Black History Month gives us an opportunity to pay homage to some great Memphis artists: from Aretha Franklin (yes, Detroit – she was born here), Issac Hayes, Ernest Withers and George Hunt. Memphis has and continues to birth culture creators and shifters.
There’s been a fresh wave of creatives sweeping over Memphis over the past decade. From the eclectic and bodacious murals in neighborhoods to poignant and breathtaking photography capturing Memphis moments and movements.
Here are just a few of Memphis’ budding creatives who you should pay attention to:
Native Memphian and visual creator, Lawrence Matthews, propels his art to the depths of truth, reality and justice. Even his biography states he was raised in a “racially tense environment where his experiences and interests manifested themselves in his creative expression.” He’s a maverick in the Memphis art community, serving as the program director for the CLTV, a renovated space and community of Black artists in Memphis. His most recent show at the Dixon Gallery and Gardens, “To Disappear Away (Places Soon To Be No More),” showcased photographed images of landscapes, landmarks and neighborhoods of predominantly Black communities in Memphis that are suffering the impact of gentrification. He’s truly an underrated gem to the Memphis community, a savant of Black experiences and storytelling, and a purveyor of pushing Black reality in the face of all those who aren’t afraid to inhale it. Look forward to joining his unveiling of the Orange Mound Community Center mural on Saturday, March 14th, painted by the artist himself through the Urban Art Commission.
A graduate of Memphis College of Art ’17, Quantavious “Toonky Berry” Worship is a rising muralist, graphic design and illustrator. You have probably seen his work in Paula Raiford’s Disco, Young Avenue Sound, Lafayette’s Music Room, Rec Room and Crumpy’s Wings with designs for Ghost River and Vice Virtue Coffee. Originally from Mississippi (our sister state – yes, many Memphians claim the whole state of Mississippi more than we claim Tennessee), Toonky meshes animation with virtual reality, contemporary art with a freestyle genre and tone. You haven’t seen this type of art anywhere else. His work has travelled across the globe, taking on jobs from weddings, funerals, business logos and apparel. Check out his first exhibit and showing, “Toonkification: In Progress” at Stock&Belle, 387 S Main Street. This show displays fine art prints of his original illustrations, several paintings on canvas, and clothing such as t-shirts and stickers. The show runs until February 24th.
Point of personal privilege: I’m a photographer and have been for quite some time, but Catherine Elizabeth makes me want to put my DSLR down and hide it in a box in the back of the closet. You may have seen Catherine’s work on Cleveland Avenue, driving north toward Crosstown. Right above the post office, there’s a billboard of a beautiful, Black woman stretched across a vintage sofa with a blue hue blanketing the portrait. It was photographed by Catherine. A University of Memphis graduate, Catherine’s another member of Unapologetic, who’s a quiet storm in the artist community. Her work has predominantly been featured at The CLTV space in Orange Mound, and The Brooks Museum of Memphis’ “Photography in Memphis” at the end of 2019. She brilliantly sharpens the complexity, beauty and vulnerabilities of Black women while also shooting concerts, art shows and events for her fellow artists. Check out her work here and follow her on instagram and find yourself in constant amazement of her eye.
All I know is his most recent video, “Crunk Aint Dead” was shot in the famous Arcade Restaurant. Duke Deuce has already been proclaimed as one of the hottest names in rap, and on track to revive to “Crunk” genre that had us dancing in high school gyms. His latest project, “Memphis Massacre 2” features hit makers including Lil Jon, Lil Yachtey and Memphis’ own Project Pat, Three 6 Mafia’s Juicy J and DJ Paul. The 27-year-old Memphis native was born with rap and hip hop in his DNA, something his father Duke Nitty, local rapper and producer, instilled in him. His vibe is 100 percent Memphis with photoshoots in front of Crystal Palace Skating Rink and The Orpheum Theater, Duke Deuce isn’t shying away from the Memphis sound. He’s amplifying it and getting us back in the Plush Club like it’s 2003.
I’m a romantic by nature. I love songs that make you want to call your current Tinder match and sing about the love you’ll never have with them. When it comes to soulful depth that stretches as far as Boxtown and the Chucalissa Museum, KIRBY is THAT girl! Memphis-born and Southaven-raised (which is still very much Memphis), KIRBY signed with Roc Nation after writing and producing over 270 songs on YouTube everyday. She’s written songs for stars like Beyonce (Die With You), Kanye West (Only One) and Rihanna (FourFiveSeconds). But it was her own song, “Loved By You,” that made me fall in love with her voice, her depth and her storytelling. Her debut album “Sis” released this January and merges her talents beyond funk and soul.
Miyesha McGriff is who I wanted to be as a kid: an elegant and fierce dancer who made you fall in love while watching her demand and command every ounce of your attention on stage. Born in Kansas City, Missouri, McGriff joined Collage Dance Collective in 2017 and has quickly become one of the vibrant, frequent faces of the company. Collage Dance Collective prides itself as a space for dancers of color, particularly Black dancers, to receive development, training and opportunities to be seen across the globe. McGriff has danced across the country, and has an extensive resume including choreographing the Nickelodeon Black History Month commercial featuring Misty Copeland. McGriff will be featured this weekend in Collage Dance Collective’s 10 year anniversary performance, “Rise” on February 22 at 8p.m. and February 23 at 2:30 p.m., at Germantown Performing Arts Center.
While spaces for dancers and movement arts are yet growing in the Bluff City, people like Trinica Goods, are not afraid of creating their own spaces and offering opportunities for everyday folks to learn a step or two. Goods is a native Memphian and former dancer for the Memphis Grizzlies. While dancing for the Grizzlies, she began hosting dance classes for dancers of all stages and ages called “The Goods Experience.” Now, every Tuesday night at 8pm and for just $15, Goods packs out Dee2TheJay Studio in Bartlett with hundreds of people ready to learn a range of moves from hip hop to ballet to seductive dances one can do for their lover in heels. She’s been featured on popular social media channels including TheShadeRoom for her electrifying moves and envious choreography.
What happens when you merge Debbie Allen with Memphis Jookin? Ladia Yates. Originally from California, Yates moved to Memphis at 16 in 2006 with her family. She quickly discovered jookin’, a popping dance style we Memphians claim we all can do (and we can). She dedicated her life to dance and has since been featured in dance battles across the county including dancing on the TODAY Show with Usher Raymond. She’s cold, and she’s dedicated her time and talent to raising the next generation of jookers at her studio Since she’s started the L.Y.E Academy, 4780 Riverdale Road. The group performs all across the city for special events and competitions, frequently garnering millions of views on their youtube channel. It’s a safe space and environment for youth of all ages.
One day, with determination in her heart, Jamey Hatley, applied for the inaugural Indie Memphis Black Filmmaker Fellowship for Screenwriting, an opportunity launched in partnership with Barry Jenkins, director of Academy Award winning film, “Moonlight.” She won.
As a result, Hatley developed her screenplay “The Eureka Hotel.” A native Memphian, Jamey has been noted as “10 Black Women Writers You Should Read,” by Zora Magazine, an online publication. Before filmmaking, Hately immersed herself in literary writing, winning awards including the Rona Jaffe Foundation Writers Award and the National Endowment for the Arts Prose Fiction Fellow. Her film “The Eureka Hotel” debuted at Indie Memphis Festival in 2019 and Sold Out in minutes!
Every now and then, a face comes along that just belongs on the big screen. Rosalyn Ross is that face. She has “a spark that couldn’t be extinguished,” said by critics. She’s been featured in films and tv shows including Brian Banks, Columbus and Nashville, CMT. A native Memphian, Rosalyn’s been featured in commercials including FedEx, Dell Computers and St. Jude Children’s Research Hospital.
When it comes to living history, Memphis is pushing the next wave of creatives out into the world, and they’re not apologizing for it. Let us know who are some of your favorite rising stars amongst us right now.