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W.C. Handy’s Evening at the Roxy features Great Pretenders

The Franklin County Arts and Humanities Council is sponsoring the 20th annual W.C. Handy Evening at the Roxy July 29. Entertainment will be presented by local talent featured as The Great Pretenders.

This year is the 40th annual W.C. Handy Music Festival, which is held during the week of July 23-Aug. 1 at various locations in the Shoals – and at the Roxy in Russellville.

“This has become a tradition over the course of the last 20 years, and it means a lot to be able to resume the show this year,” said Susie Malone, president of the Franklin County Arts and Humanities Council. “We had to miss last year due to COVID. We went about 15 months without being able to open the doors for shows at the Roxy. Like everyone else, we were affected due to lost funds, but we survived. We feel very fortunate, and we can’t wait to see and hear all the wonderful entertainment that will be part of the show and to be able to come together as a community again to enjoy this long-standing tradition.”

Kicking off the Roxy entertainment will be the gospel band Still Here presenting the “Handy Prelude,” starting at 6:30 p.m. The group consists of Larry Freeman, Byrant Bonds, William Nelson, Eric Goodloe, William Buchanan, Frankie Hubbard, Johnny Smith, Harold Tisdale and Leon Freeman.

“We feel blessed to be asked to be in the show again,” said Larry Freeman, manager and drummer of Still Here. “It’s a blessing to be able to perform together again at the Roxy. We lost two of our members last year – my brother, Pastor William Freeman, due to complications from COVID, and one of the other singers, Wash Bates.

“I was later in the hospital for 41 days with COVID, 28 of those days on a ventilator and a trach, but I got through it. I survived.

“We know things happen, and we’re ‘still here’ and proud to be able to perform together and for our community. We need to keep pushing forward. That’s what they would want us to do.”

Bonds, fellow band member and godson of Freeman, said it has “always been a joy to be in this show.”

“It means a lot to get to perform together, to get back to the Roxy,” Bonds said. “It’s a blessing to be able to sing together again.”

Katernia Cole-Coffey will serve as emcee for the event. Entertainers scheduled to perform as The Great Pretenders include Meletha Walker, Hudson Copeland, Sydney Medley, Avery  Guinn, Jayne Wells, Jeff Allen, Danyelle Hillman, Alissa Young, Angela Cummings, Becky Franks, Jacob Green, Bert Fowler, Madeline Cooper, Abby Peters, Buford Parker, Dana Hill, Adam Green, Heather Carmack, Suzanne Wigginton and Debbie Nale, among others.

Tickets – $5 or free for children younger than 6 – will be sold at the door. All proceeds go to the Historic Roxy Theatre.

“Each year, the W.C. Handy Festival grows larger. It brings people from all over the state as well as from other states to Northwest Alabama,” said Malone. “The Alabama State Council on the Arts supports the performing arts through the festival. This event promotes tourism in the area and helps our local economy.

“Several local businesses, industries and individuals support this program through sponsorships. They will be acknowledged in the program, on the Roxy movie screen and on the website and also be recognized throughout the evening.

Malone said the Arts Council takes pride in the restoration of the Historic Roxy Theatre, “and we want to present quality, wholesome programs that the entire family can enjoy,” she added. “This will be an entertaining evening that you will not want to miss.”

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