Bessie Smith Strut backers optimistic

Bessie Smith Strut backers optimistic

April 14th, 2012 by Barry Courter in News

The Bessie Smith Cultural Center may take the lead role in the Bessie Smith Strut.

Photo by Ashlee Culverhouse/Times Free Press.

THE STORY SO FAR

• On March 29, Littlefield said concerns of crowd safety and potential violence prompted him to tell Friends of the Festival that the Bessie Smith Strut would have to move from M.L. King Boulevard to Riverbend's site at Ross's Landing on the Tennessee River.

• On Monday, Friends of the Festival board of directors voted not to hold the Strut, or any other type of event, on June 11 at the Riverbend site.

• On Tuesday, the mayor issued a memo detailing requirements to be met if the Strut were to be held on M.L. King Boulevard.


REQUIREMENTS

The following criteria must be met for the Bessie Smith Strut to take place on M.L. King Boulevard on June 11, according to a letter from Mayor Ron Littlefield to Moses Freeman and Walter Williams of the MLK Merchants Association:

• A qualified organization must take responsibility.

• The site must be completely fenced or otherwise addressed to control access.

• The locations of vendors must be controlled and all those selling food, drink or other items must be properly licensed.

Source: City of Chattanooga


BESSIE SMITH'S BIRTHDAY

The Bessie Smith Cultural Center will host a birthday party in honor of Bessie Smith, known as the Empress of the Blues, at 6 p.m. Sunday. Admission is $10.

The party will feature a performance by blues artist DieDra Ruff and the Ruff Pro band.

Bessie Smith, who grew up in Chattanooga, was born April 15, 1894. She died Sept. 26, 1937.

For more information, go to www.bessiesmithcc.org

Time to Strut.

At least in the eyes of Moses Freeman, the self-described point man in the middle of trying to keep the Bessie Smith Strut on M.L. King Boulevard. He said Friday he is "close to 100 percent certain" the Strut will be held this year on June 11.

Representatives from Friends of the Festival, which manages the Strut and Riverbend; the Bessie Smith Cultural Center; and the MLK Merchants Association have agreed to find a way to meet the requirements Mayor Ron Littlefield said are necessary to keep the Strut on M.L. King Boulevard, where it has been since 1982, Freeman said.

"We are making a lot of progress. I honestly believe that by Tuesday, we will put all of the pieces together," said Freeman, a past president of the Friends of the Festival board of directors, a resident of the MLK neighborhood and a member of the Bessie Smith Cultural Center.

Littlefield spokesman Richard Beeland said if the requirements are met, the Strut likely would happen.

"We are working with Moses and the group, and at this point it is looking like all requirements are going to be met," he said.

Friends of the Festival Executive Director Chip Baker said he is encouraged by the communication and progress that are taking place, but there is still work to be done.

"If we are in a long, dark tunnel, I see light at the end of it," he said. "I'm cautiously optimistic."

Freeman said the biggest hurdle is finalizing who will carry the insurance on the Strut. He thinks the Bessie Smith Cultural Center and Friends of the Festival will share the insurance responsibilities.

"I'm not exactly sure how it's going to work," Freeman said. "My guess is Riverbend will be the holder of the policy and there will be a rider involving the Bessie Smith Cultural Center. The agreement is there. What is not there are the details. That is what is being worked on now."

He said he thinks the center will become the "responsible party for the conduct of the Strut" and Riverbend will handle the event part of the evening.

"Vending, licensing, that sort of thing, will be done by the people at the Bessie Smith Center, and Riverbend will handle the stages, the music, the entertainment," he said.

The site would be fenced and a "minimal" admission charge would be required, he said.

Baker said that, once each item on the list is resolved -- if it can be -- the group will go back to the city and Hamilton County to present the plan.

Hamilton County Sheriff Jim Hammond said his department supplies between 20 and 30 deputies as added security for the Strut and other nights of Riverbend. If the Strut is held on M.L. King Boulevard and if the city asks for help from his department, he will do whatever the city asks, he said.

"They are the primary on this, and we will cooperate and work with them as we have in the past," he said.

Freeman said the next meeting of the Strut-planning group is Monday.

"I think the mood now is: Let's get it done," he said. "There is trust now. The main goal is having the Strut and having it in a safe, conducive environment with as much fun as in the past."