Mississippi Riverboat Memphis, Tennessee 1850s

The Rich Cultural History of Southern Memphis

South Memphis is steeped in a rich cultural history. From entrepreneurs to creatives, academics to business owners, the people of South Memphis have helped build our city into what it is today–artistic, innovative, and soulful. 

Memphis Music

When people hear South Memphis, music is the first thing to come to mind. Our music history is second to none. Famous names coming out of South Memphis include Carla Thomas, Aretha Franklin, Maurice White, Booker T. Jones, Frank Stokes, Young Dolph, D’Army Bailey, Maxine Smith, Harold Ford, Jr., Benjamin Hooks, G.E. Patterson. Ranging from Sun Studio and Stax Records recording artists to up-and-coming stars, there is no shortage of talented artists springing up to inspire the next generation of Memphians. And of course, South Memphis is the former home of the King of Rock & Roll himself, Elvis Presley. 

But the South Memphis music scene is so much more than just Graceland and big names. It is an ever-evolving community of creativity and support. One fantastic example of programs to further the creative history of South Memphis is the Memphis Slim Collaboratory. The former home of the famed blues singer and pianist has been converted into a place where future generations of Soulville musicians and creatives can gather to collaborate and inspire one another. Other initiatives include the Stax Museum of American Soul Music, Stax Academy of Music, and the Memphis Black Arts Alliance. In short, South Memphis is a community that supports and celebrates its musical artists to the fullest.

Rooted in Education & Culture

South Memphis’s cultural history extends beyond its music. Our community has also built a strong educational system. LeMoyne-Owen College–with a fascinating history extending back to 1862 as an elementary school for freedmen and runaway slaves–has long acted as an academic hub for the community. Today, it serves as a four-year college, providing a quality liberal arts education to its students. 

Local high schools, including Whitehaven and Melrose, boast academic successes and state athletic championships. The Soulsville Charter School opened in 2005 serving grades 6 through 12. The Soulsville Charter School aims to provide preparation for both college and life through a music-rich and academically rigorous environment. To date, an outstanding 100% of graduating TSCS seniors have been accepted to two- and four-year colleges. 

Many South Memphis communities have a deep historical significance in their own right, separate from their many creative and academic achievements. Orange Mound was one of the very first neighborhoods in the country developed to encourage homeownership among African Americans. Former First Lady Michelle Obama designated Orange Mound as a “Preserve America” community, recognizing the neighborhood as one that preserves and celebrates its heritage.

From Boxtown to Riverside to Westwood to Whitehaven, every one of South Memphis’s neighborhoods has its own stories and history. South Memphis is home to artists, musicians, teachers, scholars, leaders, entrepreneurs, and world-changers. Throughout its complex history, a defining characteristic of South Memphis has been its strong community–a community that uplifts, creates, inspires. That sense of community continues today, ready to support the next generation of Memphians, whatever their endeavors.

You may also be interested in: Memphis History | African American History | History of Memphis TN

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