OCILLA — For the second consecutive year, friends, family members and Ocilla residents will honor the late Dave Prater at the second annual Prater Music Festival. Prater gained worldwide fame as part of the 1960s R&B duo of Sam & Dave.
The event is scheduled for May 12-14.
Sam & Dave had three Top 20 hits from 1966 to 1968 with “Hold On I’m Comin’” in 1966, their iconic “Soul Man” in 1967 and “I Thank You” in 1968.
In December 2004, Rolling Stone magazine named “Soul Man” as one of the 500 greatest songs of all time.
Nicknamed “Double Dynamite” and “The Sultans of Sweat,” Sam & Dave performed at the White House, for the Queen of England and in Japan.
Interest in Sam & Dave was reignited in 1980 when the Blues Brothers performed “Soul Man” during the iconic film “The Blues Brothers.”
“We’re excited and happy that the Prater Festival is returning to Ocilla for a second year,” Ocilla Mayor Matt Seale said. “There are very few adults who haven’t heard a Sam & Dave song over the years. Their music went global. We are extremely proud to be the birthplace of such a musical legend as Dave Prater.
“In future years, we hope to add more events and musical groups on multiple stages. We want to attract visitors from far across the state and the region to Ocilla and Irwin County.”
The idea to honor Prater in his hometown had been floated for years according to his niece, Connie Prater.
She said that this year’s festival was moved from February to May and expanded from two to three days to better coincide with Dave Prater’s May 9 birthday. He would have been 79 years old this Tuesday had he not been killed in an auto accident in nearby Sycamore on April 9, 1988, while traveling to Ocilla to visit his mother.
Expected to attend the festival are three of Prater’s sisters — Bertha McMath, 88, and Lillie Demps, 80, both of Miami, Fla., and Helen Deberry, 76, of Berrien County. Prater had seven children, two of whom are deceased. Two are planning to attend the festival — Deborah Battle Weatherspoon, of Ocilla, and Anthony Prater, of Florence, S.C.
Sam Moore, 80, who formed the dynamic Sam & Dave duo with Dave Prater, has been invited to attend the festival but is not expected to do so. He is still entertaining audiences.
“I’m really not surprised the festival has caused a lot of interest,” Connie Prater said. “Sam & Dave’s music has stood the test of time. Baby Boomers listened to it because it was ‘happy music.’ The music also had cultural impacts. As an example, when Bob Dole ran for the presidency in 1996, he changed ‘Soul Man” to ‘Dole Man’ and used it in his campaign.”
Deberry, who was born two years after Dave, said the two played together and worked together as youngsters. ”We picked cotton, peanuts and tobacco together in the field,” she recalled.
“He loved to dance as a child and danced a lot with his older sister, Evelyn, and maybe that’s why they did so much moving when they performed,” she added.
Regarding the festival, Deberry said, “It can’t get here fast enough. I can’t sleep now waiting for it.”
The most critically acclaimed duo in soul music history, Sam & Dave were elected to the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame in 1992, Grammy Hall of Fame in 1999 and the Memphis Music Hall of fame in 2015. Prater was elected to the Georgia Music Hall of Fame 1997.
At the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame induction ceremony, Moore brought Isaac “Shaft” Hayes and David Porter onstage with him at the ceremony to recognize his former songwriting and producing partners’ contributions. He also brought David Prater, Jr. (Dave’s eldest son) to the ceremony to acknowledge his former singing partner.
During his Memphis Hall of Fame induction speech, Moore thanked the people of Memphis and the musicians and producers who helped launch Sam & Dave to stardom, “causing us to sing before queens, kings, presidents, senators, lawyers and men that were in the foxholes that came back and said, ‘Sam & Dave, you got us through.’”
Moore and Prater were experienced gospel music singers, having performed individually with different groups, when they met at The King of Hearts Club in Miami in 1961.
Despite their volatile relationship, Sam & Dave performed from that point throughout most of the 1970s to 1981. Their last performance together was on Dec. 31, 1981, at the Old Waldorf in San Francisco.
Prater began touring with Sam Daniels in 1982. The duo was also billed as Sam & Dave. They performed together until Prater’s death in 1988. Moore attempted to legally block Prater from using the group’s name without his participation and permission but was generally unsuccessful in stopping the act from performing. The Daniels-Prater incarnation of Sam & Dave played as many as 100 shows year, including performances in Europe, Japan and Canada.
The Prater Music Festival will begin with a 6 p.m. dinner on May 12 for family and the local community members and guests at the Ocilla Community House, 711 S. Irwin Ave. in Ocilla. There will be a silent auction as well as music and a video tribute to Dave Prater. Tickets are $10 in advance if purchased by Tuesday and $15 at the door.
Newton Collier, of Macon, a trumpeter with the original Sam & Dave Band, will serve as guest speaker at the dinner and share his “Reflections on the road with Ocilla’s own Dave Prater.” The evening will also feature food from local restaurants and a silent auction of music memorabilia, gift certificates, baked goods and other items.
Proceeds from the event will go toward a scholarship fund for Irwin County High School students interested in pursuing musical careers.
The dinner attracted 125 people last year, and more than 150 are expected this year.
For more ticket information, call Ocilla City Hall at (229) 468-5141 weekdays from 9 a.m. to 5 p.m.
Tickets can be purchase in person at City Hall, 111 N. Irwin Ave., or the Ocilla Irwin Chamber of Commerce, 620 S. Irwin Ave., weekdays from 9 a.m. to 5 p.m.
A block party and street celebration featuring live music, dancing and food vendors/concessions is scheduled from 6 p.m. to 9 p.m. on Friday, May 13, on Cherry Street between Fourth and Fifth Streets. Entertainment will be provided by Jerry Moss and the Live 5 Band. The Irwin County High School choral ensemble and band will also perform.
The festival concludes with a noon community worship service on May 14 at Mt. Olive A.M.E. Church, 207 E. 7th St., in Ocilla. This 108-year-old church is where Dave Prater grew up singing in the choir. The Rev. George Vereen will be the guest speaker. The entire community is invited. A light lunch will be served after the service.
Barry Levine is an entertainment writer with The Albany Herald. He can be reached at email@example.com