Close to 500 music lovers filled the Slavonian Lodge in East Biloxi on Friday and reminisced about some of the city’s most historical musical moments from five decades ago.
They also paid tribute to the late Frank “Yankie” Barhanovich, a Biloxi businessman and music promoter who made such memories possible.
The Barhanovich tribute was held on the 50th anniversary of the night he brought iconic rhythm-and-blues entertainer James Brown to perform at Biloxi Municipal Stadium. Several Biloxi residents, journalists and historians with local musical ties gave their own accounts.
“In 1966, I heard about this concert coming to Biloxi,” said Dr. Gilbert R. Mason Jr., who spearheaded the organizing of Friday’s gathering. He was 12 years old at the time. “My parents were very tentative and worried because of the times then. I was allowed to go to the show as long as I had a chaperone.”
Mason remembered Brown drawing an audience of both blacks and whites, although blacks were concentrated in one section of the stadium, whites in another. Yet the James Brown concert became one of the first where seating was open, not designated along racial lines.
Mason’s father, Dr. Gilbert Mason Sr., had a few years earlier led a series of marches in an effort to integrate South Mississippi’s beaches. It was among the Coast’s most significant civil rights achievements.
Barhanovich was primarily an insurance agent but became a renowned and highly respected music promoter. He was the main figure who brought the country’s top musical acts to Biloxi, including Elvis Presley early in his career, country artist Hank Williams Sr., rock and roller Fats Domino and others.
Barhanovich died in 1987. The stadium where the concerts were held is now named Yankie Stadium in his honor.
Biloxi Mayor Andrew “FoFo” Gilich recalled being at the James Brown concert. He was 18, and just finishing his freshman year in college. He spoke about Brown playing his hits that have since become classics, such as “I Feel Good,” “Please, Please, Please,” “Try Me” and “Papa’s Got a Brand New Bag.” He remembered Brown’s signature act, including when sidekick Bobby Byrd put a cape on an apparently exhausted Brown, who’d sunk to his knees, and began to guide him off the stage but Brown quickly re-energized, jumped out of the cape and returned to the microphone.
Clemon Jimerson was a teenager at the time, but was a talented percussionist playing with the top area R&B bands. He spoke about his experience in that era and about music being “a universal language.”
Kat Bergeron, a former Sun Herald staff writer and now a semi-retired journalist, offered an extensive perspective on how the music in the 1950s and ’60s became a common thread that helped ease the racial tensions of the time.
“The music smoothed out the edges of the tension that existed from the civil rights movement,” she said.
Bergeron interviewed Barhanovich’s daughter, Martha Ebberman, who under the stage name Ann Raye, became a renowned country-music recording artist.
Jim O’Neal, research director for the Mississippi Blues Trail, also spoke.
He said three months before the Brown concert, Barhanovich brought to Biloxi famed TV personality Dick Clark and his musical cast from the after-school TV show “Where The Action Is.”
He said rock bands such as Paul Revere and the Raiders, Gary Lewis and the Playboys and the Knickerbockers performed at Biloxi Municipal Stadium.
Band of Gold, a local group, performed during the Barhanovich tribute and brought back fond memories with a selection of James Brown hits.