BOPB Hall of Fame set for June 27


A legendary blues musician, a champion of the disabled, a civil rights heroine, a Catholic priest with a heart of gold, and two iconic restaurant owners consist of this year’s group of inductees into Signature Magazine’s Best of the Pine Belt Hall of Fame.

Created in 2016 as an extension of the magazine’s annual Best of the Pine Belt competition, the event is held in conjunction each year with FestivalSouth, Mississippi’s only multi-week, multi-genre festival, presented by the Hattiesburg Concert Association.

The annual celebration – and its accompanying dinner and induction ceremony – is made possible through the generous support of First Bank and FB Wealth Management.

David Gustafson, publisher of Signature Magazine, said the purpose of the event is to recognize businesses, individuals, and organizations that go above and beyond to promote, support, and grow the greater Pine Belt of South Mississippi.

This year’s inductees include:

  • Raylawni Branch, one of the first two African American students to enroll at the University of Southern Mississippi in 1965.
  • Father Tommy Conway, longtime priest at St. Thomas Aquinas and St. Fabian Catholic churches in Hattiesburg.
  • The Fokakis family, which has owned and operated the Coney Island Cafe in downtown Hattiesburg for more than a century.
  • Cindy Pennington, executive director of The Arc of Southeast Mississippi, which works to support individuals with disabilities.
  • Tommy “T-Bone” Pruitt, a Jones County-based blues musician who has performed and toured throughout the United States for more than a half-century.
  • Robert St. John, local chef/author/ restaurateur whose Purple Parrot Cafe, Crescent City Grill, and affiliated restaurants have been a staple of the Pine Belt culinary scene.
  • Also being honored this year is Nelson Haskin Jr., owner of Blu Jazz Cafe, Nellie’s Chicken and Daiquiris, and Southbound Bagel – all located in downtown Hattiesburg – who will be presented with the John “Jay” Slaughter Catalyst Award.

This year’s Best of the Pine Belt Hall of Fame dinner and induction ceremony will be held Thursday, June 27, at The Bottling Company.

Tickets for the dinner, induction ceremony, and concert featuring Pruitt are on sale now at

Previous inductees to the BOPB Hall of Fame include:

2016: The late Leatha Jackson of Leatha’s Barbeque, Dr. Jay Dean, T-Bones Records and Cafe, and Catalyst Award recipient Samantha McCain.

2017: Cary Hudson, Joe Paul, Terry Jordan, The Asbury Foundation, and John “Jay” Slaughter Catalyst Award recipient Sarah Newton.

2018: Justin Martin and WUSM radio, the late Robin Wentworth, Dr. Eddie Holloway, and the John “Jay” Slaughter Catalyst Award recipient Abigail Lenz Allen.