For generations, Memphis has been all about music. While we all have our favorite musicians who share their souls with us on the stage, there are so many people behind the scenes who make the music industry tick. Whether it’s the venues that literally put artists in the spotlight or the countless organizations who have made it their mission to support musicians in any way that they can, the Memphis music industry is bigger than we may think. And it goes even further than that! This support system has been driven by countless female-owned or run businesses and groups for generations. These women often dedicate their lives to uplifting our local musicians and, while they often aren’t on stage themselves, who says they shouldn’t get a little bit of the limelight? Here are just a few of the many Memphis women working hard to support our music industry!
Pat Mitchell Worley
Pat Mitchell Worley is a prime example of a woman supporting the Memphis music industry from all areas. “I am an evangelist for Memphis music,” Mitchell Worley says. “I grew up on the soul sounds from Stax and Hi Records and I’ve been exposed to blues since birth. In high school, I discovered Memphis music as a fan of rock acts such as Tora Tora when I attended Kirby High School. It was because of these burgeoning musicians that I chose a path in music.” Her resume is packed with so many examples of how she’s dedicated her life to not only building up the music industry but also inspiring the younger generations to use their talents to create amazing music. While you may know her from the iconic Beale Street Caravan Radio Show she’s co-hosted for more than 20 years, she’s also the Executive Director for the Stax Music Academy. Here, she leads the charge in inspiring the next generation of Memphis’ musicians. She’s not only built a safe space for the young performers to achieve their musical goals, but her and her team’s efforts have allowed for their talents to be shared on a national (and international) stage. The academy’s stellar achievements this year, such as the Inauguration performance to their even more recent Black History Month virtual program, are just a few examples of how Mitchell Worley’s mentorship and leadership play such an instrumental role for both the students and Memphis as a whole. “I was determined to help these great artists get the attention they deserved. Working as a music writer, I learned more about our music history and how this town inspired not just me but also the world,” she adds. “I have dedicated my career to helping Memphis musicians be successful, whether the next generation at Stax Music Academy, up and coming artists through Memphis Slim House, or the professionals in my service with The Recording Academy.”
If there’s one thing to know about Memphians, it’s that we don’t need a traditional venue to have a good time. Whether it’s in a park by the river or in someone’s home, music lives and breathes everywhere in the city. As the founder of Folk All Y’all, Andria Brown has not only made it her mission to provide musicians with an intimate space to play through her public listening room series, but she’s also made it her mission to celebrate every singer-songwriter from the beginning. And we mean every. She’s worked hard to ensure that the artists are not only given equal opportunity to perform but she also even goes the extra mile to make sure they receive every cent from performances. Even when the pandemic caused live music to come to a halt, she’s continued to support musicians by sharing their virtual concerts and events. “My focus with Folk All Y’all is giving singer-songwriters from all over the world a chance to be heard by truly appreciative audiences,” she says. “Many of the musicians I book are playing Memphis for the first time, and one of my favorite things about producing the series is watching them fall headfirst in love with the city. After years as a booking agent sending local artists outside of town, I hope I’m now enriching our music community by adding new voices and building connections to Memphis.”
Laura Jean Hocking
Musicians know all about creating music that speaks to our soul and, combined with a music video that gets the message across, the song tells a story in a whole different way. That’s where Laura Jean Hocking comes in. “Memphis is not a classic industry town, in reference to music or film, so there is no pressure to fit into a mold. Memphis musicians are uncompromising about their art, drawing on a deep tradition of constructing new fusions and being fearlessly creative with their resources,” Hocking says. “I love working with Memphis musicians on music videos because I get to interpret visually the freedom they feel in creating here.” This local filmmaker has directed, produced, and edited several award-winning films, but did you know that she’s also worked on music videos for some of your favorite local artists? From the likes of John Kilzer to Louise Page, Hocking’s work has added the perfect touch to Memphis’ music industry. In fact, her work on Louise Page’s “Paw in the Honey” music video recently won the audience award for Best Hometowner Music Video at Indie Memphis 2020. Click here to check it out!
With more than five million viewers (and the crazy amount of stickers you’ve probably seen around town), DittyTV is making their mark on the music scene. After moving back to Memphis with her husband, Amy Wright co-founded the streaming network that shares everything related to Americana and roots music. Upon returning to Memphis, the couple’s original plan was to develop the building into a studio for their own use but they eventually developed the space to host the broadcast. Amy also founded the Ditty Foundation to ensure that Americana and Roots music’s preservation and advancement. “I grew up in Memphis and have always believed in the musical magic that comes from this region. Artists who come through the DittyTV studio consistently say that the creative inspiration they get from just being in Memphis is why they come,” Wright says. “Being a part of the music industry in Memphis allows me to work with artists from all over the world who make a pilgrimage to Memphis just to experience this magic, and it has also allowed me to collaborate with so many talented people who make up the Memphis music family.” Memphis is a city where so many genres’ roots inspire today’s sounds and there isn’t a better place for Ditty to call home.
Pre-pandemic, Memphians know that warmer weather is a sign that outdoor concerts are coming. Sure, every city has its favorite patio to catch some live performances, but Memphis has the Levitt Shell. There’s nothing better than cozying up with your loved ones (or your favorite brew) and listening to either your favorite local legend or catching a band that’s dropping in from out of town. Executive Director Natalie Wilson works hard with her team to not only continue the Shell’s mission to provide the community with free music, but also to ensure that every single Memphian or visitor feels welcome to experience it all. “Our industry is authentic, real and special because it’s PEOPLE-powered. Our industry is vibrant and diverse because it reflects the incredible people that make up Memphis and the relationships that bring us together as an industry,” Wilson says. “Now more than ever, my passion is to focus on caring for these relationships so that as we move out of the pandemic, we have grown in our intentionality and connection.” With musicians from every genre getting some time on this iconic stage, Wilson ensures that there’s something for absolutely everyone.