By OMAR ZAPATA
First meeting in Temple, Albert ‘Al’ and Essie Morris would harmonize and sing along with each other across desks.
This encounter would blossom into a country-soul duo, a loving marriage that for the last 40 years, and a career of more than 10,000 shows across America.
And the Harlingen couple is now now getting recognized for it.
Mrs. And Ms. Country soul will be inducted into the National Multicultural Western Heritage Museum Hall of Fame in Fort Worth on Saturday, July 23. Marking the 18th Hall of Fame class, the museum and Hall of Fame is made to honor and document men and women who have made contributions to Western Heritage, past and present.
Essie said their name, Mrs & Ms Country Soul, was given to them in 1984 because of the unique country soul style they played. Before that, they were the Texas Cotton Pickers Association.
“We’ve been around everywhere, and we’ve seen so many people and know so many people and that’s one of the reasons why Al and I smile so strongly,” she said. “When they told us that they we’re being inducted into the Hall of Fame, but it’s not a Musician Hall of Fame. It’s a multicultural type Hall of Fame, it made us feel even stronger.”
Originally working and meeting in Temple, the two went on to become editors of a newspaper in Killeen called Centex Motion News.
Albert, a Temple native, having a musical background and performing with artists such as The Temptations, The 5th Dimension and Diana Ross, one day asked Essie if she wanted to start a band together.
Essie, a native of North Carolina, being a former educator and counselor, said the only musical background she had was growing up singing and harmonizing in church.
“He turned to me one day and said, ‘Let’s start a band’,” Essie said. “ And I thought he was trying to get fresh with me … but I said alright, I’m game. And our last headline read, ‘Centex editors go country’.”
Hundreds of photos and books full of thank you notes from shows across the country spanning four decades only shows a glimpse of the life full of memories lived on the road by Mrs. And Ms. County Soul.
Albert said there have been many ups and downs along the way, but they just kept pushing. One thing they struggled with was being black artists in a genre dominated by white singers.
“I’ll be honest with you, black people have not supported us,” Albert said. “They said we were playing white folks’ music.”
Essie replied that country music came from the cotton fields.
“Slaves used to sing to each other,” she said. “Country music tells a story, it’s just like blues, it says something.”
Now with Essie being 87, and Albert, 84 , the couple is still playing and performing as a duo wherever they are hired or invited to.
“I don’t know anybody in my circle that’s ever gotten an award like this,” Albert said. “I’m a musician, I only know folks that receive this kind of stuff way up on top. But here we are. A little ol guy from Temple Texas, someone from Rutherford [County], North Carolina getting this award.”
In addition to the couple, 10 more people—including Danny Glover, Chris Navarro, Reginald T. Dorsey, Anthony Brubaker, Harry Belafonte, DeBoraha Akin-Townson, and posthumously Sammy Davis Jr. and Sir Sidney Poitier—will be inducted into the hall of fame.
Asked what keeps them performing,” Albert said. “Just the thought that we are out here doing something and making people happy and bringing some life and joy to people’s hearts and watching them smile.”