The landscape of Atlanta’s Sweet Auburn Festivals has changed in recent history, with the emergence of an additional group of festival producers – the Muhammad family.
Their concept aims to re-capture the essence of the original Sweet Auburn Festival in full swing during the ‘70s and ‘80s. That original festival essence, believes the Muhammad family, is compellingly captured through this year’s Sweet Auburn Music Fest’s focus on family, music, culture, and community involvement.
“I was involved when the festival first brought thousands of people to Auburn Avenue and the entire community benefited,” says senior producer and Auburn Avenue businessman Steven Muhammad. “I do not approve of the profiteering that has taken place in the past decade, and we are determined to get it right, once again.”
S.E. Region News conferred with Mr. Bennie Smith, the founder of the first Sweet Auburn Festival, to get some sense of the character of the first Festival.
“The idea began in 1976,” claimed Smith. “It was to circulate the money back into the community – that’s why I became involved. All of us who had businesses wanted a cleaner, safer environment. Every business bought into it. It was universal. ”
Smith went on to recount how he had been urged by the late Dr. William Holmes Borders, then the politically influential pastor of Wheat Street Baptist Church, to “make something happen on Auburn Ave.”, to revitalize Sweet Auburn, known as “Sweet”, because it was acknowledged as the wealthiest black business district in the country at one time.
In 1986, the Festival, according to long-time community businessman Smith, was especially noteworthy, with appearances of James Brown, SCLC civil rights icon Hosea Williams, barbecue cooking by the Rib Shack, and the March Against Crime and Violence. “The merchants and the entire community on Auburn Ave. participated,” Smith shared. “We had the popular entertainers of the time to sponsor and help underwrite the costs of the Festival. And the merchants thrived from the Festival, out of their participation in the Sweet Auburn Merchant Association.”
“We want to see progress on Auburn Avenue. Atlanta’s economic power brokers and those constructing the Trolley must commit to reviving Auburn Avenue,” emphasizes executive producer Yusuf Muhammad. “We want everyone to benefit, so we’re taking this Festival back to its original essence, as a community-based, inclusive event.”
The Muhammad’s Sweet Auburn Music Fest will hold a news conference Thursday at 1:00 pm to launch the Festival at the historic Peacock Lounge (186 Auburn Ave., Atlanta 30303). Gladys Knight, an Atlanta native, and Dr. Yamma Brown, James Brown’s daughter, will be there to accept the inaugural “Walk of Fame” award being presented jointly by Radio One and the Sweet Auburn Music Festival (FCE Entertainment). Cathelean Steele, First Lady of the Southern Christian Leadership Conference and Director of SCLC’s Justice For Girls, will also participate.