For decades, pop culture fans from around the world have traveled to Los Angeles to walk more than a dozen blocks of Hollywood Boulevard and see their favorite celebrities commemorated on terrazzo and brass stars embedded into the sidewalks. Now, stars and politicians hope a new attraction in Atlanta highlighting influential Black entertainers will generate the same buzz.
“People always say that this is Black Hollywood, so why do we not have Hollywood squares to celebrate our Blackness? It’s so important that today we make history,” Georgia State Representative Erica Thomas said.
Unveiled on June 17, the Black Music and Entertainment Walk of Fame inducted its first 12 celebrities during a ceremony at Mercedes-Benz Stadium that was attended by politicians such as Mayor Keisha Lance Bottoms and mayoral candidates and Atlanta City Councilmembers Andre Dickens and Antonio Brown, and musicians such as Jermaine Dupri, Missy Elliott, Dallas Austin, Kirk Franklin and Shirley Caesar. Instead of stars, the circular emblems that are expected to be embedded into a sidewalk on Martin Luther King Jr. Drive near the intersection of Northside Drive within the next few weeks are referred to as “crown jewels” and address inductees as “king” and “queen.”
The walk of fame currently includes four “foundational inductees”—James Brown, Otis Redding, Quincy Jones and Stevie Wonder—as well as Michael Jackson, Sean Combs, Shirley Caesar, Kirk Franklin, Missy Elliott, OutKast, Beyonce, and Usher. Several of the inductees—such as Georgia natives James Brown, Otis Redding, and OutKast—have local ties.
The commemorative attraction was the brainchild of Thomas and BMI’s Catherine Brewton, both of whom founded the Georgia Entertainment Caucus in 2019, in collaboration with Black American Music Association founders Michael T. Mauldin and Demmette Guidry. Mayor Bottoms said the walk of fame came together mere months before it was first pitched.
“In the same way that Atlanta has influenced the civil rights movement, and we continue to set the bar so very high, we know that we continue to influence music,” she said during a speech at the unveiling. “I am so appreciative to the Black American Music Association and the Georgia Entertainment Caucus for coming up with this incredible idea.” Dickens and Brown then joined the mayor on stage to read a proclamation declaring June 17, 2021 Black Music and Entertainment Walk of Fame Day.
During a star-studded ceremony inside Mercedes-Benz Stadium, inductees and their family members highlighted the significance of the honor. Deanna Brown Thomas, daughter of James Brown and president of the late singer’s family foundation, told Atlanta her father’s emblem represents “history that’s going to be cemented in the ground permanently for future generations.” Sean Combs’s son, Christian, noted the significance of Atlanta for his family, both on his paternal and maternal side. His mother, the late model Kim Porter, was from Columbus, Georgia.
Perhaps the most stirring moment during the ceremony came from inductee Missy Elliott. During a teary speech, Elliott highlighted the importance of an honor that was created specifically to highlight Black artists. “I battled [with coming] because [Covid] is still out there. But, then I was just like, my people have supported me all these years. And [we’re] so quick to go to any other awards, but the reason we’re accepted is because our people accept us first. And, that’s why I’m here. I want y’all to know that I appreciate [this] and I’m so humbly grateful,” she said, receiving a standing ovation. The trailblazing hip-hop star was inducted by her longtime manager, Mona Scott-Young (who also helms the popular VH1 show Love & Hip-Hop: Atlanta) with the help of audio and video recordings from Janet Jackson, Da Brat, and Timbaland.
Watching @MissyElliott tear up while getting inducted into the Black Music and Entertainment Walk of Fame…wow. pic.twitter.com/JsdpmpBNZC
— Jewel Wicker (@jewelwickershow) June 17, 2021
Officials say they’re hoping to induct another class of influential celebrities into the walk of fame later this year before switching to an annual induction schedule. They also stress that they want to include influential people in media, film, television and other aspects of entertainment, not just music.