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Memphis Music Initiative is Helping Memphis Raise Its Voice for a Good Cause

In a city where music is engrained in our roots, one organization is taking the necessary steps to preserve and evolve it for our youth.

Memphis Music Initiative is a local nonprofit that has created innovative programs that provide tailored music education and opportunities for black and brown youth in Memphis. Though this may be the first time you’ve heard of them, they are currently in 46 schools in Memphis with nearly 3,000 kids from elementary through high school.

Memphis Music Initiative (or MMI) started as a five-year initiative with the idea to invest in new strategies that specifically engage black and brown youth who have historically been denied access to quality music engagement programs. MMI has since created bold tactics that include working with schools to design a tailored approach to provide these opportunities that best fit the student body in each particular school. The brilliance of this initiative doesn’t stop there. 

“Youth need to see folks that look like themselves as role models, right?” Kathy Lindenmayer, the Director of Development at MMI, asked. I couldn’t agree more. Every popular artist today, from Ariana Grande to Beyoncé has paid homage to the idols that have come before them. Many of whom perform, sing and even look like them. MMI understands the value in young Memphians seeing themselves in their teachers (or ‘Fellows’ as they are called) and uses that to their advantage. 

“The Fellows that we work with, we really wanted them to be professional working musicians as well as highly trained teaching artists and, you know, primarily come from communities of color so that, as they go in the schools and are engaging with the students, kids are seeing people who look like them and are on a career track in the arts– you know, making a living… Memphis is known for its musical legacy and that is something we really need to be working to carefully maintain because otherwise, all the talent will leave. There is not a sense that people can stay and make a living at it.” 

MMI is challenging this stigma by giving working musicians the ability to stay in town, be competitively paid, and have time to play some gigs on the side. Fellows are what help MMI thrive; and each comes from different genres of musical arts: hip hop, spoken word, music production, classical and more. And this is just one of their programs. They also offer a paid summer internship program for the students in their high schools. Students get the opportunity to experience working in arts and music around a variety of known locations in Memphis including The Orpheum. 

“It’s an opportunity for us to provide support networks as an organization as well as what they build together with each other that’s outside of their school and family setting that helps them make connections between what they learn in school and at home.” 

In 2019, MMI Works engaged with 22 worksite partners, with 62 participating students completing 16,616 hours of paid internship work. MMI is doing amazing things to open a world of creativity to youth and is now looking to engage the community with its first fundraising event. ‘Take the MMIC’ is a live-band karaoke party where you can support the next generation of Memphis music. The night will start at MMI HQ where some of its young musicians will perform– The Soulsville Gospel Choir, as well as White Station High School String Ensemble. After, the Melrose High School Drumline will lead a short processional down to Tin Roof Beale Street where MMI Fellow and renowned drummer Mike Mosby and friends will be waiting to get the karaoke party started! Your ticket will get you 2 free drinks as well as food so you can warm-up your vocals for the top-hit karaoke line-up. Join for a fun-filled night of music and help support such an important organization to Memphis’ culture. “With the wealth of musical talent and enthusiasm in Memphis, it can’t not be fun!” Lindenmayer exclaimed.

This is a family-friendly event, but the Beale Street curfew will still be in place. Space is limited and tickets are $20. Parking is also available in the MMI lot. It’s time to put your shower singing skills to work! Hope to see you there. 


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