“Soul Kids” Puts Memphis’ Youth in the Global Spotlight

By Kierstyn Pryor

Stax Music Academy has done it again! As students of the academy continue to excel in their goal of keeping Stax Records’ legacy alive, they have taken their talents a step further. From earlier opportunities such as playing international performances and working with singer-songwriter Justin Timberlake, the students are back in the limelight as the focus of a documentary that is currently debuting across the country.

Soul Kids is a film that was recently released on November 24,  first viewed by audiences in Paris, France. The film has been shown at approximately 50 theaters, spanning from France to the Oxford Film Festival in Oxford, Mississippi, to the internationally acclaimed Cannes Film Festival. Back in 2017, director Hugo Sobelman began searching for authentic content for what would be his very first film. He worked alongside producers Carine Ruszniewski, Christophe Baral, and Toufik Ayadi to highlight students’ thoughts on injustices and tell the story of what it means to be Black in the city of Memphis. 

Former student, cast member, and singer Catherine Ealy stated, “I am proud that the world is actually going to see this side of Stax. ” Catherine spoke about the students’ fascination with the smooth process of filming, as well as the amount of opportunities they received following its release. “They did a great job at capturing the story, but also not disrupting our rehearsal time.” She recalled the many events they attended after the film’s release, referring to them as “moments full of joy”. Dancing and singing wherever they were called, Catherine expressed that Soul Kids gave them more opportunities to do what they love.

Their very first gig resulting from the movie came at the Paris premiere. Catherine, alumni Johnathon Lee, and a few instructors headed out for the weekend to perform and left the audience thrilled. Catherine expressed that they were all elated to have such a pure experience. The singer stated that the two moments during the trip that stood out as her favorites and most fond memories from the experience in France were when students were accompanied on stage by a French band and when they performed “Memphis Train”. “Everyone was dancing and having a good time. We made a train around the venue and everyone had smiles on their faces,” Catherine stated.

Although that was a truly beautiful moment for the students, that was not the only brilliant part about their trip. Stax Music Academy staff and students were stunned to see a billboard of Soul Kids posted at a Paris mall and, upon their return to Memphis, they were able to share that excitement with their peers.  On March 26, 2022, the crew made their way to Crosstown Concourse to perform and see the movie once more. The audience received a direct Q & A session from the cast, as well as an amazing performance. Alumni and current students of the academy, Christina Childress, Trevor Keys, Dorian Turner, Johnathon Lee, and Rickey Fondren, joined Catherine Ealy to perform a setlist of songs including “Breakdown” by Rufus Thomas, “Soul Man“ by  Sam & Dave, and “Knock on Wood” by Eddie Floyd. They got the crowd moving and grooving showing the audience that not only are they talented on camera, but  live as well!

When asked what questions they received most frequently during the Q & A portion, students stated that many viewers wondered how they were able to openly be themselves and discuss such difficult topics on screen. Even Stax students were able to take away lessons from the answer to such a question. Performing songs from the Stax catalog comes with understanding and the ability to convey emotion through lyrical messages. Memphis history contributes to and is reflected in Memphis music. Congratulations to the students and staff at Stax Music Academy! Continue to spread the importance of Memphis culture, Memphis history, and Memphis music!

 

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