Feature shot of Perry Thompson courtesy of Perry Thompson
BY CLYDE HUGHES | AC JosepH Media
ATLANTIC CITY — There was a time when Atlantic City rivaled Chicago and New York City as the entertainment mecca for jazz and R&B, where establishments like Club Harlem and others along Kentucky Avenue became a hub for the country’s top Black artists.
Perry Thompson, the CEO and president of the Rhythm and Blues Preservation Society in Atlantic City wants to make sure that history and greatness of that era is never forgotten — and just maybe rekindle some of the old flame.
“I definitely feel that Black music is a culture,” Perry recently told Front Runner New Jersey. “It’s always been a global phenomenon for years, and I wanted to do my part in honoring those who contribute to Black music because what I do is I honor everybody in Black music.
“It’s not about how many awards you’ve won, how many records you sold. I honor and we honor anybody who has contributed. You could be a one-hit wonder, and you still contributed to Black music.”
Thompson said while he has always love and studied Black music for years, he feels that the organization is more of a calling for him, building a homage to take personal responsibility to make sure African Americans have a proper place in the history of music locally.
“I’m just so honored and feel so blessed to have started this and linking up with so many great legends,” Thompson said. “I’ve interviewed legendary artists. I’ve interviewed Claudette Robinson, Isaac Hayes’s daughter, James Brown’s daughter. I’ve interviewed Millie Jackson’s daughter. I’ve been so blessed.”
Thompson and the Rev. Sonja Elise Freeman, the society’s vice president, have made significant steps in their activism, which includes speaking at colleges, like Stockton University, on their Rhythm and Blues Preservation Classroom tour, holding jazz tribute concerts and weekly music spotlights on Instagram Live.
The spotlight puts a focus on local and famous Black artists, producers and writers through their other social media.
“[Freeman] saw my vision, and it’s been such a great team,” Thompson said. “We’ve accomplished so much within one year. We’re getting ready to do a virtual lecture series for Monmouth University in October. We got three weeks. It’s October 6th, 13th, and 20th.”
Recognitions have included acknowledgments from New Jersey Gov. Phil Murphy, a proclamation from Assemblyman Don Guardian, and the city council of Atlantic City.
Thompson said he and Freeman are currently working to grow the society as they look for people to share their vision.
“It’s very important to have a board of directors who see the same vision as you do,” Thompson said. “It doesn’t make sense to have a board of directors that’s not going to put in the work like you do. We — myself and my vice president — put in the work so we want to build a board that will do the same.”
Thompson said he hopes to bring in legendary artists to be ambassadors for the society.
“I actually just spoke to Betty Wright’s daughter, and she’s willing to be an ambassador for the nonprofit, as well as Isaac Hayes’ daughter, Heather Hayes,” Thompson said. “She wants to be an ambassador. We are looking at artists to be ambassadors to join our organization, too.”
Thompson stressed, though, he wants to uplift local artists of the past and present with the RBPS.
“I’m looking at local artists who live in Atlantic City who have been in the music industry,” Thompson said. “We want to honor them. There are plenty of artists who have played with major artists that still live in Atlantic City. You just don’t know about them.
“We’re definitely going to be honoring the local Atlantic City musicians, male or female, who have contributed to Black music that didn’t get their roses because Club Harlem was a great avenue for Black artists and the one in the Gardens.”
Thompson said he has enlisted the assistance of legendary local African American historian Ralph Hunter Sr. in his work to preserve African American music history here. Hunter is the renowned founder of the African American Heritage Museum of Southern New Jersey and has the largest collection of South Jersey Black History artifacts in the country.
“I actually did an interview with him at his museum,” Thompson said. “It’s on my Facebook page. I actually gave him an award for his contribution. This man has a great knowledge of history, and we going to be working on a project together for the ext year, so he definitely supports our organization.”
Thompson also plans to create a “Hollywood Walk of Fame” for artists who contributed to Atlantic City’s music scene where Club Harlem was located, creating a jazz artists mural and finding an office space for RBPS.
Atlantic City has made various contributions to Black history in this country. Thompson and the RBPS have found a niche to make sure part of that history finds a home and is remembered forever.
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