2023 Sonny Award for Blues Excellence

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Thomas Jacques

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Tuesday, October 10th 2023
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Manis ‘Detroit Johnny’ Johnson presented with 2023 Sonny Award for Blues Excellence

Award named after King Biscuit Time radio show host ‘Sunshine’ Sonny Payne

HELENA-WEST HELENA, Ark. – Veteran Pine Bluff blues artist Manis “Detroit Johnny” Johnson was recently presented with the Delta Cultural Center’s (DCC) 2023 Sonny Payne Award for Blues Excellence at the 2023 King Biscuit Blues Festival. Johnson was recognized with the award before his performance on the Front Porch Blues Stage at the DCC’s Miller Annex, 223 Cherry St., Helena.

The award, affectionately called “The Sonny,” recognizes individuals who have strongly influenced the blues music of the Arkansas Delta. The honor is named for “Sunshine” Sonny Payne, longtime host of the Peabody Award-winning “King Biscuit Time” radio program broadcast each weekday from the DCC Visitors Center on station KFFA-AM.

The Sonny Award is traditionally given to musicians with distinguished status and a lengthy career, and additional consideration is given to those with ties to Arkansas and the Delta.

Born in 1944 in rural Columbia County, Manis Johnson began playing professionally as a bluesman before he reached his teens, performing as a guitarist in Robert Nighthawk’s band. Johnson later lived and worked several years in Michigan, where he earned the stage name “Detroit Johnny.” He returned to Arkansas, eventually settling in Pine Bluff.

A veteran of the Pine Bluff blues scene, Detroit Johnny has long been associated with the Port City Blues Society and has appeared on numerous occasions as an entertainer at the DCC. His recording credits include the 2012 album “Calahula Man.”

Previous recipients of the “Sonny” include Robert Lockwood Jr. and Houston Stackhouse (posthumously) in the award’s inaugural year of 2002, Sam Carr and Pinetop Perkins (2003), CeDell Davis and John Weston (2004), David “Honeyboy” Edwards (2005), Michael Burks and Willie “Big Eyes” Smith (2006), Hubert Sumlin (2007), Bobby Rush (2008), Red Holloway (2009), B.B. King (2010), James Cotton (2011), the Cate Brothers (2012), Willie Cobbs (2013), Big George Brock and Sonny Burgess & The Legendary Pacers (2014), C.W. Gatlin and Larry McCray (2015), Charlie Musselwhite (2016), James Yancey “Tail Dragger” Jones (2017), Bob Stroger (2018) and Mary Lane and Eb Davis (2019), and Mavis Staples (2022).


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