Bessie Smith Strut moves to Riverbend

Bessie Smith Strut moves to Riverbend

March 29th, 2012 by Cliff Hightower , Barry Courter in News

Anna King looks into the sun while participating in The Bessie Smith Strut during the fourth day of Riverbend 2011 in this file photo.

Photo by Dan Henry/Times Free Press.

POLL: Do you agree with the decision to move the Bessie Smith Strut?

The Bessie Smith Strut will move from M.L. King Boulevard to the Riverbend Festival site this year, according to festival Executive Director Chip Baker.

The decision was prompted by a request from the city, Baker said Wednesday.

"We were told to move the site by the city," he said.

Richard Beeland, spokesman for Mayor Ron Littlefield, confirmed Wednesday that the city had requested the move. He said more details from the city would come out today.

"We have asked Friends of the Festival on relocating the Strut, and they've been very gracious with working with us," he said.

The city has seen a rash of gang-related shootings over the last several months.

A source close to the decision said public safety is a predominant issue with the move of the Strut this year.

Baker said Friends of the Festival officials felt obligated to do what the city asked.

"We are partners with the city and the county in everything we do and we will honor that request," he said. "Our relationship with them is very important."

The decision to move the Strut was made Wednesday afternoon, Baker said, and festival organizers want to "preserve the history of the Bessie Smith name."

The Strut, the city's largest block party, is named after Chattanooga native Bessie Smith, a singer who was known as the Empress of Blues.

The event, featuring blues and jazz artists, barbecue and beer, started almost three decades ago. Over the Strut's history, authorities have made numerous arrests on charges of assault and disorderly conduct, according to newspaper archives.

But the most high-profile incident happened on the night of June 8, 2003, when 20-year-old Tory Hardy was shot and killed at the intersection of 10th and Foster streets after the Strut. Rheubin Taylor II, son of County Attorney Rheubin Taylor, and Timothy Beasley were later convicted of voluntary manslaughter in the shooting.

Jessica Dinning, manager of Champy's Famous Fried Chicken on M.L. King Boulevard, said Wednesday she had not heard the Strut would be moving, but said she didn't agree with the decision.

She said the Strut should be next to the Bessie Smith Cultural Center on M.L. King Boulevard because both share the name of the legendary blues vocalist.

"If they move the Strut, it will take away the meaning," she said.

Dinning also scoffed at the idea of gang activity at the Strut. Violence, she said, can occur anywhere.

"That could transfer the gang activity [to the Riverbend site]," she said. "It may not matter where you put it."

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