This magic moment

Morris chronicles association with Doo Wop artists and his journey of faith in new book.

Bill Morris reflected as he rode back to hisWash-ington D.C. hotel.

He still couldn’t believe what happened.

Only hours earlier, the Northside insurance provider and financial consultant had just performed a song on stage with the Moonglows, a top group of the Doo Wop era.

“I asked my Heavenly Father what this was about, and he said, ‘It is about My glory. I will reveal in due time what it means.”

Thirty-six years later, Morris reflects on that D.C. experience and the journey that followed in a new book, “This Magic Moment: My Journey of Faith, Friends and the Father’s Love.”

In it, Morris explains how he met and eventually became friends with several 1950s music legends, helped some of them heal old wounds, and encouraged one group to produce their first Gospel album.

Morris said God began to reveal His glory on May 4, 1981. That morning, he opened the Clarion-Ledger to find a feature story on Prentiss Barnes, an original member of the Moonglows who was then living in Jackson.

A far cry from the black and white publicity photo from the 1950s, the story’s photo depicted an aging Barnes listening to one of his old recordings. Instead of holding a guitar, the singer was sporting a prosthetic hand.

Barnes lost part of his left arm in a car accident in the 1960s, something that likely ended his chances at a solo career.

Morris read the story and heard God’s voice again, this time telling him to make contact with the all-but-forgotten singer.

After reaching out to the reporter, Morris picked up the phone and gave Barnes a call.

“I could tell he didn’t want to talk to me. I told him I sang with the Moonglows in Washington, and his tone changed. That began a friendship that lasted almost 26 years,” he said.

The book chronicles the next three decades, including Morris’ friendships with Barnes, Harvey Fuqua, a fellow member of the Moonglows who went on to co-found Motown Records, and Bill Pinkney, a member of the Drifters.

The author recalls traveling to an award show in Los Angeles, as a guest of Barnes, and being invited to perform with the Moonglows at an event in Pennsylvania, and later at a show at Boston Symphony Hall, where the Moonglows were inducted into the Doo Wop Hall of Fame. 

There Morris was invited on stage to join them in singing “The 10 Commandments of Love.”

That was in 2005, and the last time all the Moonglows were on the stage together. The historic nature of the gathering was not lost on the Fondren author.

“I looked over and began praying and thanking God … looking over at my heroes,” he said. “I was thanking God for this magic moment experience.”

While he was praying, he was trying to remember his place in the song. Doing both “was kind of a miracle in itself,” he said.

Morris talks about other experiences as well, including he and his wife Camille, braving an ice storm to see “Bill Pinkney and the Original Drifters” perform at the Jackson Hilton Hotel.

“I caught (Pinkney) at intermission. When Bill realized I knew Prentiss, he insisted I bring him to his hotel.”

Morris took Barnes to Pinkney’s room, where the two reminisced on old times. Morris listened for about three hours, regretting later that he had not recorded it.

It was the first time the two had seen each other in years, and Pinkney was nearly moved to tears. “He wrapped his big arms around him, and said, ‘Oh, Prentiss, I missed you so much.’”

Morris said: “It’s one of the sweetest moments in the whole book,”

A decade after that encounter, Morris was listening to one of Bill’s songs, when he heard that voice again. This time, it was to get the Drifters to do a Gospel CD.

“Bill Pinkney always closed with a Gospel number,” he said. 

He worked with Mike Frascogna, an entertainment and sports law attorney on the Northside, to form “Hallelujah Productions,” and the album was recorded at a studio in Jackson.

Morris, who holds degrees and certifications in business, became president of the company.

In that capacity, he brought in the Williams Brothers, the Grammy nominated Gospel group from Jackson, to perform on the CD.

 

Barnes passed away in 2006, but not before he got the honor due him. Morris picked up a trophy sitting on his back table. It was an award commemorating the Moonglow’s induction into the Rock & Roll Hall of Fame. Barnes gave him the trophy before he passed.

Before Barnes’ death, Morris had organized a nonprofit to honor musicians. The first of whom was Barnes. A ceremony was held at the Country Club of Jackson. Morgan Freeman was the event’s honorary chairman.

The late singer died in a car accident in his hometown of Magnolia, Miss. “He died knowing that people loved him,” Morris said.

Morris helped give the eulogy at Barnes’ funeral. Pinkney passed away a year later. Morris got to see him one last time, at the urging of that small voice, which he heard yet again..

“I got a strong nudge – that voice – it was about Bill Pinkney. If I want to see him again, I better go now, because (God) was about to bring him home.”

Morris went to see his daughter in Charlotte and drove 45 miles in the torrential rain to meet with Pinkney at his home in Sumter.

“He talked about doing another CD,” he said. When the two were finished talking, Pinkney took Morris to a nearby park, where a bronze bust and plaque had been put up in his honor.

On July 4, 2007, Pinkney was scheduled to perform with the Drifters in Florida, when he was found dead in his hotel room.

Morris also helped eulogize Pinkney. “There were 3,500 people at his funeral. That gives you some kind of idea of how he was revered,” he said.

Morris went on to eulogize Fuqua and another music icon Rufus McKay, a Mississippi native and lead singer of the Red Tops.

Morris finished writing his book recently, pulling from journals he compiled over the last three and a half decades.

The notes memorialize his experiences, as well as the little details from his encounters that otherwise would be lost to history.

“I find it freeing. A lot of psychologists would be out of business if people journaled,” he said. “You pour your heart out to the Lord.”

Morris has also authored two business books, and an audio version of “This Magic Moment,” which will be available November 1.

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