According to the Memphis Slim House Collaboratory, “Soul needs room to breathe.”
As I sit in Slim’s backyard at the second anniversary party of the Memphis Slim House Collaboratory, I take a deep breath. Strings of lights crisscross above my head, illuminating the sky as the sun bids farewell. The notes from the musicians’ instruments onstage float in the air as sweetly as the smells of BBQ and fried chicken from nearby food trucks. There is a certain rhythm, a warmth, and a distinct familiarity to the setting – it almost feels as though Soulsville music legends Otis Redding or Carla Thomas are going to climb onstage at any second. Even though the Memphis heat is as thick as a slice of pecan pie, I enjoy this music by new Memphis artists.
The Memphis Slim House Collaboratory is a music revival project in Soulsville that provides affordable recording space and resources for artists in Memphis. Some of the many features offered at the Slim House include a studio, collaboration areas, rehearsal space, and the performance area in the backyard outside. The Slim House also offers an artist grant program as a way to fund creative endeavors in Memphis. And while John “Peter Chapman”, better known as Memphis Slim, was an iconic blues legend, the Memphis Slim House is welcome to all music genres. In fact, a punk rock group finished rehearsing just before the anniversary party commenced.
“We’re still working on bringing in the neighborhood,” said Tonya Dyson, Slim House programming and marketing director. “We’re really trying to make it about the community.”
The Memphis Slim House Collaboratory is part of a larger initiative called the Memphis Music Magnet Plan, which seeks to revitalize the Soulsville area. Through community enrichment efforts and investment in the arts, the MMM Plan seeks to facilitate creative endeavors within Soulsville while providing the foundation for collaboration and networking among artists. The Memphis Slim House re-opened in April 2014 after a $365,000 renovation, headed by Community LIFT. Now, the once-dilapidated home of a legend resembles a cutting-edge “collaboratory” space for artists to grow, develop, and connect.
“It’s sad that in Soulsville you can’t hear soul – not just soul, but you can’t hear music. Tourists come from all over the world and then they leave. We’re trying to provide venues for that music, but in an authentic and non-touristy way,” said Eric Robertson, director of Community LIFT.
The project to revitalize Soulsville aims to work in conjunction with the existing community. Soulsville is the distinct place with untapped potential, a close proximity to the airport and downtown, a black arts district, art exhibits, festivals, and educational institutions such as LeMonye Owen College and Booker T. Washington High School as well as the Stax Music Academy. Soulsville’s rich heritage embodied in Stax Records, just across the street from Slim House, lays claim to the good company of music legends such as Otis Redding, Isaac Hayes, Booker T. and the M.G.’s, and Johnnie Taylor.
Workshops, concerts, “artist talks”, mixers, and showcases are just some of the upcoming programming that the Slim House is offering.
On July 3, PJ Morton (Maroon 5’s keyboardist and vocalist) is coming to the Slim House to offer wisdom on “being an artist on your own terms.”
So take a deep breath, Memphis, and experience the music of Soulsville.