Memphis Music Hall of Fame Reminds Us That This City Is Special
Ed. Note: Last night's 2022 Memphis Music Hall of Fame ceremony featured eight inductees in between performances from music legends. Blog contributor Joe Sills went to the event and witnessed the Memphis love fest—something our city needs right now.
Deanie Parker walked to a well-worn chair lit by a single spotlight at center stage on Thursday night. As the Soulsville Foundation founder and CEO and longtime Stax Records publicist took a seat inside a bustling Cannon Center for Performing Arts, she pulled out a stack of papers and began to tell a story.
Parker took her time.
Eloquently, she told the story of Booker T. Jones wandering into a South Memphis church and being captivated by the sounds of horns and organs. She told the story of Jones lingering around the Satellite Record Shop on McLemore, tactfully buying at least one album a week, just to be around the music.
She told the story of a studio session with Jones, Steve Cropper, Duck Dunn and a gallery of all-star musicians that resulted in “Green Onions,” a number one record and a spot in the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame.
Parker called “Green Onions” the embryo of the Memphis sound, a sonic reverberation that went on to change the trajectory of American music. Often with a smile; occasionally with a tear, Parker emphatically thanked Booker T. Jones for being born in Memphis, Tennessee. And as Jones rose from stepped onstage to formally accept his 2022 induction into the Memphis Music Hall of Fame, the globetrotting musician reiterated what a special, musical place Memphis is.
Memphis Music Legends Share Stories, Love For Memphis
In the wake of recent events that at times felt powerful enough to siphon the soul from this city, the stories of Parker and the words of Jones are worth remembering. They’re a reminder that what Memphis had was truly remarkable and that what this city still has is truly special.
Jones and Parker were part of a star-studded evening that saw living legends from Stax and Sun Records hitting the stage in harmony with 21st-century Memphis musicians.
Beneath a sparkling, gold jacket rockabilly drummer J.M. Van Eaton ran through a set of classics with John Paul Keith. Over the keys of a Hammond organ, Jones tossed the guitar solo of Albert King’s “Born Under a Bad Sign” to Garry Goin. The Cannon Center shook as Goin’s band broke into a rendition of “Kashmir” to welcome Led Zeppelin frontman Robert Plant on stage.
An honorary Memphian if ever there was one, Plant has been criss-crossing the Mississippi Delta for decades in a deep study of the Delta Blues and a search for the genesis of sounds that formed the basis of rock n’ roll.
On Thursday, the lion-maned Englishman stepped to the podium to induct Priscilla Presley into the hall. And while Presley herself appeared visibly moved by the induction, Plant spoke about the city’s place in global music culture that was cemented by her late husband’s career.
“Here in Memphis, the sounds of Clarksdale, Jackson, Tunica and the Delta collided with unholy abandon with the hillbilly two-step,” said Plant. “Here in Memphis, trailblazing Blacks and whites worked together under the cover of night with Sam Phillips to forge the beat that created a new world of music.”
Memphis Music Past Meets Present
As I walked out of the Cannon Center on Thursday night, I took a stroll down Main Street with Plant’s words lodged in my mind. I thought about the legacy of Sun and the legacy of Stax. I thought about late Ardent Records founder John King in Midtown and the still somewhat untold stories of American Sound Studio in North Memphis.
Then, I dipped into Eight & Sand at Central Station, where a DJ Booth named after Jones’ mentor Elmertha Cole is now spitting out singles from their catalogs.
In just three years, Elmertha’s speakers have generated a cult following nationwide. On any given night, DJs from Los Angeles to Chicago and Miami can be found manning the booth.
It’s not uncommon to see Stax legends nearby enjoying a cocktail and retelling tales of Bo Diddley playing backup or Maurice White boarding the train from this very room to go form Earth Wind & Fire.
Even on a weeknight, the common refrain amongst the guests is clear. While other American cities like Detroit, Seattle, New York and Los Angeles have their own music history, few of them have retained as much of their style as Memphis. In this city, you can still walk with legends of the past in some of the very places they used to visit back in the day.
You can soak in the sounds of Elmertha, bask in the glow of Sun and immerse yourself in the enthralling history of Stax. You can listen to John King’s personal collection at the Listening Lab in Crosstown Concourse. You can still catch a show at the Overton Park Shell.
And thanks to the foundation laid by visionaries in the Memphis Music Hall of Fame long ago, you can still create groundbreaking music from this city today.
Visit The Memphis Music Hall Of Fame
You can visit the Memphis Music Hall of Fame's physical location at 126 S. Second Street in downtown Memphis. It's open seven days a week from 10 a.m. until 5 p.m. (last guests enter at 4:15 p.m.) Combo tickets with the Memphis Rock 'n' Soul Museum nearby are also available.