their partners have committed a serious marketing blunder as well as played regional dirty pool.  The name “resonates well in the region” because the folks down river from us in Arkansas have spent over twenty years promoting the name with arguably the best (free) blues festival in the world. 

There are a many reasons why taking the name is wrong.  First of all, King Biscuit has no history — real or imagined — in Memphis nor on Beale Street.  It was a product sponsoring a radio station broadcasting from Helena, Arkansas, and then, more recently, a music festival promoting our neighbors just West and down the river.  Second of all, it is stealing someone else’s culture — namely Helena, Arkansas. 

Not too long ago there was a great little marketing campaign in Memphis that said, “Start Something Great in Memphis.”  The folks at Performa have nuanced it to “Steal something great that has nothing to do with Beale St. from our neighbors across the river and pretend it is a piece of Memphis history.”  Third, Memphis can  promote its own music festival with many great historical options to choose names from:  B.B. King, Rufus Thomas (and Bones!), Tuff Green, Nat D. Williams, Willie Mitchell, Al Green, Memphis Blues, Memphis Soul, Memphis Gospel, Beale St. Ramble (or Rumble!), Stax, Hi, or, if you rally want to name your festival after a product that sponsored blues radio shows in the fifties, the Peptikon Festival.  If you cannot be creative, hire someone who can.

Music fans throughout the world know the rightful owner of this King Biscuit name even if these business leaders in Memphis do not.  There is legally right and there is wrong.  

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