You have spoken. Several months ago, we asked the readers of the JFP to choose who deserves Best of Jackson kudos for this past year. You responded, in droves. (And we're cross-eyed from counting ballots to prove it!) Some of the winners may surprise you; many are newcomers this year; some are perennial favorites and won last year. You chose these winners, and we think you did a wonderful job, honoring people, businesses and groups from throughout the Jackson area for their efforts and hard work to make this city the best she can be. We truly appreciate your participation, and suspect that the winners do, too. Next time you see one of our festive Best-of awards hanging on someone's wall, thank them for helping the city build toward a glorious future. And, yes, the lobbying for the 2005 awards can begin right now. — Ed.
Best Author: Eudora Welty
Tender. Funny. Gentle. Brilliant. All these qualities were on display when I saw Miss Eudora at Bill's Greek Tavern one Sunday night in 1995. She was 86, her silvery hair glowing, surrounded by a coterie of a dozen international journalists. Otherwise, the place was empty.
Our companions that night were Willie Morris and his wife, JoAnne, and when I looked through the front window of the restaurant and saw who was already inside, I felt as if God was on my shoulder, waving a literary magic wand, and I was almost senseless with amazement that this confluence was happening in a small restaurant on a side street in Jackson, Miss.
"It's Eudora," Willie said. He went to speak to her, leaving Joanne, my husband, Randy, and me to wonder what they were saying, the two writers whispering back and forth to each other, Willie serious-faced and Eudora bright-eyed like a small white bird.
When Willie returned, he didn't offer a clue about the conversation. It wasn't until Eudora and her journalist friends slowly promenaded past us and out the door, that he leaned over the table, his eyes sparkling, and said, "Eudora wanted to know the football scores. She wanted to know if the Minnesota Vikings were winning."
Soon after this, he wrote an article about her for Southern Living. He said Eudora, "…in her quiet, comprehending and, yes, passionate words, is right here with us as she always has been. She is the real thing."
— Ruth Campbell Williams
Second place: Greg Iles and Jill Conner Browne (tie) • Third place: Mike Padilla (playwright)
Good showing: Nevada Barr, Scott Morris
Best Artist: Wyatt Waters
(307 Jefferson St., Clinton, 925-8115)
Years ago, at a charity art auction, my wife and I bid on and won a deal called "Wyatt Waters Paints Your Home." The arrangement was that Wyatt would come out to our house and paint whatever view of it we requested. Since our house front looks like the one we all drew in first grade, we asked Wyatt to paint what we believed to be a more artistically interesting view, our backyard walk in springtime. In his customary gentle tones Wyatt agreed with us, but recommended that he come back in six months and work in the sweltering heat of August, because that's when our crepe myrtle would be in full bloom.
Because the light angles were best when those August days were hottest, that's the time Wyatt picked to do his magic. His finished piece—graced with those much-anticipated pink-red blossoms—became one of our best-loved possessions, but we treasured our newfound friendship with Wyatt even more.
Wyatt Waters' signature watercolors feature subjects we all care about—a lot—and cause us to care about them even more. Wyatt paints Mississippi's historic buildings and neighborhoods, familiar scenes we've known and passed for years, but appreciate anew after we view them through Wyatt's eye and brush. Wyatt connects so well with others, not only as an artist but as a fellow human being.
Take some time to go by Wyatt's gallery in Olde Towne Clinton. Visit a spell with him while you're there—you'll see.
— Mark Wiggs
Second place: Anthony DiFatta
Third place: Ellen Langford
Good showing: Michele Campbell, Patrick Grogan
Best Radio Station: PRM/MPB
Many years ago, PRM came under fire for its staid programming from a local weekly, a publication whose editorial policy at that time consisted primarily of pricking the haunches of local intentions. But in that particular instance, the needling turned out to be superfluous. In the final analysis, even the editor had to admit that, indeed, PRM offered a smorgasbord of audio options and not just endless hours of Beethoven, Bach and Brahms.
Now rechristened as Mississippi Public Broadcasting (MPB) partly in order to provide a higher profile to its member stations, MPB still offers the same wonderful national programming we have come to love—"Morning Edition," "Car Talk," "Market Place" and "Fresh Air," along with many, many others—and still (thank God) offers many hours of classical music during which this listener, for one, finds effortless satisfaction and edification, largely due to the wonderfully eloquent crew of jockeys. Not only that, MPB offers local programming such as "Music and Conversation," "Statewide Live," "Night Train," " Grassroots," Thacker Mountain Radio … the list goes on. Recently they have instituted a series of entertaining, informative morning call-in talk shows between 10 and 11 a.m. that cover a spectrum of subjects.
The Radio Reading Service of Mississippi (RRSM) also works under MPB. This service features on-the-air readings of newspapers, books and magazines for persons who are unable to read the printed word, either because of visual handicaps or because of other physical handicaps, such as the inability to turn pages. It is a vital service, and one that demands far, far more public support than it receives.
Considering the contributions these people make to the state, I think the people who work with MPB need raises, and I'm proud to be the first outside of their offices to say so. An exhaustive listing for the activities of this vital state agency can be found at their handsome and easily-navigated Web site: http://www.etv.state.ms.us — Jesse Yancy
Second place: Rock 93.9 FM
Third place: WJSU and Arrow 94 (WTYX 94.7) (tie)
Best Radio Personality: Cory & Wendy (96.3 FM)
Sound familiar: Mighty John's weekly assessments of listeners' old record collections, the latest celebrity scoop from "Nashville News with Jimmy Carter," and a little James Dobson's "Focus on the Family" thrown in for good measure? If so, then you've been listening to Cory and Wendy on the way to work on US 96.3 —"The Country Music Authority." Better known as the Breakfast Club, this morning duo bears little resemblance to the sullen teen stars in the movie of the same name. They're upbeat, but not obnoxious; informative, but not self-righteous. The folksy twang of their Southern accents appropriately heralds the next country favorite hitting the turntable. Aside from the usual contests and call-in quiz games, Cory and Wendy add something else to the listening experience: genuine fun. They honestly seem to be enjoying their jobs and talking to listeners minus the cynicism that's a prerequisite for some radio personality jobs. See, it's good to be country—whether it's cool or not.
— Jennifer Spann
Second place: Nick & E.J. (Y101) • Third place: Ginger G Rock (93.9 FM)
Good showing: JT & Dave (WFMN), Brad Stephens (Rock 93.9) and Charles Evers (90.1, WMPR)
Best Newscast: WLBT
Best News Anchor: Maggie Wade, WLBT
WLBT-TV3 is Mississippi's favorite television station with more than 900,000 viewers in Central Mississippi. So it comes as little surprise that the station's newscast is the favorite among JFP readers. Indeed, the top three people on readers' list of favorite news anchors are all from WLBT: Maggie Wade, Howard Ballou and Wilson Stribling. Wade and Ballou also placed 1-2 in last year's JFP poll.
Wade and Ballou are both familiar faces to Jackson-area viewers. They have each been on the air in Jackson for more than 15 years, which is both a result of and a factor in WLBT's ratings success. By comparison, WAPT and WJTV have had a revolving door of newscast talent.
Wade and Ballou anchor the 6 and 10 p.m. newscasts, making Jackson one of the few TV markets in the nation with two African-American anchors.
Wade is perhaps best-known for her award-winning Wednesday's Child segment. The weekly feature profiles a foster child who needs a permanent home and has been credited with more than 1,000 adoptions.
— Buck Weaver
NEWSCAST: Second place: WAPT • Third place: WJTV
ANCHOR: Second place: Howard Ballou • Third place: Wilson Stribling
Good showing: Bert Case, Erin Pickens
Best Hair on a TV Personality: Barbie Bassett, WLBT
I cannot imagine what it is like for a hometown celebrity such as Barbie Bassett, WLBT's Chief Storm Chaser a.k.a. Meteorologist, a Mississippi College grad from Marks, Miss. When I e-mailed Barbie that she was a finalist in the "Best Hair" category, she responded that a viewer had just e-mailed her that she needed to change her hair and make-up! Tough critics. She maintains, "What you see is what you get, no matter if you see me in Wal-Mart, church or on television giving the weather." That doesn't mean she can wear her hair anyway she wants, though. "My favorite hairstyle was the 'shag,' Farrah Fawcett's long layers. Even though I got more compliments on that hairstyle, the TV consultant told me to cut it."
Barbie's salon preference is Mac's Barber College in Richland. "Mac has been cutting and styling my hair for 14 years. And get this, he charges $14! I never walk away disappointed." Raised on a farm by parents who taught her to be "real," Barbie has won three state beauty pageants and one national title. As she puts it, "Losers wear a frown; smilers wear a crown."
— Beth Smith
Second place: Bert Case • Third place: Maggie Wade • Good showing: Melanie Christopher
Best Musician: Eddie Cotton
It should be no surprise that Eddie Cotton topped the readers poll in this category. The blues singer/guitarist, like the JFP, has a great crossover appeal, and has inspired Jackson music fans desperate for an original blues artist who lives up to the reputation that Mississippi has long had for being a wellspring of this most American musical genre. Cotton's great recordings and legendary live shows are gaining national attention, and deservedly so. Cotton's playing and singing—as well as his classic good looks—bode for even bigger and greater things. Congrats, Eddie!
Barry Leach also scored well with our readers. Leach's guitar playing is simply world class, and he has long been a driving force behind such fine bands as the legendary Vamps and the Big House Trio. This year, Barry threw us a curve with a new CD release, "Stepfingers"—a mostly solo guitar work that is contemplative, technically brilliant and beautifully conceived. If there is a more deeply musical guitar player in Mississippi, I don't know him or her.
Sherman Lee Dillon didn't do too badly in the JFP poll, or the Mississippi gubernatorial campaign, either. Dillon's folksy, bluesy thang is a Jackson staple, whether he's playing his resonator guitar, or resonating with voters on Green Party issues. Keep on keepin' on, Sherman—we appreciate your music and the fact that you cared enough about Mississippi to give the governor's mansion a shot.
Scene newcomer harmonica player Scott Albert Johnson, a Jackson native who recently came home again, showed his flair for marketing and promotion by scoring solidly in the JFP poll. Without the benefit of a CD release, or many live performances of his own, the ubiquitous Johnson—who has been showing up with his harp at any and every music venue, waiting for a chance to hop onstage and blow—has created a buzz in the Jackson scene.
My two cents: Living Better Electrically, oddly, did not make the top four—no doubt showing that the band's legion of fans have great taste, but were such slackers that they couldn't be bothered to vote!
— Eric Stracener
Second place: Scott Albert Johnson
Third place: Barry Leach and Sherman Lee Dillon (tie)
Best Charity: Stewpot (353-2759)
Whenever you begin fulfilling your generic New Year's resolution to "Give something back," Stewpot Community Services offers all kinds of tangible ways to make that happen. Stewpot started in 1981 as a soup kitchen, but has since developed a broad menu of critical services for the metro area, including Brumfield House (overnight shelter for homeless men), Sims' House (transitional shelter for homeless women and children), and Matt's House (emergency shelter for women and children). Other important Stewpot activities include the Summer Children's Camp, the Personal Care Homes Ministry, a clothes closet and a food pantry.
Stewpot delivers all this and more with minimal overhead: According to the Mississippi Secretary of State's 2003 report on charitable organizations, 93 percent of Stewpot's collections went directly to its charitable purposes, only 7 percent to administration and fundraising.
Maintaining that outstanding service-delivery ratio requires many committed volunteers. So even if you don't have piles of money or extra stuff to donate to Stewpot, offer some of your time. Begin at Stewpot's Central Urban Ministry Center on West Capitol Street by helping dish up the daily lunch (call 353-2759 to tell them when you'd like to volunteer). Then sit down and visit with some of the folks you've just served. For once you've been together with the people there, you'll understand that Stewpot is far more than a collection of programs: Stewpot IS community.
Our second-place finishers, Operation Shoestring and Mississippi Animal Rescue League, likewise rank very high in the secretary of state's fund-raising ratio statistics (87 percent and 98 percent to their charitable purposes, respectively). Operation Shoestring, celebrating its 35th anniversary last year, provides its After School Program and Summer Kids' Camp on Bailey Avenue in the Mid-City/Georgetown neighborhood. And anyone who loves a rocking party should hope Shoestring will reprise its 12-act music benefit from last December!
As for the third-place winner, don't forget the Hearts Against AIDS benefit at Hal & Mal's on Feb. 14.
— Mark Wiggs
Second place: Operation Shoestring (353-6336) and Mississippi Animal Rescue League (9969-1631) Third place: Hearts Against AIDS
Good showing: Good Samaritan (355-6276), Blair E. Batson Hospital for Children (984-2147)
Best Columnist: Orley Hood, The Clarion-Ledger
We can only handle so much bad news. On those days when we've scanned the newspaper and finally decided to acknowledge our latest dead American soldier or mugging victim—or the latest horrible congressional bill designed to crush the middle class is revealed to us, we eagerly turn to our city's columnists.
Like a good cartoon, columnists serve a purpose. There are the news analysts, like Bill Minor, Sid Salter and others, and then there are writers like Clarion-Ledger Southern Style columnist Orley Hood. People like Minor have made a well-respected place for themselves (though I secretly wonder why the guy who talked Rep. Robert Clark into not abandoning his lone black legislative seat amid the hostile gaggle of racist crackers running the Capitol back in the 1960s didn't place any higher than third).
Others have their place in news. Sid Salter is the reigning champion of the right wing in Mississippi, while Donna Ladd spends each morning suiting up in her own ungainly, spiky, battle armor, preparing to pounce any bully who dares push that weird Jackson kid around in the schoolyard. Wanna see a chick blow a gasket a la Howard Dean? Say the words "JPD" and "Clarion-Ledger" in the same sentence in front of her.
When news rolls out of the paper and over us like a runaway log, there is Hood to remind us how delicate humans really are, and how much we soft, hairless gorillas really need each other to survive when it comes down to it. Thanks Orley. Keep up the good work. — Joe Jackson
Second place: Donna Ladd (JFP)
Third place: Bill Minor (syndicated) and Sid Salter (Clarion-Ledger) (tie)
Good Showing: Eric Stringfellow and Rick Cleveland (The Clarion-Ledger)
Brian Fry and Jennifer Spann (JFP)
Best Spoken Word: Jolivette Anderson
Jolivette Anderson, the loving, loud and loquacious woman who won Best Poet last year, left Jackson in 2003. Kind of. Although now teaching in Ohio, she is still with us in spirit, in e-mail and sometimes in person. She sends activist updates and is organizing a literary cruise to Jamaica this summer.
Here in Jackson, Jolivette was the heart and soul of the poetry movement for years. She is soft and tough, working with us to help build a multi-racial creative class in Jackson, even as she wrote and performed poetry that skewered whites for our role in the oppression of blacks. At last year's Best of Jackson party with a moment's notice, she recited a loving tribute to the love and strubbles of her father back home in Louisiana. Jolivette lost her father early this year, and our love goes out to her during her mourning. She also deserves our deepest appreciation for joining with us before we'd ever published an issue to help the JFP become what it needed to be: a paper for all of Jackson. We love you and miss you, girl.
— Donna Ladd
Second place: John Maxwell • Third place: C. Liegh McInnis
Good showing: C.A. Webb, Collage
Best Educator: Bob Moses
This is one of those categories that draws dozens of choices, as most people vote for their favorite teachers. But for the second year in a row, one person has stood above all the others: the New Yorker-turned-Mississippian Bob Moses. I believe Mr. Moses keeps winning due to both his past and his present. As the leader of Mississippi Freedom Summer 40 years ago, as much as any one person, Moses forced white Mississippians to face our own humanity and allow blacks to vote and participate in their state, too. And, today, he quietly works at Lanier High School, surrounded by determined teachers and students, to help the dream of education come alive for young people whose chances are against society's odds. Mr. Moses could live, and teach, anywhere he wants, but he chooses to run the Algebra Project right here in Jackson, in the heart of the state that needs him the most. Thank the Good Lord for Mr. Moses.
— Donna Ladd
Second place: Thomas Garrett (Holmes Community College, Ridgeland)
Third place: Wanda Macon Morgan (JSU) and Robert McElwaine (Millsaps) (tie)
Good showing: Life, Lucy Hansford (JPS), Dr. George Bey (Millsaps), Jimmy Mumford (JSU), Donna Ladd
Best High School Band: Murrah
With 22 students selected during competitions last week to play in the prestigious All-City Band—the most of any high school in Jackson—it's no wonder that JFP readers have chosen Murrah as having the best high school band in the land. Under the leadership of band director Bryan Jefferson and drum majors Julius Fleming and Vanessa Daniels, the band garnered all-superior ratings during last fall's citywide band competition and is currently gearing up to compete in the state festival set for April 1 in Pearl.
Outstanding music education has long been a hallmark of the North Jackson school which counts among its graduates internationally renowned jazz singer Cassandra Wilson (Class of '73).
Jefferson, who is in his second year as director (having previously served as an assistant band director Forest Hill High School and Northwest Middle School) credits former director Eddie Peasant for setting high standards at the school. "I know Eddie was a very good teacher so I was excited to be able to come and take over where he left off," Jefferson says. He credits the band's popularity to a willingness to give the fans the music they want. "We relate well to a wide variety of audiences—those who like contemporary music as well as those who prefer more traditional corps-style marching tunes." Among their most popular songs this year have been a tribute to Bob Marley and a medley of '70s and '80s pop songs.
And what of "The Horse," a staple (off and on) of the Murrah Band ever since 1968 when it was recorded by Cliff Nobles and Co.? Generations of Murrah graduates have symbolized the tune as a tribute to the school mascot: the Mustangs. "I plan on bringing that back next year," Jefferson says. "A lot of alumni constantly ask me about that song.
— Ed Inman
Second place: Pearl High School
Third place: Callaway High School
Good showing: Provine, Madison Central, Brandon and Jim Hill
Best Community Activist: Frank Melton
Many words can be used to describe Frank Melton. Quiet, lazy or boring would not be among them. Often criticized for his rather unconventional style of leadership, Melton is a man of action. Give or take a few missteps as director of the Mississippi Bureau of Narcotics, his lack of criminal justice experience was quickly overshadowed by his tenacity and heart for putting criminals behind bars. His inability to mince words as both a commentator on WLBT and community leader has certainly cost Melton a few friends in the past. But the smiling faces of the boys and girls at the Farish Street YMCA where he volunteers during the summer more than compensates for those losses. That so-called flaw has also earned him the respect of Jacksonians who appreciate what he is trying to accomplish: a better, safer Jackson (and Mississippi) now and for the future. Most of us can still picture Melton sitting in a lawn chair scoping out drug traffickers and other violators. Traditional, no. Results, yes. And that, my friends, is the bottom line!
Second place: Donna Ladd
Third place: William Winter
Good showing: Rims Barber, Camp Best, Sherman Lee Dillon
Best Church Choir: First Baptist Church of Jackson
Among church-going folks, Southern ones in particular, it can often be said that people go to church just to hear the choir. However, without a strong spiritual message that touches people on an intimate level, the sweetest chorus couldn't keep them there. The Sanctuary Choir at First Baptist Church of Jackson seems to epitomize today's evolving attitude toward worship and praise through music. Balancing traditional hymns with contemporary praise songs, the choir strives to reach listeners of all ages and every level of spiritual maturity. That can be a real challenge sometimes. From ABC to WGN, the choir has performed and been televised across the country, recorded a CD and its annual Christmas program, "Carols By Candlelight," has become a holiday tradition. Despite the jokes about Six Flags over Jesus or First National Baptist, the church and its music ministry charge forward to fulfill their mission: reaching the world for Christ.
— Jennifer Spann
Second place: Wells United Methodist Church
Third place: Greater Mt. Calvary Baptist Church and St. James Episcopal (tie)