So much of our city’s culture and history has been defined by the legacy of Memphis music and musicians, and it only makes sense that organizations like Memphis Music Initiative dedicate time into stewarding our young talent.
“First of all, this is fundamentally a music city,” said Amber Hamilton, Executive Director of Memphis Music Initiative (MMI). “This is where routinely everybody knows how to sing. They play multiple instruments. They write, they do all of these different things. Right? So we can’t only think of Memphis’ music legacy as being Stax, and Elvis, and all of those things. There’s a very active music legacy being created today, but you have to invest in young people to do that. You have to continue to connect young people to music. You have to continue to teach them how to play and sing. And you also have to draw a very straight line between this amazingly rich legacy and young people today, so that they feel a part of it.”
MMI has been providing high-quality, robust music instruction in schools throughout the city for 6 years. Be it during or after school hours, their students have access to working professionals, or “MMI Fellows,” who are not only established players in the Memphis-music game, but they are also talented educators who possess the passion to help young artists—specifically black and brown youth—”make it” in this city and beyond.
In response to the global pandemic, MMI, like many of us, has had to get creative in order to execute their mission. Establishing best practices for virtual instruction is only one part of the job. The other part is making sure their students’ creative mojo is continually cultivated during these tough times.
“We refocused our curriculum other important pieces in addition to music instruction; one being creative expression and the other being creative liberation,” Hamilton said. “Instead of asking young people just to learn to play or sing better, we’re also asking them to really activate their creativity, to write songs, and to compose music that talks about what they’re feeling and experiencing right now. They have too few opportunities to really tell their story, so we want to create some space and time for them to tell it. With the liberation curriculum, it’s really important that we spread the message to young people, especially during these difficult times, that if they can see a different future, they can work toward creating it for themselves. We use music and arts as a portal—as a tool—because there are so many great examples—from local musicians who literally have created soundtracks to a whole revolution, to so many national and international artists who broke the mold to tell their story their way.”
Both MMI students and Fellows have been putting in work to keep their momentum going since the beginning of the year—and you can witness their hard work during the MMIxtape Live Event, their first-ever virtual music and arts showcase happening on Thursday, December 10th. And there’s a special guest taking the virtual stage—headliner, Blues great Cedric Burnside!
- What: MMIxTape Live: Songs for the Future of Memphis Music
- When: Thursday, Dec 10th
- 6:30 CST pre-event listening party with Memphis youth ($50 VIP ticket)
- 7pm CST main event (Pay-what-you-will with a suggested donation of $15+)
“We’re excited for people to just get a glimpse of what these young people can do when they’re just given the opportunity to show off their greatness,” Hamilton said.
And even after the showcase ends, the excellence within MMI students, and students and local musicians across the city, will remain, and will need to be nurtured year after year. 2020 has put a damper on many folks’ financial situations, so we’ve got to show up and support our local talent.
“Support artists and support musicians,” Hamilton said. “Buy their merchandise, buy their EPs. If they’re doing a virtual show, support them. It’s absolutely critical that we support them during this time, so that they can continue to be in our community. And MMI is just one of many groups trying to give young people something to get excited about. I encourage people to get connected with some of the organizations, whether it be MMI, Memphis Jazz Workshop or Young Actors Guild, because it’s important that young people have positive engagement activities during a time when they’re really trying to make sense of this world.