Memphis music has always been different. From the fusions of country and soul singers that emanated from Soulsville to the gritty guitar sounds echoing off Beale Street, the music of Memphis has influenced the world. Our music is infectious – it gets in your bones and calls to artists like a siren, encouraging them to put their own twist on that legendary sound. Here in Memphis, no one knows this better than Tonya Dyson.
The Covington native has always been passionate about music, looking up to female artists like Janet Jackson and Whitney Houston. Like many people in Memphis, Tonya grew up singing in the church, and it didn’t take long for adults to take note of her talent. Choir leaders encouraged her to sing in front of the congregation and teachers made her mixtapes of legends like Ella Fitzgerald. Music was a family affair, too: her aunts and uncles coached and encouraged her, backing her up with the soft sounds of a ukulele.
Despite her obvious talent and passion, when it came time to choose a major at the University of Memphis, she opted for something more secure: pre-med. It didn’t take long for her to realize she was an ill fit for medical practice (she’s squeamish and uncomfortable with blood) and began to switch things up. She transferred to LeMoyne-Owen College to study business management and marketing, where she sharpened her entrepreneurial skills and re-engaged with her love of music.
It was in 2007 that Tonya started her blog, promoting and creating events to celebrate, connect, and share that unique and soulful sound of Memphis. Originally a part of her senior capstone project, her blog, Neosoulville, represented exactly what it sounds like: the new school soul sound of Memphis.
“Soul music didn’t die with Stax and Hi Records,” she says. “There are so many artists creating original R&B and soul music here in Memphis that weren’t being focused on, so Neosoulville was a way for me to showcase that culture.”
Now a pillar in the Memphis arts scene, Tonya has continued creating events and connecting artists of different genres in the same way Stax and Hi Records used to, this time through the Memphis Slim House Collaboratory.
“The legacy of Memphis music has always been bringing different people and sounds together, and soul is no different,” she says. “Soul needs room to breathe, so we set up the Slim House Collaboratory to be a home that would bring country, rock, soul, and other artists together and give musicians the opportunity to work and collaborate.”
Originally the brainchild of Community Lift, LOC CDC, and the Memphis Music Magnet plan creators, the Slim House Collaboratory also works to engage the Soulsville neighborhood, offering access and exposure to the arts, events, and resources.
“It’s all about cultivating a family of artists that can work together and bringing back the spirit of collaboration that Memphis music was built on.”