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Foundation's Mission Is Support, Preservation of R&B Music, Artists

February 23, 1993|DON HECKMAN

The Washington-based Rhythm & Blues Foundation celebrates its fourth annual Pioneer Awards Thursday night at the Palace as an official part of Grammy week. The list of presenters includes En Vogue, Hammer, Natalie Cole, Boyz II Men, Branford Marsalis, Jimmy Scott and Bonnie Raitt.

Recipients of this year's Pioneer Awards, in addition to Hadda Brooks, are Solomon Burke, Dave Clark, Floyd Dixon, "Panama" Francis, Lowell Fulson, Erskine Hawkins, Wilson Pickett, Carla Thomas and Jimmy Witherspoon, as well as Little Anthony & the Imperials and Martha & the Vandellas.

Individual artists will receive $15,000 grants; groups will be given $20,000. James Brown also will be presented a non-monetary Lifetime Achievement Award.

Tickets for the event are still available at the Palace box office.

Now in its fourth year of operation, the Rhythm & Blues Foundation is a nonprofit organization whose mission is the recognition, financial support and historical and cultural preservation of R&B music and artists. Originally endowed in 1988 with $1.5 million from Atlantic Records and $450,000 from Warner Communications, it has since acquired funding from, among others, Sony, Polygram, MTV, BMI, ASCAP and the National Endowment for the Arts.

"We can't go back and change the fact that most of these artists failed to receive much in the way of royalties for their work," explained singer Bonnie Raitt, vice chairwoman of the foundation's board of trustees.

"There's no reason to point fingers anymore over the inequities that took place in the past, but what we can do is invite the industry and our fellow artists to donate money to a nonprofit organization that will funnel the money, not only into the annual awards, but also into much-needed, day-in, day-out financial and medical assistance."

The foundation provides, on a continuing basis, funds ranging from emergency rent payments to dental work and wheelchairs. In 1992, more than $150,000 was contributed toward the medical bills of former Motown singer Mary Wells, and a headstone was supplied for the grave of David Ruffin of the Temptations.

"I just don't think I'd be able to sleep well at night," Raitt said, "if I knew that someone whose music I love, and whose songs I've covered, was having trouble getting by. And that's what the foundation is all about."

There has not, however, been universal approval of the foundation's activities. Joyce McRae, a veteran R&B producer and personal manager, as well as a former member of the organization's board of trustees, questions what she sees as a lack of fairness and equity in the foundation's failure to establish an industry-wide standard for the resolution of back royalty issues. She also objects to the decision to change the Pioneer Awards ceremony from a free, open-to-the-public program to an admission-only event.

Howell Begel, the foundation's first executive director and a current member of the board of trustees, responds that there are many different views, both inside and outside the organization, regarding the operating methods and the mission of the foundation. Both agree that the welfare of R&B artists is, and should continue to be, the paramount concern.

The Rhythm & Blues Foundation accepts donations and publishes a newsletter. Its emergency assistance hot-line number is (800) 258-3799. For further information, contact the Foundation at 14th and Constitution Avenue NW, Room 4603, MRC 657, Washington, D.C. 20560.

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