MEMPHIS, Tenn. — Memphis is rich in music history. From BB King to Elvis, the city has groomed so many great artists. In the Soulsville Neighborhood, the Memphis Slim Collaboratory builds on the legacy of the Blues artist and makes room for new artists to thrive.
On College Street, right next door to the Stax Museum, it’s not uncommon to hear music. Inside a funky brown house, artists learn to become more like the building’s namesake.
“We’re named after the Blues musician, Memphis Slim who was born and raised where this house sits,” said Tonya Dyson, executive director of the Collaboratory. “Unlike most of the artists of his time that did suffer from illiteracy and things like that. Memphis Slim was an astute businessman.”
He built that legacy working alongside other tremendous artists like Big Momma Thornton and Josephine Baker, thus working together only makes sense in his former home.
“Collaboratory is a totally made up name, but it does have a meaning. It’s a collaboration laboratory,” Dyson said.
The collaboratory was put together in 2014 in direct proximity to the Stax Museum and the Stax Music Academy. That’s where Tea Henderson became interested and learned how to be a music artist. She met Tarriona “Tank” Ball of Tank and the Bangas. She’d later join Ball’s band.
“As an artist, this place means innovation. At times, that creativity that others bring. If you’re in here and you’re doing a studio session and you have writers block, you never know who will say hey look here, or hey look there,” Henderson said.
“You see different music communities come together. Whether it’s a blues artist, rock artist, country artist. The music community is so big and it is so diverse. A lot of times in the lane that you’re in you don’t get a chance to rub shoulders,” said Jerome Chism, another artist member and singer for the BB King’s Blues Club All-Star Band.
But the collaboratory is about more than sharing ideas, it’s about knowledge in general. Building a brand, marketing, and negotiating are all principles taught through programming in the space. The Memphis Slim Collaboratory gives artists the tools and affordable access they need to thrive both in their artistry and their business.
“The motto that we’re looking at on the wall. It says to educate, support and inspire. What we do is here we give the information that’s necessary to be successful,” Chism said “Business contracts, negotiating deals, just marketing yourself and being professional, the way you should be around those who can make opportunities for you.
In a neighborhood that at one point or another allowed artists like Memphis Slim, Daniel Porter, Lucy Campbell and Maurice White to thrive, the Collaboratory knows it has a responsibility while it stands on the shoulders of music giants.
“Slim House exists to build on that legacy. Taking the history of Memphis Slim, taking the history of untold others and telling those untold stories,” Dyson said.
“You get to see the next generation come in and bring all types of new creativity that you’ve never seen,” Henderson said. “It’s almost like a safe haven for us.”
The Memphis Slim Collaboratory is on College Street right next to the Stax Museum in Soulsville. The say their next step is to develop an outdoor space they recently purchased into a large performance venue.