U of M honors behind the scenes player who makes Memphis music r - WMC Action News 5 - Memphis, Tennessee

U of M honors behind the scenes player who makes Memphis music rock

Musician Jon Hornyak accepts U of M award (Source: WMC Action News 5) Musician Jon Hornyak accepts U of M award (Source: WMC Action News 5)

He plays guitar, piano and has a special affinity these days for the ukulele. He’s been a garage band member, session musician, professional band member, booking agent, band manager, lighting and sound roadie on headliner national concert tours, a recording studio owner, a record producer and engineer.

With that kind of dues paying in the music business, you can understand why the Recording Academy hired Jon Hornyak as first Executive Director of its Memphis Chapter in 1994.

Hornyak has poured out his life serving musicians and the Memphis music scene for 22 years now. Given all that service, you also can understand why a “Who’s Who” of Memphis Music stopped what they were doing and headed to The Rendezvous on Friday, September 16 to honor Hornyak.

“I think the secret of happiness might well be to be in the place you were meant to be doing what you were meant to do,” Hornyak told the sold out luncheon crowd. “Looking back, I feel like it was my destiny to be here.”

The University of Memphis College of Communication and Fine Arts started presenting its “Distinguished Achievement Award in the Creative and Performing Arts” after the death of the city’s greatest music icon, Elvis Presley. In 1980, Sam Phillips, the recording genius who first took note of Elvis and so many other music legends, became the inaugural recipient of the UM honor.

The list of past winners is an honor roll of Memphis’ musical heritage: Jerry Lee Lewis, Charlie Rich, B.B. King, Carl Perkins, Al Green, David Porter, Isaac Hayes, Booker T. Jones and the MGs, just to name a few.

Click here to see photos from the event.

“I never thought I’d be one of them standing here to receive this honor. Without the great music community of Memphis, I wouldn’t be here today. We know it’s all about the artists, the songwriters, producers and engineers without whom someone like me would not have much to do,” said the bespectacled musician who’s dedicated his adult life to helping other artists and the Memphis music scene rise up. “Ever since I was a kid in Caruthersville, MO, I’ve always been happiest on a team. Whether playing basketball in high school or guitar and keyboards in garage bands. I’m here today because I’ve been blessed to have been part of all sorts of great teams.”

Now with a few gray flecks in his red hair, Hornyak reflected on his nearly 50 years in Memphis, arriving in the city in 1967 after winning one of two academic scholarships at Memphis State University for out of state students.

A splendid video flashed back on Hornyak’s musical history that starts with “Interstate 55,” a garage band that he and high school pals started in the Missouri Bootheel. The video included praise from songwriter and producer David Porter and artists like Jimmy Davis who Hornyak helped get signed to a record deal. The video told the Hornyak story up to the current day when Hornyak has founded the Memphis Ukulele Band which is just back from a special week of performances in ukulele loving Hawaii.

While enjoying the music, Hornyak has been the behind the scenes force who makes sure the sweet sounds keep coming. He helped the Grammy organization coordinate the $4 million raised for musicians displaced after Hurricane Katrina. In more recent times, he’s among those on the front lines in Congress “to make sure artists and composers get what’s due to them in the age of internet radio and streaming services; We call it Fair Play, Fair Pay.

So whether on stage strumming a ukulele or quietly working night after night to help Memphis music stay in the spotlight, Hornyak is a hero to many who love the city’s musical heritage and wish to promote a new generation of artists.

“So my lifelong love affair with music is still going strong,” Hornyak said before he picked up his ukulele and played a few numbers with his latest band!

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