They call it Nutbush, they say Nutbush! You say Nut bush! we take you on a tour behind the scenes of the grand opening of the Tina Turner exhibition in Brownsville,TN close to her worldwide known hometown of Nutbush! With speciall tour guide, Tina Turner’s fan Stephen Evans!
Photos & video credit: Stephen Evans & Anja Offermann.
We arrived (Ken Oglesby) and myself in Brownsville Tn on September 24 at around 930am and we were quickly put too work lol. After we had greeted Sonia Outlaw-Clark (executive Director of the West TN Delta Heritage Center) she put us to work. So she comes out of her office with a White display board and a Pic of Tina and Erwin from the wedding and also a gift bag filled with Wedding Cards. She said “pick out some cards and place them on the board” It took me about 5 mins to realize that these were cards that “guests” at the wedding had given her and sent to Tina. Around that time my Tina Brother Dashon Jones arrived. I told him “you won’t believe what I am doing” And then I was shaking and screaming (in my head) lol These were cards that she had looked at and held AHHHHHHHHH!!! Ok so after I got over that we also chose (randomly) various fan cards too. I felt like we deserved to have a permanent place in the museum. I must make note that nobody that was helping put their own card on display, that wouldn’t have been fair. Well after we finished that Sonia told us “ok we need to put that into the school” well I never thought we would be seeing the school early before anyone else in the WORLD saw it! Well another WOW moment happened and I got the nerve to ask Sonia if we could film our reaction coming into the school for the first time. She said YES!!! As long as we didn’t release the video before the grand opening! I thought that was fair and didn’t have an issue. Since being involved with the project from the beginning I was very aware and am very protective of the school. Our first glance of the school was beyond my “wildest Dreams” it was and is GORGEOUS!! All of the costumes and displays were at my fingertips! I didn’t dare ask to touch anything! Lol So after we ooohed and aweeed at everything we set up the display. This required going behind the glass and placing it on a wooden display board. So I was mere inches away from the acid queen and goldeneye dress from the last tour. WOW!!! The rest of the day consisted of placing the markers and tags for all the displays which Dashon Jones and Ken Oglesby and I took care of. Later that day our first VIP arrived RHONDA GRAHAM!!! OK well this was the closest I had come to the REAL T!! She was very nice and gracious but very businesslike as well. Sonia had told us beforehand of her demeanor and that if we had any questions for her to allow some time to pass before we dove in! Let me tell you it is very easy to see why Rhonda has been with Tina all these years. She plays no games and very tough. But very friendly as well. She took the time to thank us BUT was also very surprised we were there so early to help and for no compensation. Dashon Jones and I made sure and told her we had been there for the past three years helping out and considered Brownsville a second home. I think that impressed her which btw Rhonda documented the entire weekend with her own camera (no doubt for her boss). So that about rounds out the FIRST day WHAT MORE COULD HAPPEN???
Well Thursday was another day of preparation of the school and for the Donor Reception later that night. Sonia had arranged a VIP tour of the school for all the donors towards the restoration of the Flagg Grove School. This day consisted of cleaning the glass of all the display cases which I had the pleasure of assisting with. Yes I DO WINDOWS!! Lol Stephen Sills also arrived this day he is the one who designed the School and was also responsible for most of the design of Tina’s former house in the South of France. He is a great guy who was very interested and impressed that we were there to help. He shared a really cool story about meeting Tina for the first time before he started helping her with the house. Since he was also a super fan he said he could relate to us. So the story went that he was meeting her at Jim Fifeld’s (CEO of EMI 1988-98)house in NYC. Well he was in his car too nervous to go in and he saw Jim and Tina pull up and go in the house. He couldn’t move for a few mins. When he finally got the nerve to go in he very non chalantly walked in and TRIED to pretend that he wasn’t fazed by the queens presence. As he walked into the room where Tina was sitting on a couch Jim told Tina “This is Stephen Sills I told you about him and that maybe he could help you with the house” Tina looked up at him and motioned for him to come closer to where she was sitting. She reach out her hands to his and pulled him down next to her. She preceded to ask him questions about design and after a few mins she decided he was the right one to help her. Stephen says after that was a whirlwind of shopping and traveling with Tina. One thing that stands out about his observation of her was that she was very interested in learning about design and wanted to be able to understand all the choices and to make sure she learned the ins and outs of the design world. She was like a sponge and Stephen found that her taste was already good. One thing he remembers about some furniture she had in the house before he got involved was some “ugly wicker” lol Dashon Jones, Ken Oglesby and I were able to personally assist Stephen Sills while he painted a Gold Flag Pole Black to give it a more “authentic” feel of the time. Rhonda took pictures during this process which again no doubt was for her “boss” Well later that night we left to get ready for the event. Everyone looked so nice and it was befitting for a queen! So people started arriving some famous and some not so famous. Local government officials and the like. Soon I saw Miss Robbie Montgomery former Ikette and from the Sweetie Pies television show on the OWN network. I rushed over for a pic which she was so nice to oblige. Soon there was Miss Robbie, Carolyn Flagg(Tina’s Best friend in HS)and Rhonda all chatting away. I seized the moment to get a pic of them together. Rhonda was so excited to see Robbie after so many years. So the event was underway with many locals speaking and then the video from Tina. A Few of us were able to see bits of it earlier but seeing it all together was awesome and filled us with pride. At that moment Sonia announced that the museum was open and that everyone could go and see it. Well you would have thought we hadn’t seen it yet the way we reacted but it was just like seeing it for the first time again. During a few of the times in the school I was able to film Miss Robbie checking it out and asking who was the guy Tina Liked in school that she always talked about. I told her Harry Taylor and she was like “That’s right” Jim Filfeld and Stephen Sills were in the school when the crowds died down and was able to provide more stories for us. They posed together sitting at one of the desks and then asked us if we had seen pics of Tina’s Wedding at which they were both attendees. We of course said “yes everything that was published in Magazines” well then he said “oh I have some pics in my phone I took there I can show you”. OMG!!! So we saw some pics he took and then he said “oh I have a video I took too” WHAT??? Well the video was so cute of Tina and Erwin on stage when they brought the cake out. They were playing a song that Tina started moving her hips too. It was a short clip but very memorable lol. So we thought it couldn’t get any better and then I remembered I hadn’t got any autographs. I asked Stephen Sills to sign my copy of the Tina edition of Architectural Digest and I asked Rhonda to sign my Copy of “Feel Good by Ike and Tina Turner” She provided the sound effects for “Chopper”. She had a story for that as well. She came up with the idea to have the motorcycle noises and Ike told her “Well record them” she said “we can’t bring the bike in the studio” he told her to take some recording equipment into the alley and record it. So she said she about killed herself riding his bike but she drove up an alley behind bolic sound and did it! The night was a success how could The Grand Opening be any better??
Well it was the grand opening at last and we arrived at the school at around 7am, the press conference was too begin at 1030 and the doors would be officially open at 12! There were a lot of last minute things that needed to be done inside the Center to accommodate press and VIPS and the general public. The Press conference began with Sonia welcoming everyone and various dignitaries and former students of the school speaking to the crowd which was an estimated 300+. Billy Hardin Jr who had arrived after all the festivities the night before huddled with me in the press pool. It was the best spot to see the TV screen that they had set up to view a mini doc about the school and the video of Tina from the night before. The same video that will loop inside the school. Soon we were being entertained by three ladies from a nearby church singing a very beautiful gospel song in full harmony. I am not ashamed to say that is when the emotion and the full impact of the event got to me and tears flowed. I mean I was there in the beginning when the school looked beyond repair and now it was a beautiful building that would house Tina’s history and the history of the school. So then a local government official who used to be babysat by Tina announced the proclamation of September 26 as TINA TURNER DAY!!! We all cheered and were filled with joy. Just then Sonia announced that we had a second and “special” message from Tina. WAIT!! We thought we had seen the message and now we had a new more personal message that appeared to be filmed at her home in Zurich. She thanked everyone involved in the project and wished us a great day! So then we went outside to the school for the ribbon cutting. All of the VIPs and dignitaries and former students positioned on the porch and the fans held two ends in front on the grass while Rhonda Graham and Stephen Sills cut the ribbon. At that moment it seemed like everyone remembered they had cameras and decided to take pics together. Miss Robbie was a favorite along with Rhonda Graham and Carolyn Flagg. At that moment none other than the most famous and recognizable Tina Turner impersonator arrived LARRY EDWARDS!! He wasn’t in drag since he rushed all night leaving his show in Vegas with 30 mins to spare to get on the plane. He posed with several people and was welcomed by old friends (Miss Robbie and Rhonda Graham were a few of them) After the crowds died down a bit a few of us went into the school to pose for pics and relish in the moment. We couldn’t wait until the night came when we would have our fan night that would include karaoke games and BBQ! AND we also would have LARRY EDWARDS in drag!!! The fan night was so much fun we got an impromptu performance from Samira “Truly Tina” and Larry Edwards for a duet of “The Best” . The now legendary “wig steal” pic of me and Larry Edwards was taken during this night as well. Speaking of Larry Edwards because of schedule conflicts he was only able to be there Friday and had to leave early the next morning. We all said our goodbyes to a wonderful new friend. By now I don’t think anyone involved could put into words what the day meant to all of us. We would sure try!
So Saturday Dashon Jones Billy Hardin Jr and I decided to go on a shorter Nutbush tour. Ken Oglesby and Sean Jackson went on the longer version that included Alex Haley’s Home and Museum. I had done that tour on the first Heritage days in 2012 it is well worth the longer tour I might add. Our tour included Nutbush, one of the locations where one of Tina’s houses once stood, and Woodlawn Baptist Church. I had taken this same tour before but what was different on this tour was they actually opened up the church for us to view and take pics. The local congregation when all out for us. They had about 10-15 church members dressed in Red coats and welcomed each of us into their church. This was a very special and deeply personal moment for me. They had taken the time to put up different documents and pictures from the churches past and Tina’s. One thing I learned that a misspelling of a former member and the inspiration of one of Ike and Tina’s songs Bootsie WhiteLOW instead of WhiteLAW. WOW! One of the ladies of the church then announced that her daughter would be treating us to a song. Ms Achana Jarrett treated us to a rendition of “Amazing Grace” It was so awesome and a moment none of us that witnessed it would soon forget. I had forgot to mention that Rhonda was taking the tour with us so it was more time we had to talk to her and to ask various questions. I personally didn’t ask Rhonda that many questions I didn’t want to bother her, But we did have casual conversations. So once the tour was over we went to grab a bite to eat and afterwards we decided to AGAIN tour the school. Trust me when I say YOU will want to do the same! While in the school a girl approached me and asked if I knew who she was. I was puzzled cause I didn’t think I knew her. It was a facebook friend Denisha Donaldson a 15 year old Sophomore from Dyersburg TN. She had only a few years before became a fan of Tina’s well it was an honor to meet her and her family. That night was the concert that included some Teenage Talent from Oklahoma , WS Holland (the drummer for Elvis Presley and Johnny Cash) and Samira Truly Tina. It was an outstanding display of talent that we hated to see end. But it did and we took our exhausted behinds back to the hotel for a much needed rest.
Sonia and her staff prepared a wonderful breakfast send off for all the fans that remained. It was sad to say goodbye to everyone but we knew we would see each other again. Definitely if you can make your way to Nutbush to see the Tina Turner Museum/Flagg Grove School anytime you can and be there for Tina Turner Heritage Days September 26-27 2015 Hope to see you there!!