When Fred Jones Jr. originally conceived the idea of two well-matched southern football teams squaring off in an annual grudge match, he knew it would be entertaining and would draw crowds of tens of thousands from across the region. But the success of the Southern Heritage Classic® Cultural Celebration has exceeded his original vision beyond his dreams.
Emboldened by the cause to help support worthy educational institutions and encouraged by growing attendance, Fred Jones Jr. added many activities to the football game since its launch in 1990. The Southern Heritage Classic® Cultural Celebration attracts fans from across the country, many of whom schedule family vacations and reunions around the annual rivalry football game featuring Tennessee State Univeristy and Jackson State University. It makes sense, because the Southern Heritage Classic® Cultural Celebration has developed into a weekend jam-packed with a parade, a fashion show, concerts, a golf tournament, tailgate parties, a coaches luncheon, a battle of the bands, and more. There is something to meet the varied interests of fans of all ages.
Fred Jones Jr. never doubted that the Memphis community would support the event. Growing up in the Cleaborne Homes housing community in the Memphis area, Jones worked during the day and went to school at night to earn his BBA degree from Memphis State University in 1971. He recognized that the support of his family and friends was vital to that achievement, and he wanted others to have that same support and opportunity. Having discovered a knack for putting together entertainers with large audiences in the most attractive venues, he blended that talent with his love for education and for helping the community to which he himself was grateful. From that combination, and a wealth of experience, the Southern Heritage Classic® Cultural Celebration was born.
Fred Jones Jr.’s experience includes associations with a roster of well-known, first-class talent including Isaac Hayes, The Isley Brothers, Prince, Bill Cosby, The Commodores, Stevie Wonder, Parliament-Funkadelic, Luther Vandross, LL Cool J, Count Basie, Tyler Perry, Jill Scott, Erykah Badu, Maze featuring Frankie Beverly, The O’Jays, Usher, and hundreds more. He also assembled national blues and jazz tours for several international companies. He was an original owner/limited partner of the Memphis NBA team, the Memphis Grizzlies. But Fred Jones Jr. considers his most fulfilling business endeavor to be the Southern Heritage Classic. “I’ve had a lot of fun throughout my career and I’ve had the pleasure to work with hundreds of fascinating, talented people. But there is no thrill for me bigger than getting to hand Jackson State University and Tennessee State University the checks they earn every year after the event and knowing that money will be used by schools that really need and deserve the support.”
For Fred Jones Jr., it doesn’t matter how big it grows to be, it will always have the nostalgic flavor of a hometown tradition: “The Southern Heritage Classic® Cultural Celebration has become the premier sports and entertainment event in Memphis. While it has taken on the size of a huge city event, it has retained the small-town warmth and feel that is so characteristic of events in the Memphis area. The Classic really belongs to the community.”
That attitude is one reason Fred Jones Jr. has earned recognition from a host of prestigious organizations. His most recent honors include:
- 2023 Named one of The Ten Most Dominant HBCU Leaders of 2024 by the HBCU Campaign Fund
- 2023 Community Award from The S.O. What! Foundation
- 2022 Induction into the Memphis Sports Hall of Fame
- 2022 WLOK Outstanding Citizenship Award
- 2019 Street Dedication ‘Fred Jones Way’
- 2019 Lifetime Achievement Award from the Memphis Basketball Legends Committee
- 2019 Power 100 in Memphis business from the Memphis Business Journal
- 2019 THEE Bluff City Community Activist Award from the Jackson State University National Alumni-Memphis Chapter
- 2019 Willie Gregory Touchstone Award from the Tarik Black Foundation
- 2019 Top 40 Change Maker in Memphis from Leadership Memphis
- 2019 Memphis Legend of Football from the Memphis Express
- 2019 Living Legend Award from The Academy For Youth Empowerment
- 2018 Best in Black Living Legend Award from The New Tri-State Defender
- 2018 A Founder’s Salute from the Southern Heritage Classic
- 2017 Key to the City from Memphis Mayor Jim Strickland
- 2017 President’s Award from Carnival Memphis
- 2017 Best in Black Legacy Award from The New Tri-State Defender
- 2014 Music Business Award from the W. C. Handy Heritage Awards
- 2014 Keep The Dream Alive Award from the Martin Luther King Hickory Hill Community Parade
- 2012 Community Hero from the Memphis Grizzlies and McDonald’s
- 2010 Beale Street Brass Note Walk of Fame
- 2010 Induction into the Black Business Directory’s African-American Hall of Fame
- 2010 Legacy Award from the AME Church
- 2010 Memphis Hero from The Orpheum Theatre
- 2010 Recognition by the TN Senate and House of Representatives for extraordinary efforts
- 2010 Authur S. Holmon Lifetime Achievement Award from the University of Memphis
- 2009 Men of Excellence Award from the Tri–State Defender
- 2009 Corporation of the Year from the Minority Enterprise Development Corporation
- 2009 Community Leader of the Year Award from the CME Church/One Church One School
- 2007 Citizen of the Year by the Epsilon Phi Chapter of Omega Psi Phi Fraternity, Inc.
- 2006 Circle of Honor from the Memphis Black Business Association
- 2006 Induction into The Society of Entrepreneurs
- 2005 Entrepreneur of the Year from the National Alliance of Market Developers
- 2004 Kate Gooch Award for Service to the Community from Leadership Memphis
- 2004 Named the 12th most influential African-American in the state by Business Tennessee magazine
- 2002 Induction into Alumni Hall of Fame for Memphis City Schools
- 2002 Award of Excellence from the Thurgood Marshall Scholarship Fund
- 2001 Dr. R. Q. Venson Pioneer Award from the Memphis Kemet Jubilee, Inc.
- 2000 Community Sales Award from the Sales and Marketing Executives of Memphis
- 1988 WDIA’s Gold Mike Award
Major corporations in the area enthusiastically support the Southern Heritage Classic. FedEx is the presenting sponsor. Other major sponsors include AutoZone, Nike, MillerCoors, Carrier Corporation and Tennessee Highway Safety Office. The list of sponsors continue to grow every year.
For more information on the Southern Heritage Classic® Cultural Celebration and other events, call SMC Entertainment at (901) 398-6655 or toll free 1-800-332-1991.