Public hearing held in Prattville on ways to honor Wilson Pickett

City Council members convene to discuss options to honor Wilson Pickett - Photo by Marc Parker
City Council members convene to discuss options to honor Wilson Pickett - Photo by Marc Parker

Prattville – About 40 citizens attended the public hearing held Monday night at the City Hall from 6:00-7:00 PM, with the purpose of immortalizing the legacy of Wilson Pickett. Pickett was born on March 18, 1941, in Prattville, Alabama, the youngest of 11 children. He grew up singing in Baptist church choirs.

Known for his raspy, passionate delivery, Pickett recorded over 50 songs which made both the R&B and the Pop charts. Some of his best well-known hits are “In the Midnight Hour,” “Land of 1000 Dances,” “Mustang Sally,” and “Funky Broadway,” In 1991, Pickett was inducted into the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame and in 1993, he was honored with a Pioneer Award by the Rhythm and Blues Foundation.

Council President Dean Argo opened the meeting by talking about how one of Pickett’s sisters had contacted Councilman Willie Wood Jr. and himself a couple of years ago requesting that something be done to honor their family member.

A committee for the project was formed and many suggestions were discussed; a Wilson Pickett Day or a street named after the singer, a Pickett exhibit in the Prattaugan Museum, renaming the Creekwalk, etc. The purpose of this session Tuesday night was to give the entire community a chance to be involved in the project by giving the citizens of Prattville a chance to voice their ideas.

Autauga County Commissioner Sid Thompson of Prattville, was the first one to approach the microphone and she suggested turning Pickett’s house into a museum and even perhaps purchasing period-era furniture for the home.

Robert Strichik of Prattville, thought that a music festival might be the ideal way to honor Pickett. “Maybe local bands could be called upon to perform and perhaps it could be held in March when the weather is not too warm or too cold.” He also mentioned that maybe beer and alcohol could be sold at the festival.

Other suggestions and ideas included a monument or a bust at the Creekwalk area; a Wilson Pickett Walkway along the Creekwalk or an adjunct walkway off of the main one with a sitting area; and laughter was heard in the audience when Kim Evans said that someone suggested to him that the Bamboo Forest be renamed the “Wilson Pickett Thicket.”

Author/historian Richard Bailey of Montgomery, was next called upon to speak at the podium. Bailey is a civilian employee at Maxwell Air Force Base in Montgomery where he writes military historical books. In 1999, he penned his third book called They Too Call Alabama Home, in which he profiled the lives of more than 375 African Americans, Wilson Pickett included.

Bailey told the crowd that if we were not careful, someone else would claim Pickett as their hometown boy. So, he suggested that we could start off by honoring Pickett with an historic marker preferably close to the location of his home. The Chamber of Commerce could print brochures to let everyone know that Pickett was indeed from Prattville and inform others what the city is doing to honor him. “The more publicity gets out there about Wilson Pickett, the better,” Bailey said.

Council President Argo then asked Bailey what kind of event, in his opinion, would be better and would generate more public interest.

Bailey answered that, in his experience, local people do not read historical markers, but people who visit Prattville will ask the people where the marker is. The Autauga Board of Education could pick up on that and begin to include stories about Pickett in their textbooks… and then we can begin to touch more citizens. Bailey also reiterated that it would be a great idea to refurbish Pickett’s home and that it would serve as an excellent tourist attraction.

Council President Argo also asked Bailey how they could research Pickett just to make sure all of the information they had on him was accurate. Bailey answered by saying, “We can bring in the researchers and also talk to family members. You know, sometimes the memories of family members fall short and we have to rely on researchers for some of the small details. From several sources, we can come up with a story that will stand the test of time.”

Prattville Mayor Byard talks to Wilbur Terrell, Marcus Daniel, and Billy Armstrong at the hearing - Photo by Marc Parker
Prattville Mayor Byard talks to Wilbur Terrell, Marcus Daniel, and Billy Armstrong at the hearing - Photo by Marc Parker

A trio of singers, Marcus Daniel (of Montgomery), Billy Armstrong (of Prattville), and Wilbur Terrell (of Montgomery), spoke at the podium about how they once traveled with another African American singing legend, Clarence Carter (most well known for his Grammy nominated hit single “Patches”). Carter was a blind soul singer and musician who was born in 1936 in Montgomery, Alabama.

Daniel wrote the song, “Slip Away,” which was recorded by Carter in 1968, and also “Back Door Sally.” Daniel and Terrell, along with Carter, were also credited with writing “Tell Mama,” which was performed by Etta James.

When asked what he thought about Carter, Armstrong replied, “He was an astute musician and a great singer.” Armstrong was with Carter for five years; Daniel and Terrell were with him through the turbulent 60s. When asked what life on the road was like, Daniel laughed and replied, “We won’t talk about that, now… that’s the reason we’re back here!”

After the hearing was closed to the citizens, Council President Argo asked for comments from the rest of the Council. Councilman Bill Gillespie Jr. said that he liked the ideas of a statue or a music festival.

Councilman Nathan Fank liked all of the previous suggestions, but also added, “I think relocating Wilson Pickett’s home to Old Pratt Village would be an added tourist attraction for that area, and possibly have a marker and a museum in that same location.”

Councilman Ray Boles wanted to make sure that Pickett is honored in the best way possible, but for everyone to be aware that many of the ideas cost a lot of money. He suggested that perhaps they could charge $10 a ticket to the music festival and use that money to either pay for re-locating the home or a statue. He also contended that plaques up and down the Creekwalk stretching all the way to the amphitheater might be a good idea.

Council President Argo ended the hearing by saying that each suggestion would be discussed and taken into consideration and that he will make sure the media is contacted as to the date and time of a future meeting.

Article by Melissa Parker

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