Making Music 

Memphis Heritage and the U of M begin work to bring more musicians to Soulsville.

Saturday morning, volunteers took another step toward recreating what Soulsville once was — a thriving neighborhood of musicians.

The idea is still young, but under the guidance of Professor Charlie Santo, students from the University of Memphis' city and regional planning program are working on what they call the Memphis Music Magnet.

Whereas successful cities are traditionally based around transportation and production, a knowledge economy makes others things, such as amenities and quality of life, more important.

"We recognize creativity is important," Santo says. "The question is: What can we do about it?"

Taking inspiration from ArtsMove Chattanooga, a program that offers mortgage and financial assistance to relocate artists in certain neighborhoods, and Paducah, Kentucky's Artist Relocation Program, the students came up with an idea. Why not take a neighborhood such as Soulsville, which is steeped in musical heritage but could use some economic help, and invite musicians to live there?

It builds on assets the city already has and ties into the regional chamber's emphasis on music as a target industry.

"It's an arts-based neighborhood revitalization effort," Santo says. "We're thinking of struggling musicians. This gives them a reason to buy a house and stay in Memphis and would make it more attractive to musicians from other places."

The students surveyed about 300 musicians to see what amenities or services a musicians' enclave might need. In addition to housing incentives, the students came up with studio and rehearsal space, lodging for visiting musicians, and a health-care center.

And that's where Memphis Heritage and the LeMoyne-Owen Community Development Corporation (CDC) come in.

Memphis Heritage has been interested in preserving the former homes of blues artist Memphis Slim and Aretha Franklin for some time.

A few months ago, Memphis Heritage director June West recruited an engineer to complete a condition study on Memphis Slim's house, located directly across the street from the Stax Museum and owned by the LeMoyne-Owen CDC.

"We saw the supports, and they seem to be okay," West says. "There are a lot of problems, though. If we don't do something soon, we won't be able to save it."

Saturday morning, about 20 volunteers wearing face masks and heavy gloves assembled at the house. They cleared the yard, filled a dumpster with debris from inside the house, and talked to neighborhood residents about the Memphis Music Magnet.

"What I'd like to see is these houses used for something present-day," West says. "To me, this gives a bigger sense of worth to the whole project."

Instead of selling the houses to individuals or creating museums, Memphis Slim's and Franklin's former residences could be used for neighborhood-based amenities, such as studio space.

"We think part of the appeal for musicians will be to live in this historic music neighborhood," Santo says, "and say, 'I get to rehearse in Aretha Franklin's old house.'"

In addition to the area directly surrounding Stax, university students have identified vacant warehouses near Walker Avenue that could be used for other services, as well as vacant land near Saxon that could be used to build new construction, something like Musicians' Village in New Orleans.

Sam Powers, a graduate student in regional and city planning, says the Music Magnet is the perfect project for him because of the overlap of music and economic development.

"We want to bring creative people here and retain the creative people we have in Memphis," he says. "It's a perfect location. All the history is here. ... We want to show that not only is it history, it's going on now, too."



Subscribe to this thread:

Add a comment

    • Riverside Take Two

      Bike lanes could once again stripe Riverside Drive.
    • Body cams, a dog park, and a hippo

      Cop complaints fall, city plans Mud Island dog park, and a hippo was born at the Memphis Zoo.


Intermission Impossible

High School Musical Award Nominees Announced, 2016-17

Film/TV/Etc. Blog

Music Video Monday: The Band CAMINO

Hungry Memphis

901 Wings Opening Downtown

Politics Beat Blog

Schedule for Local Democrats' Reorganization Efforts

From My Seat

Softball Sisters

Beyond the Arc

Game 4: Grizzlies 110, Spurs 108: One For The Ages

Politics Beat Blog

Low Early Voting Totals for District 95

News Blog

State Officials Search for North Memphis Bear

News Blog

4/20 at Overton Park, Not Very Lit


More by Mary Cashiola

Readers also liked…

© 1996-2017

Contemporary Media
460 Tennessee Street, 2nd Floor | Memphis, TN 38103
Visit our other sites: Memphis Magazine | Memphis Parent | Inside Memphis Business
Powered by Foundation