GAC Awards: Bruce Blackman, Greenville poet, songwriter and musician

Born and raised in Greenville, Bruce had an attraction to music at an early age. Coming from a modest family, music lessons would be difficult to come by, so Bruce improvised. He would sneak onto the First Baptist Church where he would teach himself to play the piano. As a child, he met another local music legend, Lonnie Duvall and discovered that Lonnie had a piano at home. Bruce and Lonnie sat at this piano for hours until their fingers blistered and bled. That very same piano today sits in the main dining room of the Downtown Grille.

Bruce honed his craft in the rich Delta environment where the arts were and are supported and celebrated as well as practiced, and Bruce found willing mentors. Nell Thomas taught Bruce about painting pictures with words. Bern and Franke Keating shared a wide vision ofthe world with a sense of wonder, and a young Bruce started to see the possibilities and write about them.

Bruce spent years in local legendary bands, and found himself a part of a group, some from Greenville like the late Johnny Walker and other huge talents from around the South and in 1968, Eternity’s Children formed and to this day their music continues to sell on Amazon and elsewhere. “Mrs. Bluebird” still hummed around Greenville today. Lush harmonies and tight playing with timeless melodies and lyrics were their hallmark. A short-lived phenomenon, but the die was cast. Bruce was a star, with not only the artistic skills but the confidence. All as a result of his life in Greenville.

Bruce formed a band in Atlanta in the early seventies, eventually called Starbuck, before there was that coffee, and the talent in this band was the very best in the country. Marimba player, Bo Wagner, is widely known among his peers as having been one of the greatest to ever live. His solo work unrivaled and unable to be duplicated. The rest of the band was equally as talented, and Bruce led Starbuck to great success. But it was a long road, filled with as many downs as ups, and the harsh realities of stroking the star maker machinery behind the popular song might have brought a lesser man down. But not Bruce.

Peggy

When Bruce met Peggy Denman from Greenville, he had found his soulmate. Bruce will tell you today that the driving force in his life, the motivation for everything he ever did and his muse, are all Peggy.

They made, and continue to make, this journey together. Before success came, and struggling financially with a new band, Bruce had an accident where he had a finger cut off and re-attached. Peggy told him not to worry, she’d get a job and they could survive until he was well enough to play. It was while sitting at home recuperating, filled with doubt about his chosen profession, would the finger heal? After all, he was a keyboard player, right? And during one of these dark days, the light of melody came to him. Just noodling around on a small synthesizer, the essence of the beloved song, “Moonlight Feels Right” came to him. Out of the darkness came one of the most uplifting and infectious pop songs ever written, with lyrics that made Nell Thomas proud.

“The wind blew some luck in my direction, I cought it in my hand today”

In many ways, the rest is history, as they say. Not only was the song a huge international hit in 1976, but to this day, in 2019, it is played constantly around the world. Currently in constant rotation in over sixty countries, this song creates joy everywhere it is heard, every time it is played. Yet this is only a chapter in the life of the Artist. While Starbuck was extremely successful, appearing on American bandstand, Midnight Special, Merv Griffin and Mike Douglas, touring the world to sellout crowds and charting forty singles, the band ultimately broke up. Bruce stayed in the music business in all sorts of different capacities.

In 2013, the long-disbanded Starbuck reunited for a onetime concert in Atlanta’s Chastain Park. Over 20,000 people came. The show was a massive success. Bruce was motivated, and the creative juices began to flow again. Sony signed him to produce a new album, and one of the first things he did was write about his home, the place and the people who nurtured that little boy sneaking into the church to play piano. And Peggy, his muse and companion and love of his life who was beside him in the darkness and the light. A love story as good as it gets, and the song “Jim’s Cafe” was born. A true story of a journey home to see his Lady, near the levee, “down around Jim’s Cafe.” And their beautiful daughter sings it with him.

A successful album featuring this song was followed by another album last year, which included Bruce’s first Top Ten hit in over forty years, “Is That Your Yacht” again motivated by his memories of standing on the levee above Greenville’s Yacht Club, as a young child, admiring all the boats below. Bruce today is constantly interviewed on live radio shows all over the world. He is often asked about “Moonlight Feels Right” and how he managed to come up with a song that captured so many hearts and minds for so long, and always creates a sense of joy. And his answer always includes Greenville Mississippi, and always credits those who helped him, nurtured him and gave him the foundation and the confidence to take on the world. He is an Ambassador ofthe Arts for Greenville. He is yet another in the long line of past, present and future artists that are proud to call Greenville home. I nominate Bruce Blackman for this award because he deserves it. A lifetime of creativity and genius, a devoted husband and father, and a man who has never forgotten where he came from and never forgets to thank the place and the people for making it possible, wherever he goes in the world.

I will close with a quote from Bruce, A quote that tells you everything you need to know about the man, his talent, and far beyond that, who he really is in the context of “Greenville Honors Its Own” In speaking of his mentor, Nell Thomas, who Bruce describes as, “The greatest English teacher who ever lived.”:

Every time I write, she speaks to me, “Make your words sing, Bruce. Be Original” Nell Thomas is in every story, poem or song I’ve ever written. Her words forever lurk in the recesses of my mindsometimes deafening. Mrs. Thomas made everyone better, even me.

This quote comes from Bruce’s recent best-selling autobiography, “The Road to Moonlight Feels Right”

Knowing Bruce as I do, if he receives this honor, he will tell you that the real honor is to have been blessed to come from such an amazing town, filled with so many wonderful people, who made it possible for him to live his dream.

“There is Nothing Impossible in Dreams” You will find songs and further information as to Bruce through YouTube. I believe you will find very quickly the fame and popularity of this Greenville native. Also, Bruce recently published a book “The Road to Moonlight Feels Right” that is starting to circulate around Greenville (most have to order it because we no longer have a book store). He spends several chapters on growing up in Greenville and the good times he had here.

Again, the consideration of the GAC selection committee of Bruce Blackman is greatly appreciated.