Vannessa Jordan, of Galloway Township, wants to use Atlantic City's abundant entertainment history to generate money for the city.
The president and CEO of the National R&B Music Society Inc., Jordan wants to build a multi-million dollar national R&B museum in Atlantic City. She started a petition online to show there is support for the project locally and worldwide.
Since she launched her petition drive in January, Jordan has garnered 629 of the 10,000 signatures she wants to obtain.
But the 51-year-old isn't waiting to obtain the signatures before moving ahead. She's currently waiting for a finished blueprint of the rhythm and blues museum and plans to approach the Casino Reinvestment Development Authority with her idea before Memorial Day weekend.
"When we started the R&B society, it's about preserving the legacy. What better way to preserve it than to have a museum? There is no R&B museum in the country," said Jordan. "It should be something not just for the artists, but for the radio and TV personalities, for the musicians, the producers, the songwriters, all that contributed to this music."
Jordan isn't the only one working to preserve this country's rhythm and blues heritage.
The Apollo Theater Foundation, Inc. is a not-for-profit organization dedicated to the preservation and development of the legendary Apollo Theater in New York. The Stax Museum exists in Memphis, Tenn. Items from "Soul Train," the first black-oriented music variety show ever offered on American television, have been donated to the Smithsonian's National Museum of African American History and Culture. The Motown Museum, Home of Hitsville U.S.A., was established to preserve the legacy of the Motown Record Company in Detroit. An official R&B Music Hall of Fame Museum has been talked about in Cleveland. Jordan said it doesn't interfere with her plans because her project is different.
Jordan has been devoted to R&B since she was a teenager. She was married to Lewis "Sonny" Bey, a drummer for the soul groups Blue Magic and the Stylistics, so she has known members of soul and R&B groups for decades. The National R&B Music Society has morphed into a way of life for Jordan as she tends to its website, Facebook page and newsletter almost 24/7.
Atlantic City Mayor Lorenzo Langford received a letter from Jordan about her concept.
"This project would produce winners all around, benefiting the community, the City of Atlantic City, New Jersey tourism and the casinos, while preserving the historical legacies of the R&B artists who we represent. It will expand on the cultural profile and reputation of the city, which has seen a diminished recognition of the community and Atlantic City's place in the rich history of African-American music," wrote Jordan in a November letter to the mayor.
The National R&B Music Society Inc., which was incorporated in 2008 and has 150 artists as members, booked the acts for two R&B galas in Atlantic City, four seasons of free summer concerts at Gardners Basin in Atlantic City and the R&B artists who participated in a multicultural weekend last year in Atlantic City.
Langford said he would be elated if Jordan brought an R&B museum to Atlantic City.
"Anybody that wants to bring any kind of museum that's featuring certain genres of music, I would embrace it," Langford said. "Of course, the whole thing is going to be incumbent on funding, and that's our challenge."
Jordan has multiple arguments for why her museum should be in Atlantic City.
The museum would have to be in Atlantic City for CRDA to benefit from it. The museum could attract tourists to the resort. Jordan already has a relationship with city officials. Artists are already familiar with Atlantic City, and the city has a R&B history that stretches back decades.
Jazz was one of the precursor styles to R&B. Jazz artists, including Louis Armstrong, Duke Ellington, Ella Fitzgerald and Cab Calloway performed in the 1920s, 1930s and 1940s at Steel Pier. Once R&B music started in the 1940s, Atlantic City clubs - including Club Harlem, the Wonder Garden and Edghill's - hosted singers who are now legends in the genre. Sam Cooke, Marvin Gaye, Jackie Wilson, Aretha Franklin and Dionne Warwick all played Atlantic City. R&B performers still come to the resort after the start of the casino era in 1978 with Prince, Stevie Wonder, Alicia Keys, Beyonce and others all entertaining in Atlantic City.
Marshall Thompson is an original member of the Chicago-based soul vocal quartet The Chi-Lites. The group, known for the hits "Have You Seen Her" and "Oh Girl," have been performing in Atlantic City since the 1970s.
"She's got a great idea, what's she trying to do. I know that," said Thompson. The singer said he could donate his group's platinum records to the museum.
Jordan would like for the museum to contain six record label exhibits - Motown, Philadelphia International, Stax, Atlantic, Brunswick and one exhibit for independent labels. She believes it also should house a supper club for live performances, a gift shop, a library of books and music, and a multi-purpose room that would be used at various times as a recording, radio or TV studio.
Ralph Hunter Sr., founder and president of the African American Museum of Southern New Jersey in Newtonville, Buena Vista Township, has some items representing past R&B stars in his museum.
"I think it would be fantastic. I think it would be a wonderful marriage," Hunter said. "I think it's a win-win situation."
Jordan said she mentions her plans for a R&B museum in Atlantic City twice per day on the Facebook page for the National R&B Music Society Inc. Besides people from New Jersey and the United States, she has had people sign her petition from countries that include Germany, England and Canada.
When Jordan talks to people about her idea, their response is, "Excellent," "Wow" and "That's what we need," she said.
"We want to start making Atlantic City a destination instead of a day trip, so you need things. Why not a R&B museum? To me, it's a no brainer," said Jordan, who added the museum also is needed to preserve the city's music history. "How important is that because people don't think it has one."
Contact Vincent Jackson:
R&B museum petition
The petition to build The National R&B Music Society Museum in Atlantic City can be found at change.org/petitions. To contact the National R&B Music Society Inc. visit rnbmusicsociety.
com, its Facebook page or call 609-339-6767.