For years, the historic home of blues artist Memphis Slim, just a block away from the Stax Museum of American Soul Music, could have inspired a blues song itself.
A fallen tree leaned onto the wide porch, damaging part of the roof of the crumbling structure. Vegetation had begun growing on the inside. But after years of planning and months of construction, the house reopened last month as the Memphis Slim Collaboratory, a low-cost music studio and workshop space developed through a partnership between Community LIFT, the University of Memphis, LeMoyne-Owen College, the Memphis Music Foundation, the Hyde Family Foundations, and ArtPlace America.
Slim, best known for the blues standard "Every Day I Have the Blues," lived in the two-story home at 1130 College in Soulsville before moving to Chicago in 1939. The original structure had to be demolished because it was in such poor condition.
"The intent was to renovate, but the contractors spent about $25,000 looking into how to do that before they realized it wouldn't be possible," said Charlie Santo, a city and regional planning associate professor at the University of Memphis.
But the original bricks from the chimney and wood from the house frame were salvaged and reused in the new two-story construction.
Downstairs is now home to a full recording studio, and upstairs, there's a computer lab, where musicians can work on promotional materials or upload music online. Workshops will be hosted in the computer lab space. Although the collaboratory held a grand opening at the end of April, they're still hooking up equipment inside, and it may not be open for recording sessions for a few more weeks.
The Memphis Slim Collaboratory will be membership-based, and it's open to anyone. Eight hours of recording time will run about $60. Leni Stoeva of Community LIFT said they're aiming to attract emerging musicians.
"It's for anyone who is pursuing a music career. They don't have to be established professionals. We're really targeting young people who are serious about music. But we're also open to older people who just decided to pick it up and want to fine-tune their craft," Stoeva said.
Stoeva said they're not trying to compete with other music studios in town but rather act as a resource for artists who may not be able to afford a recording session elsewhere.
"If you go to Ardent [Studios], you're working with somebody who is seasoned and knows what they're doing. Here, you're getting a discount rate, but you're going to be working with someone who is learning the industry," Santo said.
It was Santo's class, over several years, that developed the concept for the collaboratory as part of a broader Memphis Music Magnet Plan. In 2008, his city planning students began brainstorming ways that the city could use its musical heritage as a catalyst for economic development.
"It's about using music and art to tell stories and activate spaces and reclaim vacant properties and connect people," Santo said. "We're trying to build on this neighborhood and its existing assets. This neighborhood played a crucial role in establishing Memphis' cultural identity."
The Memphis Slim home was donated for the collaboratory project by LeMoyne-Owen College. The construction was funded through grants from ArtPlace America and other philanthropic organizations.
Stoeva hopes the collaboratory and the overall Memphis Music Magnet Plan will help spur development around Soulsville.
"A lot of people come to Stax. They get off the tour bus, and there's nothing else around except for residential," Stoeva said. "Redeveloping this area will help small businesses and other music-related projects."