A group of organizations working to bring to life the Soulsville community ended a busy weekend that is an indication of the area’s promise at about where the produce section was supposed to be in the Soulsville Towne Center supermarket.
Soul singer William Bell sings his own Stax hits and others with the Memphis Symphony Orchestra as well as Booker T. Jones and Marvell Thomas during the first Soulsville show in South Memphis organized by the Memphis Music Magnet.
(Photo: Bill Dries)
“We’re going to put some green onions in the grocery store today,” said Charlie Santos of the University of Memphis at the start of the Memphis Symphony Orchestra Soulsville concert Sunday, Oct. 14.
It featured soul legends Booker T. Jones and William Bell in a Stax-themed concert just across McLemore Avenue from the State Museum of American Soul Music and Stax Academy as well as the Stax charter school. And the show featured the 1962 Booker T & The MGs hit “Green Onions.”
The retail space is still planned to be a supermarket.
“We are in what they call a food desert,” said Jeffrey Higgs, director of the LeMoyne-Owen College Community Development Corp., which owns the Towne Center. “Our bankers want this to be a grocery store.”
And the bankers as well as Higgs were close to that goal just as the recession hit in 2008 taking the unnamed tenant and several others.
“This place right now is a blank canvas,” Santos said of the series of performances by the Symphony that are to come in the space being called “The Magnet.” The Symphony performed the same show with the same guest performers Saturday night at the Cannon Center for the Performing Arts.
The Soulsville Magnet shows are being organized by a coalition of groups working with the Memphis Music Magnet. It’s the concept of the graduate program at the University of Memphis’ City and Regional Planning Center, which Santos is part of.
The idea is to attract performers and other artists to the area.
“We asked a bunch of musicians, if there was a community where we could make housing available for artists, that we could have commercial space – practice space – available what neighborhood would that be,” Higgs said. “They said overwhelmingly Soulsville USA.”
The concert was the Magnet group’s first event and included student dancers and musicians from the Stax Music Academy as well as artists including Susan Marshall and Wendy Moten who performed several Sam and Dave tunes with Bell joining them toward the end of the medley.
As the weekend began, there were other signs of life nearby.
The long-awaited renovation of the South Memphis house that was home to blues legend Memphis Slim was marked Friday morning with a crane that lifted a tree that had fallen on the side of the battered two-story house.
The house on College Street at McLemore Avenue is to be renovated as a music resource center with space for musicians to work and rehearse. It is directly across College from the Stax museum and it is now part of the Soulsville campus.
John Chatman, who performed and recorded as Memphis Slim and composed as Peter Chatman, using his father’s name, was born in Memphis in 1915. The house on McLemore belonged to the performer’s father and he usually stayed there when he was in town.
Chatman moved to Chicago in 1939 and eventually moved to Paris where he died in 1988.