Judy Peiser’s Beale Street Note 

The brass notes on Beale are like puddles on the sidewalk reflecting the names of artists long ago written in the stars. As father of the blues, W.C. Handy is there, but so are Elvis Presley, Robert Johnson, Ma Rainey, B.B. King, and Justin Timberlake. The notes also honor authors like Peter Guralnick, politicians like Lamar Alexander, and other notables like civil rights photographer Ernest Withers. A new note will be unveiled Sunday, September 3rd, during the final day of the Center for Southern Folklore's Memphis Music and Heritage Festival. This note commemorates the life and work of Judy Peiser, the Center for Southern Folklore co-founder and driving force behind Memphis' most musically significant Labor Day weekend party for 30 years and counting.

Although the Center is located in Peabody Place on Main, its roots are on Beale, having begun life in the Old Daisy Theater where visitors could watch a slide show about regional music and culture.

"We were in four different places on Beale," Peiser says, unable to list them all because visitors keep dropping into the Center, and they all have questions.

click to enlarge Judy Peiser
  • Judy Peiser

Peiser's note will be installed on the stretch of sidewalk in front of Silky O'Sullivan's, which was, in another life, a former home to the Center.

Peiser says she doesn't have words to describe how she feels about the note. She just says she's been honored to tell the stories of everybody from bluesmen to Holocaust survivors, and to build the archives of art, photography, film, and interviews related to life in the South. "To humanize," Peiser says. "I guess that's what we do."

Every Labor Day weekend, the Memphis Music and Heritage Festival fills a stretch of Main just north of Beale with live music, dancers, storytellers, cooking demonstrations, and more. This year's festival runs from Saturday, September 2nd through Sunday, September 3rd and features music by Earl "the Pearl," Los Cantadores, Kate Campbell, the Last Chance Jug Band, Marcella Semien, Joyce Cobb, Luther Dickinson, the Rising Star Fife & Drum Band, and dozens more. Still free, though donations are encouraged.

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