Local Living Legends

Meridian, Miss. At ages 74 and 82 respectfully, Ken Rainey and Tony Sansone are living legends of sorts in Meridian. Both are natives of the city, and their love for it runs deep. Over the years they've shown that love in more ways than one. Since the 1960's both men have worked on projects that have helped bring some of the most memorable, big name acts to Meridian.

In fact, Mr. Sansone worked with the group that first helped to open the historic Temple Theatre to community events. That happened during the early 1960's when the Meridian Jaycees were able to attract the Mississippi Junior Miss Program to Meridian.

"Before that this was a movie theatre," says Sansone, "and we had to convince them to rent us the theatre so we could do this, and that was like an act of congress, but we got it done."

Other groups followed suit, such as WOKK radio. From 1968 to the mid-1970's Ken Rainey says he and station officials helped bring big name artists to the theatre for concerts.

"Over and over we had Tammy Wynette, George Jones, the Oak Ridge Boys, I don't know who you could name that we didn't have really," says Rainey.

During that time, Mr. Sansone was making his own mark. It was 1973 when he set his sights on bringing even more activities to Meridian.

"I went to a Chamber of Commerce meeting and I said, 'Why don't we have an arts festival in Meridian and book some acts here?' The president at that time was a gentleman named Gray Cobb and he said, 'Tony, you book'em and we'll do it!"

That marked the birth of the Lively Arts Festival in Meridian which lasted until the 1980's and attracted numerous big name artists to the Queen City.

"We had Gladys Knight and Pips, Dionne Warwick, Tony Bennett and the list went on and on."

Those early concerts were just the start for Tony Sansone and Ken Rainey. The two later joined forces, and to this day they are still providing a labor of love for their beloved hometown.


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