R&B legends The Bar-Kays to be honored by the University of Memphis

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MEMPHIS, Tenn. -- From the blaring horns and infectious chant of their Stax Records hit "Soulfinger" to their sexy sound on their recent smash called "Grown Folks," the legendary Bar-Kays, featuring James Alexander and Larry Dodson, have taken fans on a musical journey that's lasted 50 golden years.

"You're talking about a group that's been around for 50 years. Our fans have given us a lot. I don't take it for granted and I am really in awe of the accolades," Alexander said.

"We are celebrating 50 years in show business. Not many bands can do that. Not many bands can stay in existence for that long," Dodson said.

This R&B and funk group got its start back in 1964 as the house band for Stax Records and the backup band for Otis Redding until tragedy struck.

Richard Ranta is dean of the College of Communication and Fine Arts .

"They, on that tour with singer Otis (Redding) when that plane crashed in Wisconsin, were essentially wiped out. There were two people left, James and Ben (Cauley, the trumpet player). James continued on adding Larry as the front man," Ranta said.

The group persevered and went on to record five gold and one platinum album and more than 20 Top 10 singles and albums, and they performed at the White House last year.

David Porter is a globally known songwriter and producer at Stax.

"The mere fact that these guys are celebrating 50 years in the business speaks a lot about endurance, perseverance, determination, but also good entertainment," Porter said.

The group is now on the verge of getting one of its biggest honors. The University of Memphis College of Communication and Fine Arts is honoring the Bar-Kays with the 2014 Distinguished Achievement Award in the Creative and Performing Arts for their longstanding contributions to music. The event is co-sponsored by WREG-TV News Channel 3.

"It's really past due that they've been honored. The Bar-Kays are really entertaining and creativity is another important part of it. We recognize people for the creative work they're doing. That soul sound and that funk that fusion they put together that makes an element of creativity other people have not had," Ranta said.

The Bar-Kays are known for their electrifying performances on stage and remaining current with their work in the recording studio, but they're also known for mentoring aspiring Memphis musicians and working on community projects they call their  "Fab Five."

"They're heavily involved in trying to make things better particularly with the young people in this community," Ranta said.

Some of those causes and organizations include St. Jude Research Hospital, the Stax Music Academy, the United Way, the Down Syndrome Foundation and scholarships for LeMoyne-Owen College and traveling overseas to perform for U.S. troops.

"Much is given, much is required. It's our duty to give back," Alexander said.

It's all a part of 50 years of making music and 50 years of giving back to Memphis. It's a funky musical journey the Bar-Kays don't plan on ending anytime soon.

"I look up to the heavens and thank God for being around so long and hopefully we can make music all of our fans like," Alexander said.

The Bar-Kays Distinguished Achievement Award ceremony is Friday morning, October 10 at 11 o'clock. It'll take place in the University Center Ballroom on the University of Memphis campus.

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