Memphis Music: Yesterday And Today

The best way to gain knowledge of any people is to learn about their environment. As you travel to different cities or countries, there is a lot to learn from museum visits. The museum will expose much about the culture, intelligence, and most importantly the history of surrounding residents. I mention the importance of history because it can give chronological order to the events that brought us to the present day community. Along with the history is the importance of the community culture; namely musical culture.

You see, every place tends to have a musical history. Some places have the distinction of birthing a particular sound or style of music. I am from Chicago’s south side, which is widely known for blues music and R&B in years that are more recent. Here in Miami, there is a history of disco music and more recent an unmistakable style of music called Miami Bass. Thanks to Gloria and Emilio Estefan and many others, Miami also owns the distinction for production of Latin music in the US. If you travel through the south of the US, one city has left an indelible mark on the fabric of modern music, and it is all because of a very rich musical history. The city I speak of is none other than Memphis, Tennessee.

A few weeks ago, I received the wonderful opportunity to view a special screening of a documentary about the music of Memphis, past and present. The film is entitled Take Me To The River which premiered at the 2014 South by Southwest Film Festival (SXSW) where it won the 24 Beats Per Second Audience Award.   You must understand that after a busy day Monday evening is not really my best time of coherence. However, I still managed enough mental vigilance to attend with an open mind. What I witnessed was one of the best documentaries I have ever seen.

Of course, the film more than held my interest because the subject was music. I appreciated the presentation, making for a truly entertaining and informative film. Not long into the film the first of several figurative idea bubbles popped above my head. Even though I was watching a documentary about the music of Memphis, which jumps across genre and generational lines, something more came to my mind. Yes, the film seemed to approach the musical subject in a similar way to my efforts each week in this Weekly Music Commentary. The film would help viewers answer internal questions about the Music of Memphis. After viewing the film, I examined some reasons Memphis became such a musical hotbed.

Memphis is located in the southwest corner of the state of Tennessee, bordering the Mississippi River. For all of you who have paid a visit to The River City, you possibly noticed the close proximity to the states of Mississippi and Arkansas. The city is also very close to Kentucky, Illinois and Missouri. This is possibly the reason Memphis music traveled so well in the early blues era.

The film well documented the rich history of blues music in the city of Memphis. Of special interest to me was the birth of R&B and Rock n Roll on the backdrop of racial discrimination. The early music scene of Memphis provided the model for racial harmony to the rest of the south, as musicians frequently played together without issue among them. Take Me To The River showed the legendary recording companies and studios where some of the greatest artists in the world started and continued their musical careers. Just think about one place where Otis Redding, Isaac Hayes, Al Green, B.B. King, Johnny Cash, Jerry Lee Lewis and Elvis Presley all got their start recording and performing. The city of Memphis is truly a treasure for all fans of music worldwide.

William Bell and Snoop Dogg

Another highlight of the film had to be the bridge built between yesterday and today as rap artists joined to record with some of the giants of Memphis past. Lil’ P-Nut, Frayser Boy and Yo Gotti (all from Memphis as well) were chosen to bring their modern-day talents to the table. The approach to recording is quite different for the rap artist of today, as Frayser Boy brought out. Live instruments are rarely if ever a part of rap recording, but he had an appreciation for the very live recording sessions in Royal Studio on that day.

I took note of the “mutual” respect between all the artists involved. One segment included students from the Stax Music Academy: an after school and summer music school in South Memphis, Tennessee, that has included instruction from many prominent musicians. The students received the instruction of a lifetime in session with these legends of Memphis music. However, the older musicians certainly appreciated the talented youngsters from Stax Academy and various hip-hop artists. Rapper Snoop Dogg, although not from Memphis, really summed up this fine documentary. In his conversation with singer/songwriter William Bell, he spoke generously of the respect and love he has for Memphis music created in the past.

The bottom line is go see the movie if you can! September 12, 2014 is the release date and I am providing a link to the website below, which will give you a list of cities and dates of screening. On September 9, 2014, Stax Records/Concord Music Group will release the 13-track album Take Me To the River: Music From The Motion Picture. The best way I can describe the music from this film is stunningly crisp! It is best to conclude with the words of director Martin Shore. “The album is a journey, a celebration of collaboration. Memphis and Mississippi Delta music legends together with a stellar collection of modern rap and R&B stars take you on a quintessential journey into America’s soul.”

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10 thoughts on “Memphis Music: Yesterday And Today

  1. I will definitely find and attend this film. Thanks for sharing. Music is my first love and I enjoy all types when done well.

  2. Sounds like a great documentary. I was in Memphis a few years ago and only spent on night wandering Beale Street, but am so glad I got to do so. I also took a really great tour of the Sun Records building. The tour guide was awesome and loved everything about Memphis music.

  3. I do believe I would enjoy this film. I've had the very good fortune to have visited Memphis several times. Beale Street was always a place we would often find ourselves, for the music, the food and the fun of it all. 🙂

  4. I love all kinds of music and have been to Memphis several times. This documentary sounds like a movie I would very much enjoy and was not aware of it. Thank you for sharing this as I will want to check it out!

  5. Looks like a fabulous film- combining different generations and styles of music is awesome. Important to recognize what we've learned from the past and how it was incorporated into the present. Glad Snoop Dogg acknowledged this. Plus I love the graphic for the film. So glad you gave us this post Edward:-)

  6. Another great documentary is Muscle Shoals. There may be some overlap with this and Take Me To The River but am sure you would like it. I have watched it three times and loved it more each time I watch it. I will however, keep my eyes open for this one.

  7. I know the feeling. After the special viewing I wanted my family and friends to see it, but it's not scheduled to appear in Miami. I'm looking forward to PPV or DVD down the road if it does not come to South Florida.

  8. Thanks so much for the heads up on this documentary. I loved the trailer. Now I can't wait to see it…but it doesn't appear to be coming to Charleston SC. But I'll find it on PPV eventually:)

  9. I will definitely try to see this documentary, which from your description I am sure to enjoy. A couple years ago I saw a similar documentary about the history of Stax Records in Memphis called "Respect Yourself." If you can find that one somewhere I think you'll like it.

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