Jamerson was inducted into the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame in 2000, and he’s a subject of the 2002 documentary about the Funk Brothers Standing in the Shadows of Motown
. In 2003, Mayor Joseph P. Riley Jr., who endorsed the musician’s induction into the S.C. Hall of Fame, proclaimed Sept. 18 and 19 James Lee Jamerson days. In 2009, Charleston Democratic Rep. Wendal Gilliard presented McKnight with a resolution at the Statehouse honoring Jamerson as an American music innovator. But McKnight, a 60-year-old Charleston singer, wonders why his cousin has not been recognized by the S.C. Hall of Fame. “If you want me to be truthful, I think it’s the good ‘ol boys,” he says with a chuckle.
This year, though, McKnight has a new high-profile ally in his fight to get Jamerson the recognition he deserves. In December, Gov. Nikki Haley sent a letter to the Confederation of South Carolina Local Historical Societies recommending Jamerson be inducted into the S.C. Hall of Fame. In it, she called him “an amazing bass player” and one of the Palmetto State’s most talented native sons.
“Jamerson had a great influence on the development of the Motown sound through his performances with artists including Marvin Gaye, Smokey Robinson, The Temptations, and virtually every name in Motown,” Haley wrote. “The story of his life has been chronicled in print and a Grammy Award-winning documentary film.”
According to a 2009 story in the Post & Courier
, Jamerson played on more No. 1 records than the Beatles, Rolling Stones, and Beach Boys combined. And he played on “virtually all of the hits by acts such as the Supremes, Temptations, Four Tops, Miracles, Marvin Gaye, Stevie Wonder, and Martha and the Vandellas.”
Located in Myrtle Beach, the S.C. Hall of Fame was created in 1973 to recognize and honor contemporary and deceased South Carolinians who have made remarkable contributions to the state's heritage and progress. The Confederation of South Carolina Local Historical Societies is the official organization that selects nominees. The group chooses one contemporary and one deceased nominee annually. Inductees include Jazz musician Dizzy Gillespie, who was born in Cheraw, painter Jasper Johns, Gen. William C. Westmoreland, Strom Thurmond and Andrew Jackson, among more than 60 others.
McKnight hopes that with Haley’s help 2014 will be his cousin Jamerson’s year.
“I just don’t get it. Because he’s been inducted to every other museum and other institutions around the country and around the world,” he says. “What’s wrong with South Carolina?”
When Anthony McKnight was growing up in the projects of Charleston with his cousin James, he couldn’t have known that more than a half century later he’d be fighting to get him inducted into the S.C. Hall of Fame. But that’s what McKnight has been doing for his cousin, legendary Motown bassist James Jamerson, since 1998. Jamerson in died in the early 1983.