Pioneer Awards Honor R&B Artists

Despite being one-third of the Motown team that wrote hits for the Supremes, the Four Tops, and Marvin Gaye, Brian Holland finds it a bit strange to be honored at the 12th annual R&B Pioneer Award

Despite being one-third of the Motown team that wrote hits for the Supremes, the Four Tops, and Marvin Gaye, Brian Holland finds it a bit strange to be honored at the 12th annual R&B Pioneer Awards. "I never thought of myself as being a pioneer," says Holland, who as part of Holland-Dozier-Holland penned some of the all-time soul classics, including the Temptations hit, "Reach Out, I'll Be There" and the Supremes' "You Can't Hurry Love."

Still, he was last night's (Nov. 8) Pioneer Awards honorees. Also cited: Soul legend Al Green, who counts "Let's Stay Together" and "Tired of Being Alone" among his hits; Sly & the Family Stone, the psychedelic '70s funk band; and the Emotions, known for dance classics "Best of My Love" and "Boogie Wonderland."

The Pioneer Awards, which the Rhythm and Blues Foundation handed out at the famed Apollo Theater in New York, recognize those who have made a deep impact on the development of rhythm & blues. They also carry a cash prize of $20,000 for groups, and $15,000 for individual artists. The lifetime achievement award, which went to Green, comes with a $25,000 check.

But it's not just another awards ceremony; it's also a night of celebration, giving former stars a chance to relive past glory.

Last night's event was no different. Honoree Fontella Bass energized the crowd with a rendition of her hit "Rescue Me"; another honoree, saxophonist Big Jay McNeely, laid on his back with a glow-in-the-dark instrument during his colorful performance.

And Sly & the Family Stone -- minus the Sly -- had audience members on their feet jamming when their acceptance speech turned into an impromptu performance of their smash, "I Want to Take You Higher."

Sly Stone (real name: Sylvester Stewart) has lived in seclusion for years. His mother, Alfa Stewart, accepted the award on her son's behalf. His sister, Rose Stone, said the artist had considered coming to the ceremony, but his father's recent death and the terrorist attacks kept him at home in Los Angeles. Still, she said Stone appreciated the award. "He feels honored that his music is still being played and people feel about it the way they do enough to honor him in this way," she said.

Stone was not the only no-show. Green, who retired from secular music years ago to become a reverend, was absent from the ceremony. A spokeswoman for the awards show said he was ministering to a church member.

Other honorees include Dee Dee Sharp, whose hits included the dance song "Mashed Potato"; producer and songwriter Allen Toussaint, whose credits include the songs "Yes We Can," which the Pointer Sisters turned into the No. 1 hit "Yes We Can Can"; and late vocalist/saxophonist Louis Jordan, who had dozens of hits in the 1940s, including "Caldonia" and "Is You or Is You Ain't Ma Baby."

Lamont Dozier and brothers Eddie and Brian Holland had their heyday in the '60s and early '70s, defining the Motown sound with songs such as "Stop! In The Name Of Love," "How Sweet It Is (To Be Loved By You)," and "Jimmy Mack."

"I was more of a melody person, and Lamont was the melody and the lyrics," Brian Holland says. "Edward was primarily the lyrics."

While some of their counterparts wrote about social upheaval, the trio stuck to one universal theme. "Love at the particularly time was a great theme for most songs, and we primarily wrote love songs," Holland says.

Although they no longer write together as a group, the three remain close, and have considered working together again someday, although not to write songs -- they are mulling over plans to write a book.

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