The Rise of the Minneapolis Sound at the Fitzgerald Theater

The full cast of the Rise of the Minneapolis Sound
The full cast of the Rise of the Minneapolis Sound backstage at the Fitzgerald Theater on October 28, 2017 (Steve Cohen for The Current)
The Rise of the Minneapolis Sound
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| 01:02:19
  • The Rise of the Minneapolis Sound 01:02:19
  • PaviElle, "Tears on My Pillow" 03:21
  • Wee Willie Walker and PaviElle, "There Goes My Used to Be" 03:30
  • Wee Willie Walker, "I Ain't Gonna Cheat On You No More" 02:54
  • Wee Willie Walker, "Ticket to Ride" 02:51
  • Wanda Davis, "Take Care" 03:34
  • Wanda Davis, "Save Me" 02:24
  • The Valdons, "All Day Long" 02:31
  • The Valdons, "People Users" 03:52
  • The Valdons, "Love Me or Leave Me" 04:18
  • All-Star Tribute, "Bring it on Home to Me" 07:32
  • Andre Cymone, "Sock-A-Poo-Poo '69" 04:16
  • Andre Cymone, "Soft and Wet" 03:06
  • Andre Cymone, "I Wanna Be Your Lover" 02:38
  • Nooky Jones, "Silent Lover" 02:31
  • Andre Cymone, "Uptown" 05:15

On Saturday, October 28, 2017, musicians from three generations of Twin Cities funk and soul music gathered on stage at the Fitzgerald Theater for an unforgettable night of music, laughter, tears, and history.

The occasion was the launch of my new book, Got to Be Something Here: The Rise of the Minneapolis Sound, but as I said at the outset of the show, the evening was about much more than a book -- it was a tribute to the incredible musicians who made immeasurable contributions to our musical heritage in Minnesota. All told, there was over 60 years of Minnesota soul music represented on one stage, from Wee Willie Walker, who began his career in the late 1950s, to contemporary stars like PaviElle and Cameron Kinghorn.

Kinghorn's band, Nooky Jones, held it down as the house band all evening, and they helped to weave together a historical narrative that began with Minnesota's first R&B single, the Big M's "Silent Lover," and evolved into an underground soul scene in the '60s, a more experimental funk scene in the '70s, and ultimately exploded with Prince's breakout in the early '80s.

For a more specific rundown of the concert, here is an excerpt from Cecilia Johnson's recap of the evening:

When I think about "The Rise of the Minneapolis Sound," I'll remember watching Cameron Kinghorn explode into song with his band, Nooky Jones. They performed "Minneap'lis Minnesota" by Rufus Lumley, "Silent Lover" by the Big M's, and "It's You For Me" by the Amazers to kick off the show. Then, they melted into the background to hold it down as house band.

I'll remember hearing contemporary artist PaviElle shout, "Love you, Sonny!" before performing her mentor's "Tears on My Pillow" from 1965. Like soul singer Sonny Knight, who passed away this year, PaviElle comes from the Rondo neighborhood of St. Paul. As Swensson explained on stage and in her book, the stretch was bulldozed to make room for I-94 in the late 1950s, displacing about 80% of its residents, who were primarily black.

Watching Wanda Davis, the "Minnesota Queen of Soul," shimmer as she sang "Take Care" and "Save Me." Years after performing with red-hot band Maurice McKinnies and the Blazers, Davis blushed as the crowd jumps to applaud her. She flew all the way from Dallas, Texas to appear on this stage.

Watching Andre Cymone pull moves I've never seen from him as he performs Maurice McKinnies's "Sock-a-Poo-Poo '69." He played call-and-response with trombonist Ryan Christianson and trumpeter Adam Meckler, singing, "Sock it to me one time! Sock it to me two times!" with impassioned screams. Meckler and Christianson fired off a series of oh-so-satisfying horn blasts.

Watching the Valdons reunite on stage for the first time in 36 years. The four men wailed in their matching blue suits, playful and earnest, resurrecting their 1960s heyday for a 2017 crowd. Their harmonies sent a shiver down my spine during "I Who Have Nothing," originally recorded by Ben E. King.

Watching Wee Willie Walker, fresh off the plane from a musical cruise, stroll onstage in a good mood and an iridescent suit. PaviElle sang opposite him during "There Goes My Used to Be," a song that turned 50 this year.

Watching Swensson interview Joe Lewis, JT Apollo (aka Jeffrey Tresvant), and Ronald Bronson of the original Family, a band name Prince would repurpose for his 1980s group. The Family recounted their recording session at Sound 80, a studio so state-of-the-art that when word got out they were working there, they said, chuckling, "the group grew."

Watching the crowd surge with warmth for Prince, a man who could not be at this celebration of his friends and forebears, but whose presence occupied hearts and minds nonetheless. Cymone performed three early Prince songs, "Soft and Wet," "I Wanna Be Your Lover," and "Uptown." Swensson joked about Prince's world-famous side-eye, pointing to a picture after she read Dick Clark's infamous American Bandstand line: "This isn't the kind of music that comes out of Minneapolis!"

Lastly, I'll always remember the last song of the night, a total surprise that brought every artist back on stage to sing for Sonny Knight. "Sonny loved this song," Swensson said, and as his picture appeared on-screen, Nooky Jones started up Sam Cooke's "Bring It on Home To Me." Cymone and PaviElle shared a verse, as did Willie Walker and Wanda Davis; the Valdons sang another. Members of the Family nodded at each other and shared a thumbs-up. Swensson swayed and sang, and the whole crew exchanged hugs at the end of this historic night.


8 Photos

  • Wanda Davis, Andre Cymone, and PaviElle
    Wanda Davis, Andre Cymone, and PaviElle (Steve Cohen for The Current)
  • Willie Walker and PaviElle
    Willie Walker and PaviElle duet on "There Goes My Used to Be" (Steve Cohen for The Current)
  • The Valdons
    The Valdons reuinite for their first show as a quartet in 36 years (Steve Cohen for The Current)
  • Andre Cymone
    Andre Cymone pays tribute to his childhood idol Maurice McKinnies with "Sock-A-Poo-Poo '69" (Steve Cohen for The Current)
  • Wanda Davis, the Minnesota Queen of Soul
    Wanda Davis, the Minnesota Queen of Soul (Steve Cohen for The Current)
  • PaviElle and Cameron Kinghorn of Nooky Jones
    PaviElle and Cameron Kinghorn of Nooky Jones (Steve Cohen for The Current)
  • Host Andrea Swensson
    Host Andrea Swensson narrates a story about Sonny Knight (Steve Cohen for The Current)
  • The Rise of the Minneapolis Sound
    Members of the original Family Band (from left, Joe Lewis, Ronald Bronson, and JT Apollo) join the cast for an all-star tribute to Sonny Knight (Steve Cohen for The Current)