By Carlissa Shaw
Imagine being a 16-year-old and you and all of your best friends pulling up the Shell Entertainment Complex in a stretch limousine. The line was wrapped around the building and stretched down E. Brooks Rd, but we walked straight to the front of the line because we were all on the Shunn Gunn’s “Street Team.” The Street Team was a group of arguably the coolest kids at each school. We would hand out flyers about upcoming Shunn Gunn events in exchange for VIP access to his citywide celebrity style parties right here in Memphis. Thanks to party promoter and businessman, Shunn Gunn, hundreds if not thousands of young Memphihans partied like rockstars their entire high school careers.
“Back in those days Memphis had over 40 high schools in the city and surrounding areas. It was definitely a market for what I was trying to do. The skating rinks ( Crystal Palace, Skate Odyssey and East End) had elementary, middle school and high school students that frequent those places. I used to think to myself ‘when I was 15-17, I didn’t want to be in the same company as elementary and middle school kids because damn I’m almost grown’ so that’s who pretty much targeted-high school sophomores, juniors and seniors.” – Shunn Gunn
The Spot, the Shell, the Martini Room, were just a few of the Memphis event spaces that opened their door to host over a thousand teenagers on a regular basis. What made this concept all the more wowing is that there were no mobile social media functions during my time on the Street Team, and very few people had cell phones. The majority of the advertising was done by word of mouth, passing out flyers at school, and radio commercials. From citywide high school greek steps show to the polo shirts and mini skirts parties, Shunn Gunn introduced an entire generation to Memphis nightlife.
“The Halloween Party I threw in October 2001 at the Shell Complex is what put me on the map for good, and had the whole city buzzing. It featured Mista Ian – who had made a name for himself as a hot rapper and a promoter and a rising local star Yo Gotti. That party also featured a dedication by the hottest dance groups in the city, The Playboyz, The Showboyz, The PlaygyrIz and K.I.S.S. They performed songs by Aaliyah, who had just died in a plane crash two months prior. The ‘01-‘02 school year is what got the ball rolling.” – Shunn Gunn
Let’s talk about Shunn Gunn’s high school steps shows real quick! I have to admit when I got to college, I was a little disappointed about the quality of stepping. My entire high school career, I saw high school steps shows with over the top themes, well put together costumes and complicated step routines. My senior year, my friend Aleece McKnight was the step master for LLE (Lovely Ladies of Elegance). Charming Jenkings was the step master for MDL (Modern Distinctive Ladies), and I was the step master for LOR (Ladies of Roses), and boy was the competition STIFF! Oh, and I have to shout out the ladies of PGK (Phi-Gamma-Kappa) and so many more. The competition and the comradery are things from a movie.
For the fellas, Kappa League always showed up and out. KDK would give a heck of a show, and we can ever forget Omega Prep. Each semester thousands of teens would turn out to see the battle of the organizations. It was a serious situation.
“Making donations to those organizations and helping them out as much as possible over the years made me happy. I’d rather people gravitate to an HSO rather than join a gang. If you’re constantly hearing NSI, LLE, PGK, MDL, LOR, DSI, KLL, Alpha Chi, KDK etc being advertised on the radio or flyers it’ll make more teens want to join and be a part of something positive.” – Shunn Gunn
No one can forget my favorite event of the year: the Polo shirts and mini skirts party. I can remember it like it was yesterday. I wore an orange striped Le Tigre shirt with a mini denim skirt from Aeropostale and some ace 83s. I just knew I was so fresh and so clean. You would enter a Shunn Gunn party and see everybody you knew from every high school in the city. Big Tiny was the DJ screaming “Yo momma at the door!”, and the music in the early 2000s was straight dance music. The chicken head was the DANCE, mane. Chingy, Nelly, and Ja Rule would blast through the loudspeaker, and nobody left the club without being drenched in sweat. I can recall several times, leaving a party looking like I just left a swimming pool.
However, to this day, Shunn Gunn remains more of a myth than an actual person. Some people still think that Shunn Gunn is an entertainment group and not a person.
“For the next generation of promoters, my advice is to plan, execute, invest – no matter how many times you lose -and stay focused. And always go outside the norm. When I started the theme parties in 2004 (Pretty In Pink in April and The Icey White-All White Party in May) I really didn’t know how successful the turn out would be until I tried it. The city ate it up and loved those themes so I kept them coming. Never be afraid to jump into the unknown is the point I’m making. If it’s 10 promoters targeting the same age demographic, you have to do something they’re not doing to make your event stand out from the rest.” – Shunn Gunn
If you were in high school in Memphis from 2000-2014, chances are you have memories from Shunn Gunn parties. Shunn Gunn is truly a Memphis legend and provided quality entertainment for an entire generation of Memphians.