Recording Academy Texas Chapter celebrates 25th year in grand style

By | July 19, 2019

Austin 360

Hanson singing “Mmmbop.” Paul Wall rapping “Sittin’ Sidewayz.” Midland playing “Drinkin’ Problem.” Yolanda Adams and Brian Courtney Wilson dueting on “You’ve Got a Friend.” Marcia Ball and her band, shining bright. Asleep at the Wheel cruising through “Miles and Miles of Texas.” Tejano legend Little Joe joining Los Texmaniacs. A full dinner set of Mexican folk sounds from the 12-piece Mariachi Campanas de America.

When the Recording Academy Texas Chapter celebrates a big milestone, they go all out in breaking down barriers between musical styles and genres. At ACL Live on Thursday night, the Grammys-associated regional organization put its best foot forward with a 25th-anniversary gala featuring dinner and speakers for tables full of sponsors and members on the venue’s floor, followed by a two-and-a-half-hour music program that was open to the public in the balcony levels.

The whole thing was the idea of Theresa Jenkins, who’s been the chapter’s executive director since 2004. Thursday’s celebration was bittersweet: During the speaker portion of the evening, Austin singer-songwriter Christine Albert, chair emeritus of the Recording Academy’s national board of trustees, revealed that Jenkins could not attend Thursday’s celebration because she’s been undergoing treatment for advanced esophageal cancer at M.D. Anderson in Houston.

Clearly beloved and appreciated by both artists and industry members alike, Jenkins received shoutouts from many of the performers during sets that generally featured two or three songs, to keep the admirably expansive program running on schedule. Albert also presented Jenkins’ daughters with a special certificate of appreciation. Adams, an award-winning gospel singer from Houston who’s now the Texas Chapter’s president, spoke eloquently about Jenkins’ spirit, saying that she’d “received firsthand instructions from Queen T, as we call her, that the show must go on.”

And it did, in grand fashion. An early hiccup — Grammy-winning accordionist Flaco Jimenez was supposed to join Little Joe and Los Texmaniacs for their set, but was a last-minute no-show — soon was forgotten as the music rolled on with rapid set changes. Asleep at the Wheel leader Ray Benson, who played an integral role in getting the Texas Chapter off the ground in 1994, remembered that after his band won its first Grammy in 1978, they were invited to join the Academy’s Memphis-based chapter. Which got him wondering: “Why does Memphis have a chapter and Texas doesn’t?”

It took more than a decade before the Chapter opened through efforts of many Austin industry figures — including “Austin City Limits” executive producer Terry Lickona, who spoke during the pre-show dinner, and label exec Cameron Randle and manager Carlyne Majer, respectively the chapter’s first president and executive director.

Current president Adams teamed with Wilson, a fellow Houstonian, for an uplifting mid-show gospel passage, after Marcia Ball had followed Asleep at the Wheel with two rousing numbers from her spectacular 2018 album “Shine Bright.” Then came Hanson, the Tulsa pop trio whose presence on the bill underscored that the Texas Chapter’s territory includes both Oklahoma and Mexico as well as the Lone Star State.

Hanson brothers Taylor, Isaac and Zac had maybe the best story of the night in terms of reflecting on the chapter’s 25th anniversary. It just so happens that 1994 was the year that the three grade-school brothers came to Austin for South by Southwest, and left with a manager who’d soon get them a major record deal. “We were not officially invited” to SXSW that year, they recalled from the stage. “The people at the Four Seasons were like, ‘What are those bum kids doing over there by the bench, singing songs?’ And it sounded something like this.” That was their cue to launch into “Mmmbop,” which three years later was at No. 1 on the Billboard pop charts.

A more recent unlikely success from the chapter’s territory has been Midland, a country band based in Dripping Springs that got a Grammy nomination for its 2017 hit “Drinkin’ Problem.” They played that one along with two cuts from their upcoming album “Let It Roll,” due out Aug. 23. Singer Mark Wystrach made a point of thanking Jenkins for her support of the band’s career.

Though some attendees had gradually drifted out through the course of the marathon event, a surprisingly large crowd remained for the impressive hip-hop finale that featured Wall, Bun B and Slim Thug. The former two each did a song on their own before Slim Thug joined them for a trio finale that had the joint hopping right up until the 11 p.m. closing time.