This continuation of All These Dreams: Black Memphis in Song Part I celebrates Black History with reverence for the Black present, and promise for the Black future.
A piece by Jared “Jay B.” Boyd, multimedia journalist, DJ, and WYXR Program Manager.
It’s entirely too easy to take for granted the legacies that Black musicians who have lived in Memphis have committed to song.
You could bury your face in books.
You could scour the exhibit panels in our several musical museums.
You could memorize the list of honorees whose dedications make up our halls of fame and walk across every brass note aligning the length of Beale Street.
When you finish there, you are still likely to miss the unheralded names creeping within the corners of history, those who beckoned for a call to action and cried for attention and yet linger as lesser-known entities with little heard harmonies.
Furthermore, you’d be hard-pressed to accurately chronicle the emerging local talents whose contributions to the recording arts require dedicated attribution that simply isn’t as commonplace in the digital age as it may have been in our past.
It wouldn’t be your fault, either.
Memphians exist everywhere in music.
Some shine their light across the globe while continuing to live in The Bluff City. Others opt to follow their fortunes to far-away lands, unwavering in their hometown pride, creating enclaves of like-minded ex-pats in industry circles where a short glance and a shared murmuring of “mane” holds immense meaning for homesick hearts.
The list of sessions remains far too numerous to account for, and no genre or medium is too obscure for a Black Memphian’s music to appear, be it television, commercials advertising, film, or video games. Remove enough layers, ask enough questions, and you are sure to find that connection to our American musical mecca.
With passion, honesty, creativity, and commitment to craft, Black creators etched their personal stories into history.
As a result, Memphis’ extensive living songbook – for better and worse – is the de facto public library that contains the delicate and complicated history of our Black leadership.
That’s a lot to ask of a collection of songs, to hold decades of thought, to explain concepts across generations. Somehow, there is seldom a situation a song from our city doesn’t cover.
Considering the current condition of our city, many Memphians – here and throughout the world afar – find themselves in need of a version of hope that a song certainly cannot remedy.
Regardless, we listen, mostly because the rhythm of life in Memphis demands us to stay with its beat. It’s an instinct we cannot shut off. Sound is all around us, in us, of us.
As we walk into Black History Month, we have an opportunity to listen intently.
The "Black Memphis in Song" playlist below includes lifelong and short-term African-American neighbors whose creativity is intrinsically linked to their time in our city.
Each expression, whether vocal or instrumental, demonstrates liberation, love, social awareness, triumph, sorrow, and sincerity. Some songs are on the nose about their intentions with names like “I See Hope” or “Gotta Keep Goin’ On.” Others are more contemplative, such as “Riverside Drive,” a composition revealed in album liner notes to be inspired by long drives downtown near Tom Lee Park. Others require your interpretation, though their meaning is felt on an intuitive level.
Enjoy each rhythm, examine each story, and walk your path with their message in mind.