YARMOUTH - On Sunday afternoon, the Riverway Lobster House's main dining room was packed to capacity for the 42 Annual Joseph Daluz Unsung Hero Awards, as hosted by the Cape Cod Branch of the NAACP. Among those being honored was GroovaLottos drummer, Eddie Ray Johnson (Billie J Atkins, II) for his accomplishments and contributions to music as well as his dedicated mentoring work through Song Keepers, LTD.
Born in Cambridge, Johnson's family moved to Wareham when he was a very small child. At the age of 8 he was inspired to play the drums after seeing the Jackson 5 on the Flip Wilson Show and began playing the drums in elementary school. As a student at Wareham High School he also be gan playing the tuba and sousaphone, which earned him a scholarship to major in music at Dean College. While at Dean he came to the attention of a booking agency that hired him as a sub/ fill-in drummer for various rock, blues and soul acts that were on tour during the 1970's and '80's. In his career, artists that he played with include soul music legends Wilson Pickett, and Rufus Thomas.
After almost 20 years on the road, Johnson returned to Wareham and founded the regional band West Side Soul, which was a favorite at such Cape Cod venues as Joe's Twin Villa in Osterville and The Bunker in Dennis. As a resident artist at the Cotuit Center for the Arts, Billie also began teaching the drums and various forms of percussion to students of various ages.
In 2009, along with James Wolf and Mwalim, he formed The GroovaLottos. He co-produced the band's 2017 album, "Ask Yo' Mama" which went on to receive 6 Grammy nominations in Pop, R&B, and Rock. A strong advocate of music in our schools, Johnson and his bandmates co-founded Song Keepers, LTD, in 2011 as a non-profit, professional arts and education organization dedicated the preservation and continuation of Native and African American musical traditions. much of the work of Song Keepers, LTD is dedicated to supporting music education and opportunities for public school children from low income families, including the organizations support of the efforts of the Onset Jazz Festival to serve that end. Johnson helped develop the organizations mentoring program, which offers mentoring, training and experiences to young musicians and media artists looking to pursue music and/or media as fields of study and careers. Through this program he co-developed and co produced the anti-opioid song and music video "Flippin" along with several members of the mentoring program as the Soul Poets Syndicate.
In his acceptance comments, Mr. Johnson thanked the NAACP award committee for this honor, noting that this was the first time that he was being recognized for anything this level. The Unsung Hero Awards were introduced in 1977 by the Cape Cod Branch of the NAACP by the organizations long-time present, Joseph Daluz, who passed away in 2016. The awards continued after his passing and have been re-named in his honor.
Johnson is also in the new musical comedy "The Soul Session", running every Saturday night throughout the summer in Provincetown at the Governor Bradford Restaurant's downstairs venue, Focsicles, 312 Commercial St, Provincetown, MA. Doors open at 7pm. For information and advanced tickets, visit http://tinyurl.com/thesoulsession