Missy Elliott will have a street named after her in her hometown

Portsmouth will honor hip-hop native Missy Elliott with a boulevard named after her in the city’s new entertainment district.

City Council members approved a request on Tuesday to honor the four-time Grammy award winner by permanently renaming a 1-mile stretch along McLean Street the “Missy Elliott Boulevard.”

The new name will span from Airline Boulevard to Greenwood Drive, within the Victory Crossing area near Tidewater Community College and the future Portsmouth Rivers Casino. It’s an area council members say is primed for future development.

McLean Street is named after George Tutton McLean, who was the first developer of the Cavalier Manor neighborhood in the 1950s.

The request came from Portsmouth resident and lifelong fan Erin Carter, who lives on Forestdale Drive. Carter said the name change will spur interest in an area the city has deemed the new entertainment district.

But it also honors a hometown hero who Carter says had the courage to beat all odds and take on the world stage.

“It’s time for her hometown to honor her accomplishments as a music icon,” Carter said. “It will be a testament (of) our city greatness that Portsmouth was the place that launched her career.”

Born as Melissa Arnette Elliott in 1971, the Portsmouth native has won numerous BET and MTV Video Music awards, including the Video Vanguard Award. She’s the first female rap artist and third rapper to be inducted into the Songwriters Hall of Fame. And last year, she was awarded a star on the Hollywood Walk of Fame.

Elliott also hosted a reality show called “The Road to Stardom with Missy Elliott,” which featured episodes filmed in Norfolk. Among her most popular hits are “Work It,” co-produced with Norfolk native Timbaland in 2002, and “Lose Control.”

She graduated from Woodrow Wilson High School, now Manor High. In 2019, she gave the school $25,000.

The vote among council members was unanimous, with councilman Chris Woodard noting it’s a strategic location that will “lure tourist dollars.” Councilwoman Lisa Lucas-Burke went a step further and called for a key to the city.

“Missy Elliott has been a great rapper, actor, artist and she does deserve this recognition,” she said.

Vice Mayor De’Andre Barnes said it’s an opportunity to recognize an inspiring Black female artist.

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While a few Portsmouth residents spoke in support for the same reasons at Tuesday’s meeting, others weren’t thrilled. Steve Carrol said the lyrics to Elliott’s song “Work It” are filled with “crude and lude” lyrics containing “sexual innuendos and repeated references to male and female genitalia.”

“Council must consider if this represents the city,” he said.

But members Paul Battle and Mark Whitaker pushed back on Carrol’s comments. Battle said council cannot censor speech and that he remembers the controversy from Elvis Presley’s dance moves and lyrics.

“If you don’t like it, you don’t have to listen to it,” he said. “But she is an accomplished person.”

Whitaker then said Americans sing the Star Spangled Banner, which contains a verse that historians say glorifies slavery.

“I know you would sing all four verses,” Whitaker quipped.

Planning Director Robert Baldwin said it’s not yet known when the name change will be implemented as such requests aren’t common. He added that there was no opposition cited before the Planning Commission voted in support in July.

Story by Natalie Anderson for The Virginia Pilot

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