The Mel Waiters Way sign hangs at the intersection with Commerce Street. Credit: Bonnie Arbittier / Rivard Report

Orange barriers blocked off the street between Paso Hondo and Gibbs streets as roughly 100 people gathered around a white tent, fanning themselves and passing out water bottles. Many of them wore T-shirts featuring a picture of local musician Mel Waiters captioned with colorful script, “The Legendary Mel Waiters.”

With a snip of the ceremonial ribbon, City officials opened Mel Waiters Way on San Antonio’s East Side Saturday morning.

The street, formerly known as Rio Grande, honors San Antonio blues legend Melvin “Mel” Waiters. San Antonio City Council unanimously passed the ordinance to rename the street in May.

A large crowd gathers for the ribbon-cutting ceremony. Credit: Bonnie Arbittier / Rivard Report

Waiters was born on June 25, 1956 in San Antonio. He grew up on the East Side at the former East Terrace Courts, which once sat on the same street that now bears his name.

Mel Waiters

Waiters’ illustrious career included appearances with artists such as Gladys Knight, Evelyn “Champagne” King, Charlie Wilson, and Babyface, and his fourth album, Material Things, made the Billboard Top 100 R&B charts. The self-described “southern soul” musician died in 2015 at age 58.

Alongside Waiters’ family members, Mayor Ron Nirenberg, Councilman William “Cruz” Shaw (D2), Bexar County Commissioner Tommy Calvert (Pct. 4), and State Rep. Barbara Gervin-Hawkins (D-San Antonio) all thanked attendees for their presence and for advocating for the name change.

“When one can bring this level of people – the mayor, the city councilman, the commissioner, the state representative – that tells you something about how important the man is,” Gervin-Hawkins said. “This is an important day, as we honor our heroes in different professions. We need to continue to do that so we don’t let our history be destroyed.”

Calvert praised East Side residents for standing by Waiters’ side during his early years.

“From that experience of being supported by this village in East Terrace, a young man rose and began to develop his talents thanks to many of you today – family and friends – who encouraged him and kept him going,” Calvert said.

To his knowledge, Mel Waiters Way is only the second street in San Antonio to be named after a black male, Calvert said, adding there are a lot more that need to be recognized for their contributions to the city.

“Our community is often marginalized, made to feel as if we don’t contribute to the 300 years,” Calvert said. “But we have been integral to the history of this city, integral to how this city has been promoted around the United States and around the world.”

(From left) Mel Waiters’ family, Councilman William “Cruz” Shaw (D2), Mayor Ron Nirenberg, Bexar County Commissioner Tommy Calvert (Pct. 4), and State Rep. Barbara Gervin-Hawkins (D-San Antonio) cut a ribbon in honor of the renaming of Mel Waiters Way. Credit: Bonnie Arbittier / Rivard Report

Shaw said the street’s name would impact children for generations to come. When kids walk to school, he said, they’ll see Mel Waiters’ name and learn about his legacy and how he returned to San Antonio to give back to his community.

The renaming, he said, would not have been possible without the perseverance of Waiters’ wife and daughter, Porchia and Brittney Waiters.

“To the Mel Waiters family, God bless you,” Shaw said. “You hold a special place in my heart because I saw the frustration, I saw the hurt. But you kept it moving and you got it done.”

Brittney Waiters thanked the community for its time, love, and support. Mel Waiters Way is proof not only of success stories originating in San Antonio, but more importantly, on the city’s East Side, she said.

“We also shared my dad not only with the city of San Antonio, but with the entire world,” she said. “We did this together. This is our street, so we thank you.”

Jackie Wang is a general assignment reporter at the Rivard Report.

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