Dixie Hummingbirds, Pinetop Perkins Win NEA Fellowships

The gospel group and bluesman are among 13 artists honored by National Endowment for the Arts.

African-American gospel group the Dixie Hummingbirds, blues pianist "Pinetop" Perkins, Afro-Cuban percussionist Felipe Garcia Villamil and Tejano accordionist/singer Santiago Jimenez Jr. are among the recipients of the 2000 National Heritage Fellowships awarded by the National Endowment for the Arts.

These lifetime achievement fellowships — which the NEA announced on Wednesday — are considered the most prestigious honor in the folk and traditional arts.

Thirteen artists were recognized with the $10,000 one-time grant this year. Seven of them are from the music world.

Record producer and label founder Chris Strachwitz received the Bess Lomax Hawes Award, given for helping to sustain and preserve musical traditions. The award — given for the first time this year — is named for the distinguished folklorist and sister of Alan Lomax, who founded the National Heritage Fellowship Program.

Mississippi Delta pianist Joe Willie "Pinetop" Perkins is considered one of the last remaining first-generation blues musicians. In addition to hosting a live radio show in the '40s, Perkins was a member of Muddy Waters' blues band for 12 years. He recorded numerous albums under his own name in the '80s and '90s, and he's also played with Sonny Boy Williamson, Howlin' Wolf and the Rolling Stones.

The Dixie Hummingbirds, who influenced the Temptations, Stevie Wonder and James Brown, are one of the last original African American gospel quartets from the 20's. The "Birds," as they were often called, set the pace for quartet singing for nearly 30 years. They also accompanied Paul Simon on the hit "Love Me Like a Rock."

An awards ceremony is planned for September.

2000 National Heritage Fellowship recipients (music):

Dixie Hummingbirds: African-American gospel quartet

Santiago Jimenez Jr.: Tejano accordionist/singer

Genoa Keawe: Hawaiian singer/ukulele player

Joe Willie "Pinetop" Perkins: blues piano player

Chris Strachwitz: record producer/label founder

Felipe Garcia Villamil: Afro-Cuban drummer/santero

Don Walser: Western singer/guitarist