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Memphis in May International Festival

Bicentennial Gala

Story by Emily Adams Keplinger  | Photos by Don Perry 

The 2019 Memphis in May Bicentennial Gala lived up to its name, pausing its tradition of honoring a foreign country and focusing instead on its hometown. Held exactly 200 years to the day of the founding of Memphis, this year’s gala saluted the City of Memphis, as well as Shelby County. Leigh Shockey, Susan Arney and Pat Kerr Tigrett, the Gala Host Committee Chairmen, welcomed glamorously attired guests to the FedExForum for a spectacular night of celebrating 200 Years and a New Century of Soul. 

Local rapper Al Kapone served as the evening’s emcee and introduced Rabbi Micah Greenstein and The Reverent Dr. Kenneth Robinson who both shared in giving the Invocation. Rabbi Greenstein asked, “How many Memphians does it take to change the world?” and answered, “1,” saying that if each person in the room would focus on making one change, then the world would be a better place for all of us. And Rev. Robinson commented that it was just like the lyrics in the Memphis musical that played on Broadway, “Memphis lives in me.”

The Honorable Jim Strickland, Mayor of Memphis and The Honorable Lee Harris, Mayor of Shelby County, took turns welcoming the evening’s guests and introducing the spectacular Memphis Musical Entertainment. Savanna Buster, a Lakeland resident who sang on “The Voice,” Evie McKinnon, and The BarKays, along with Al Kapone, brought their talents to the stage, performing hit after hit to the delight of the crowd. And Governor Bill Lee sent his well wishes in a video message that was shared with the gala attendees, closing with “Grit and Grind Memphis!”

Party-goers enjoyed a seated dinner that featured chargrilled Romaine Casear salad, with a dual entree of petite mignon and seared salmon served with asparagus and a risotto toe cake with three peppercorn sauce. Desserts included blueberry cobbler cheesecake and a flourless chocolate cake with raspberry sauce. San Simeon Cabernet Sauvignon and Stella Rosa Pearl Lux Sparking wines rounded out the meal.

“We produced the gala on behalf of the city of Memphis and the proceeds supported the many bicentennial programs held throughout May, along with the free community event, Celebrate Memphis held on May 25,” said Jim Holt, President and CEO of Memphis in May. “The Memphis in May Festival began 42 years ago with a modest budget of $52,000 and has now grown to become an $11 million non-profit organization with an annual economic impact of over $137 million (in 2018).” 


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