MEMPHIS – RICH IN ARTS AND CULTURE:
One of the largest celebrations of the city is Memphis in May. The month-long series of events promotes Memphis’ heritage and outreach of its people far beyond the city’s borders. The four main events are the Beale Street Music Festival, International Week, The World Championship Barbecue Cooking Contest, and the Sunset Symphony.
In April, downtown Memphis celebrates “Africa in April Cultural Awareness Festival,” or simply Africa in April. The festival was designed to celebrate the arts, history, culture, and diversity of the African diaspora. Africa in April is a three-day festival with vendors’ markets, fashion showcases, blues showcases, and an international diversity parade.
The Beale Street Music Festival is a three-day music festival that has both a mix of big-name stars performing side by side with local musical acts. Held during the first weekend of May in the city’s Tom Lee Park at the foot of Beale Street, it is considered to be the kick-off event of the entire Memphis in May celebration. It typically hosts 100,000+ people for each of the first two nights of the event, and usually quite large crowds for the ending big-name finales on Sunday night. The festival was added a year after Memphis in May was created. Its history can be traced back to the 1800s, when African-American musicians throughout the South would come to Beale Street and perform.
During June, Memphis is home to the Memphis Italian Festival at Marquette Park. For over 20 years, the festival has hosted musical acts, local artisans, and Italian cooking competitions. It also presents chef demonstrations, the Coors Light Competitive Bocce Tournament, the Galtelli Cup Recreational Bocce Tournament, a volleyball tournament, and pizza tossing demonstrations.
Carnival Memphis, formerly known as the Memphis Cotton Carnival, is an annual series of parties and festivities in June that salutes various aspects of Memphis and its industries. An annual King and Queen of Carnival are secretly selected to reign over Carnival activities. From 1935 to 1982, the African-American community staged the Cotton Makers Jubilee; it has merged with Carnival Memphis.
A market and arts festival, the Cooper-Young Festival, is held annually in September in the Cooper-Young district of Midtown Memphis. The event draws artists from all over North America and includes local music, art sales, contests, and displays.
Memphis sponsors several film festivals. The Indie Memphis Film Festival is in its 14th year and was held April 27–28, 2013. Recognized by MovieMaker Magazine as one of 25 “Coolest Film Festivals” (2009) and one of 25 “Festivals Worth the Entry Fee” (2011), Indie Memphis offers Memphis year-round independent film programming, including the Global Lens international film series, IM Student Shorts student films, and an outdoor concert film series at the historic Levitt Shell. The Outflix Film Festival, also in its 15th year, was held September 7–13, 2013. Outflix features a full week of LGBT cinema, including short films, features, and documentaries. The Memphis International Film and Music Festival is held in April; it is in its 11th year and takes place at Malco’s Ridgeway Four.
On the weekend before Thanksgiving, the Memphis International Jazz Festival is held in the South Main Historic Arts District in Downtown Memphis. This festival promotes the important role Memphis has played in shaping Jazz nationally and internationally. Acts such as George Coleman, Herman Green, Kirk Whalum and Marvin Stamm all come out of the rich musical heritage in Memphis.
Formerly titled the W. C. Handy Awards, the International Blues Awards are presented by the Blues Foundation (headquartered in Memphis) for Blues music achievement. Weeklong playing competitions are held, as well as an awards banquet including a night of performance and celebration.
MEMPHIS – RICH IN MUSIC HISTORY:
Memphis is the home of founders and pioneers of various American music genres, including Memphis soul, Memphis blues, gospel, rock n’ roll, Buck, crunk, and “sharecropper” country music (in contrast to the “rhinestone” country sound of Nashville).
Many musicians, including Aretha Franklin, Jerry Lee Lewis, Johnny Cash, Elvis Presley, Carl Perkins, Roy Orbison, Booker T. & the M.G.’s, Otis Redding, Isaac Hayes, Shawn Lane, Sam & Dave and B.B. King, all got their start in Memphis in the 1950s and 1960s.
Sam Phillips’ Sun Studio, the most seminal recording studio in American popular music, still stands, and is open for tours. Elvis, Johnny Cash, Jerry Lee Lewis, Carl Perkins and Roy Orbison all made their first recordings there, and were “discovered” by Phillips. Many great blues artists recorded there, such as W. C. Handy, Father of the Blues. Beale Street is a national historical landmark, and shows the impact Memphis has had on American blues, particularly after World War II as electric guitars took precedence.
Stax Records created a classic 1960s soul music sound, much grittier and horn-based than Motown. Booker T. and the M.G.s were the label’s backing band for most of the classic hits that came out of Stax, by Sam and Dave, Otis Redding, Wilson Pickett, and many more. The sound still lives on in the Blues Brothers movie, in which many of the musicians starred as themselves.
Several notable singers are from the Memphis area, including Justin Timberlake, Ruth Welting and Kallen Esperian. The Metropolitan Opera of New York had its first tour in Memphis in 1906; in the 1990s it decided to tour only larger cities and performances are now broadcast in HD at local movie theaters across the country.
MEMPHIS VISUAL ART
In addition to the Brooks Museum and Dixon Gallery and Gardens, Memphis plays host to two burgeoning visual art areas, one city-sanctioned, and the other organically formed.
The South Main Arts District is an arts neighborhood in south downtown. Over the past 20 years, the area has morphed from a derelict brothel and juke joint neighborhood to a gentrified, well-lit area sponsoring “Trolley Night,” when arts patrons stroll down the street to see fire spinners, DJs playing in front of clubs, specialty shops and galleries.
Another developing arts district in Memphis is Broad Street. This east-west avenue is undergoing neighborhood revitalization from the influx of craft and visual artists taking up residence and studios in the area. An art professor from Rhodes College holds small openings on the first floor of his home for local students and professional artists. Odessa, another art space on Broad Street, hosts student art shows and local electronic music. Other gallery spaces spring up for semi-annual art walks.
Memphis also has non-commercial visual arts organizations and spaces, including local painter Pinkney Herbert’s Marshall Arts gallery, on Marshall Avenue near Sun Studios, another arts neighborhood characterized by affordable rent
Well-known writers from Memphis include Shelby Foote, the noted Civil War historian. Novelist John Grisham grew up in nearby DeSoto County, Mississippi, and sets many of his books in Memphis.
Many works of fiction and literature are set in Memphis. These include The Reivers by William Faulkner (1962), September, September by Shelby Foote (1977); Peter Taylor’s The Old Forest and Other Stories (1985), and his the Pulitzer Prize-winning A Summons to Memphis (1986); The Firm (1991) and The Client (1993), both by John Grisham; Memphis Afternoons: a Memoir by James Conaway (1993), Plague of Dreamers by Steve Stern (1997); Cassina Gambrel Was Missing by William Watkins (1999); The Guardian by Beecher Smith (1999), “We are Billion-Year-Old Carbon” by Corey Mesler (2005), The Silence of the Lambs by Thomas Harris, and The Architect by James Williamson (2007).
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