We never thought this day would come. But come it has. The Memphis clubs are quiet, and have been for the better part of the year. For many, especially in a town like Memphis, music is more than just background for quiet office days, or the soundtrack to picking up you’re groceries. It’s a living, breathing experience that must be seen, felt, and heard to be truly understood.
So what do we do to scratch that itch that just can’t be satiated any other way? Well, it might not be the real thing, but these documentaries about the people who bring those streets to life, is at least a good start. Take some time, and enjoy these 5 Amazing music documentaries. Live music may be on pause due to Covid-19, but sooner rather than later, will come back stronger than we have ever imagined. Enjoy!
Take me to the River
“There are special places on this earth. Places of origin. The Mississippi Delta is one of those places.” These incredible words, rife with wisdom and understanding of the soul, sets the backdrop for the 2014 Doc, Take me to the River. This sprawling origin story of the music, soul, and continuation of the spirit of the delta shows us that the Soul of American music, especially in Memphis, is something that is bigger than the artists themselves, and more akin to the spirit in the soil. Come for the music and showcase of some of legendary recording studios around Memphis, but stay for the context. We are all connected. Music is the bloodline.
Mose Allison: Ever Since I Stole the Blues
This inspiring documentary about Mose Allison, world famous blues Pianist, vocalist and songwriter from 2005, is a journey. Documentary filmmakers from the BBC had the opportunity to travel with Allison back to his southern birthplace of Tippo, Mississippi to speak with his family and tell the story steeped in tradition, triumph, failure, and especially his journey to not only find, his place in world, but most importantly, help define and greatly contribute to the Blues. This film, made about 10 years before Allison’s death, is a great character piece on the man behind the Legend, and how his youth, life, and times influenced one of the greatest Blues musicians of all time.
Watch Now: Included as a Free DVD with Purchase of “If You’re going to the City: A Tribute to Mose Allison”
Humanité: The Beloved Community
Although this documentary was released at the same time as the album with the same name, Humanité: The Beloved Community is a disorienting experience that showcases Whalum’s travels and experiences around the world. The disorientation is intentional, as it serves to integrate the experience into the narrative, showing the common threads of the world’s poorest people, including those that make their home in Memphis.
Following Whalum as he recalls his own experiences growing up in and around a youth filled with Memphis spirituals and churches, further down the rabbit hole of seemingly unconnected people, connecting through the strongest of all languages, Music. The goal of this documentary was to show “the ethos of civil rights in a raw and compassionate tale of harmony in a divisive world,” and to that end, they succeed.
Watch Now: Vimeo
Working in Memphis
The original intent of this Documentary was to show the struggles and triumphs of those dedicated musicians who call Beale Street home. But unlike many documentaries in this genre, this film shows more than just the glory and road to stardom.
This is the story of the nameless, yet to be famous, working musicians that call Memphis home, and the dedication and sacrifice that it takes to even grace the streets of the greats.
According to the director, “We wanted our film to give Beale Street musicians a chance to tell that story. The story of carrying on a legacy. The story of loving music. The story of building and maintaining a community of artists. And the story of all the grit, grind, and hustle it takes to make a living at that life.”
Watch Now : Vimeo
WELCOME TO HELL: The History and Influence of MEMPHIS RAP
This short form documentary shows just how influential 90s Memphis rap truly has been on the current state of both underground and mainstream hip hop. The film shows how this style of rap has had such a deep influence on Internet music scenes such as Phonk, Cloud rap, Sad trap and Trillwave, and how the success of these genres has all hinged greatly on what these early Memphis rappers gave to the world.
Watch Now: YouTube