Estelle Brown named to Hall of Master Folk Artists

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NATCHITOCHES – Estelle Brown, a member of the Sweet Inspirations, famous for backing up Elvis Presley on tour, will be inducted into the Louisiana Folklife Hall of Master Folk Artists at the 39th Annual Natchitoches-NSU Folk Festival, which will be held on July 20-21 in Prather Coliseum on the Northwestern State University campus.

Brown will make several appearances at the Festival. First, Brown will take part in the welcome ceremony at 12:15 p.m. on Saturday July 21, at which time she and her fellow members of the 2018 Louisiana Folklife Hall of Master Folk Artists class will be inducted. Inductees include Brown’s fellow band mate in Elvis Presley’s band, Rock and Roll Hall of Famer guitarist James Burton, local musician/promoter/philanthropist Rodney Harrington, the late folk artist Clementine Hunter, musician and craftsman Hilton Lytle, rockabilly musician Jim Oertling and Elvis Presley’s original drummer, D.J. Fontana.

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Brown will next appear along with Mr. Burton in a session entitled “Memories of the King” from 2:30 p.m. to 3:15 p.m., during which Brown and Burton will discuss their legendary careers and particularly their time spent travelling and recording with Presley. Harrington will act as moderator of this session.

The Festival will conclude with Brown and Burton, along with Grammy winner and Cajun folk artist Jo-El Sonnier, as guests of Johnny Earthquake and The Moondogs in the Festival’s grand finale concert.  The concert will include a tribute to Presley featuring a recreation of the King’s Vegas-style show.

“It is our honor to induct Estelle Brown into the Hall of Master Folk Artists,” said Dr. Shane Rasmussen, director of the Louisiana Folklife Center and the Natchitoches-NSU Folk Festival. “She has been an important creative force in the formation and history of several American musical genres, and her contributions are not only written on vinyl but on history itself. Her work will be loved and remembered for as long as people listen to the greats that she recorded with, or in other words, forever.”

Brown has been singing and performing for more than 60 years, and like many of the singers of her generation, she “cut her teeth” performing the soulful gospel hymns in the African-American church where she grew up. In the 60’s, when girl groups were popular, Brown’s friend and fellow gospel singer, Cissy Houston, asked her if she wanted to be a part of a female singing group she was forming, and do some background vocals for Atlantic Records artists. Brown readily agreed, and they brought in another couple of friends and The Sweet Inspirations were born. It wasn’t long before the Sweet Inspirations were playing regular gigs, getting a record deal, and recording their own music. In fact, the “Sweets” had a hit song on the charts in 1968 called, appropriately enough, “Sweet Inspirations.”

Over the next several years, the Sweet Inspirations kept busy performing and recording with some of the world’s greatest artists and their distinctive sound can be heard on some of the greatest records in the history of rock and roll. Some of the artists and just a few of the iconic recordings Brown and the Sweets appeared on are Aretha Franklin (“Chain of Fools,” “Natural Woman”), Van Morrison (“Brown Eyed Girl”), Dusty Springfield (“Son of a Preacher Man”), Dion Warwick (“Do You Know the Way to San Jose”, “Anyone Who Had A Heart”).  The girls even sang with Jimi Hendrix on his legendary “Electric Ladyland” album.  Over the years, Brown and the Inspirations have toured and performed with many of the artists they had recorded with, including Aretha Franklin, Dusty Springfield, the Bee Gees and Whitney Houston (Cissy’s daughter).

Brown and the Sweet Inspirations’ lives changed forever in 1969 when they received a call from Presley asking them to be a part of his touring band, which Elvis called the TCB Band, short for “Taking Care of Business.” Brown and the Sweets toured with Elvis until his untimely death in 1977, but appeared with Elvis on some of the iconic recordings at some of the most historic Elvis concerts in music history, including the “Aloha From Hawaii” concert.

Brown has toured and performed both individually and as a member of the Sweet Inspirations since Elvis’ death, and several years ago moved to Louisiana. Since moving to Shreveport, Brown has embraced Louisiana’s culture and music, and has become engrained in the North Louisiana music scene, performing regularly with her old TCB band mate, James Burton, as well as with Johnny Earthquake and the Moondogs.

Brown has made it her mission to spread the joy of music and the history of the music that she was so integrally involved in with the people of North Louisiana. Since she has moved to Louisiana, Brown has performed in concerts to raise money for music related charities such as the James Burton Foundation, the ArkLaTex Music Heritage Foundation, and the Natchitoches Jazz R&B Festival, as well as for St. Jude’s Children’s Hospital.

Each of Brown’s performances of becomes a mini documentary of her life and her role in the creation and recording of some of the greatest songs in music history as well as her life on the road with the King of Rock and Roll, the Queen of Soul and others. Brown and her story have been featured on Shreveport area stations and, she has gone into schools and spoken to school children to educate them about the history of rock and roll which she has been such an integral part.

The Festival will be held in air-conditioned Prather Coliseum located at 220 South Jefferson Street on the NSU campus in Natchitoches. The Festival will be held Friday July 20 from 4:30 p.m. until 10:15 p.m., and all day on Saturday July 21 from 8 a.m. until 10 p.m. The family-oriented festival is wheelchair accessible. Children 12 and under are admitted free of charge. For a full schedule of events, to purchase tickets, or for more information call (318) 357-4332, send an email to folklife@nsula.edu, or go to louisianafolklife.nsula.edu.

Support for the Fiddle Championship and the Festival is provided by grants from the Cane River National Heritage Area, Inc., the Louisiana Division of the Arts Decentralized Arts Fund Program, the Louisiana Office of Tourism, the Natchitoches Historic District Development Commission, the National Endowment for the Arts, the New Orleans Jazz and Heritage Festival and Foundation, and the Shreveport Regional Arts Council.

The Festival is also supported by generous sponsorships from Acme Refrigeration of Baton Rouge, Dr. James Arceneaux, Bank of Montgomery, Louie Bernard, City Bank, the City of Natchitoches, Cleco, John Conine; Corkern, Crews, Johnson & Guillet; CP-Tel, Delta Car Wash, Dan and Desirée Dyess, Georgia’s Gift Shop, La Capitol FCU, the Harrington Law Firm, Billy Joe Harrington, Jeanne’s Country Garden, Maglieaux’s Riverfront Restaurant, the Natchitoches Area Convention & Visitors Bureau, Natchitoches Wood Preserving, Inc., NSU Men’s Basketball, Page Builders, LLC, Sabine State Bank, R.V. Byles Enterprises, UniFirst, Dr. Michael Vienne, David and Shirley Walker, Waste Connections and Young Estate LLC.

Estelle Brown