Wednesday, December 19, 2007


On Tuesday, December 18, The Recording Academy announced that one its Grammy Trustee Award recipients during the 50th Grammy Awards in February 2008 will none other than Memphis’ own Hi Records legend Willie Mitchell. This same award was given to Stax Records’ Estelle “Lady A” Axton last year and Booker T. & the MGs received the Grammy Lifetime Achievement Award. All great things for Memphis.

I think this honor for Willie Mitchell is outstanding and well deserved and long overdue. Aside from his tremendous musical accomplishments, Willie might just be the coolest person on the planet. He still works at his famed Royal Studios located on what was Lauderdale Street and is now Willie Mitchell Boulevard! And he is a more-than-gracious host to most anyone who drops by to visit. He recently told me, “Every time I hear a piece of really good music, it adds ten years to my life. It’s the reason I’m still alive.”

A popular trumpet player and band leader in his early career, Mitchell is probably best known for discovering and developing the talents of soul giants Al Green and Ann Peebles. He co-produced and engineered all of Green's albums from 1970 through 1976, including such seminal soul classics as "Tired Of Being Alone," "Here I Am (Come And Take Me)," and "Let's Stay Together." And, of course, he and Ann Peebles gave us “I Can’t Stand the Rain,” and other great hits. But he has also worked with many other great artists, including his own Hi Rhythm Section (pictured with him above from the Stax Museum exhibit "Stax Here and Now") Syl Johnson, Donald Bryant, Otis Clay, O.V. Wright, and, more recently, John Mayer.


Monday, December 17, 2007


By Falling James!

More than anything else, this new DVD emphasizes what a warm, funny, dynamic and larger-than-life figure Otis Redding was onstage, in ways that even his concert albums haven’t made clear. It’s one thing to hear that explosive voice, and it’s quite another to hear it while also witnessing the electrifying way he dominates a stage, shaking from within like a volcano.

Dreams to Remember mixes positively incendiary live footage, TV appearances and goofily charming promo films with interviews with former band mates Steve Cropper and Wayne Jackson, Redding’s wife Zelma, Stax Records head Jim Stewart and others. Redding’s sheer force of personality even lights up the corny early lip-synched TV spots, and the promo films for “Fa-Fa-Fa-Fa-Fa (Sad Song)” and the down-on-the-farm lovers’ quarrel with Carla Thomas on “Tramp” are better than most videos, thanks to his easy-going clowning and inherent, unforced acting ability.

Of course, the truly live performances are the most thrilling parts; I kept getting literal chills up and down the elevators of my spine throughout the Monterey Festival highlights, as well as the Stax/Volt Revue in London in 1967, where he reclaims “I’ve Been Loving You Too Long” and “Satisfaction” from the Rolling Stones with total confidence. Even as he’s giving praise to Mick Jagger, he can’t help coming off as a full-grown, fully mature and aware MAN in comparison to the geeky Stones.

His versions of “Try a Little Tenderness” and “Respect,” with tight, sophisticated backing by the Bar-Kays, would be astonishing and precious in any universe, even if they weren’t recorded mere hours before the tragic plane crash in Wisconsin.

By the end of the documentary, I was bawling uncontrollably, probably for the first time in many years over something that I wasn’t directly involved with or feeling selfish about on some level. It’s not that the story here was told sentimentally or was fishing for cheap and obvious emotions, it’s that you feel such a deep loss merely by having the DVD end, much less recalling the cold-blooded rudeness of death permanently taking away such a musical giant, such a monumental, godlike voice belonging to such an unpretentiously likable soul.

And I do mean soul.

BONUSES: There are more interviews with Jackson and Cropper, a photo gallery and a 22-page booklet with detailed liner notes and bio.

"Dreams to Remember: The Legacy of Otis Redding" is available at the Stax Museum gift shop or on the Stax Museum's online shop at

Thursday, December 13, 2007


On Monday, December 10th, we opened our special new Otis Redding exhibit at the Stax Museum, "OTIS REDDING: FROM MACON TO MEMPHIS - An Exhibit from the Private Collection of Zelma Redding."

A long time in the making, the exhibit now has more than 100 photographs and artifacts very generously loaned to us by Otis' widow, Zelma Redding. The exhibit is in the recreation of the famed Stax Records Studio A and it's the first time that area of the museum has housed a changing exhibit. Although it is a recreation (the original Stax building was demolished in 1989), when you are standing it the room surrounded by all of the fascinating photos of Otis and the other artifacts, you are standing on the exact same ground where Otis recorded almost all of his music. It is, indeed, hallowed ground.

This exhibit means a great deal to me. I'm not one for celebrity worship, but there is something about Otis Redding that is so special and so beautiful, it's hard to explain. Of course, I never met Otis Redding and know about him only through his family and the musicians and other Stax employees who knew him, but - like many artistic geniuses who die young - there is a mystique about him that is fascinating. Here was this very young man from Georgia, who wanted so badly to be a singer, but had to work as a well digger and hospital orderly (he got fired from that job for singing too much on the job!) who never wavered from his dream. Think about it. He was 19 or 20 when he first came to Stax Records, and by age 26 he had accomplished so much and appeared to have absolutely loved the journey he was on. His recordings were incredible, but video footage of his live performances are like none of any other live performer I have ever seen. He was magnificent, confident, vulnerable, and honest all at the same time.

One of the best things about this new exhibit to me is that it shows Otis Redding off stage as well, mainly at his Big O Ranch outside Macon, Georgia, a place he loved. You see him riding his horses, petting his cattle, sitting on the diving board of his pool, walking with his kids, and stretched out on the ground leaning against a Revolutionary War-era gravestone just relaxing with a cigarette. In some of the photos he looks elated. In some he looks very pensive. All in all, it shows that he was human like the rest of us and somehow that is comforting.

If you have any Otis Redding memories you would like to share, or just comments on the King of Soul, please post them here. And come see the exhihit. I think you'll feel like Otis is in the building.


Tuesday, December 4, 2007


“OTIS REDDING – FROM MACON TO MEMPHIS: An Exhibit from the Private Collection of Zelma Redding”

December 10, 2007 – April 30, 2008

DECEMBER 4, 2007, MEMPHIS, TN – His rise in the music industry was nothing short of meteoric. He arrived at Stax Records in 1962 as the driver and equipment handler for Johnny Jenkins & the Pinetoppers, a band with whom he had occasionally performed in and around his native Macon, Georgia. At the end of the evening, after having asked all day for a chance to sing, Stax Records founder Jim Stewart and Booker T. & the MGs guitarist and songwriter Steve Cropper gave him that chance. There in the famed Studio A, when Otis Redding began singing "These Arms of Mine," the world changed forever. For the next five years, Redding would record hit after hit, take Europe by storm, and enthrall thousands of love children at the Monterey Pop Festival alongside the likes of Jimi Hendrix and Jefferson Airplane. But the world changed again that same year, when, on December 10, 1967, Redding, the pilot, and all but two members of his touring band the Bar-Kays were killed when his plane crashed in Lake Monona, just a few minutes from the airport in Madison, Wisconsin, at the age of 26. Only Bar-Kay trumpet player Ben Cauley survived the crash; fellow Bar-Kay member James Alexander was on a different, commercial flight.

Today, the Stax Museum of American Soul Music, located at the site of Stax Records in Memphis, Tennessee, where Redding recorded the songs that captured the hearts of millions, announced that it will be home to a very special exhibit to pay homage to the singer, loving husband, and father. "OTIS REDDING: FROM MACON TO MEMPHIS - An Exhibit from the Private Collection of Zelma Redding" opens on Monday, December 10, 2007 in commemoration of Redding's passing, and will be on display through April 30, 2008. With items on loan from Otis Redding's widow and daughter, Zelma and Karla Redding-Andrews, the exhibit features a collection of never-before-shown family photographs taken on the Reddings' 300-acre ranch outside Macon, and shows more than Otis Redding the singer and entertainer. Redding is seen petting his cattle, holding his son Otis Redding III, pitching hay from his barn, and engaged in other activities that portray him at home. The exhibit also includes personal mementos from Mrs. Redding such as telegrams of condolence from Booker T. & the MGs, then-Georgia Governor Jimmy Carter, Nina Simone, the Staple Singers, the Stax Records “family,” and others.

"Otis Redding had an impact on the world in a very short period of time that most musical artists never achieve in a long lifetime," said Marc Willis, CEO of the Soulsville Foundation, the nonprofit parent company that operates the Stax Museum, Stax Music Academy, and The Soulsville Charter School. "It is a privilege for the Stax Museum to host this special exhibit and celebrate Otis Redding's life and career, and we are grateful to Zelma Redding and Karla Redding-Andrews for sharing these very personal items with us and helping organize this exhibit. In many ways, Otis Redding is one of the reasons the Stax Museum exists today."

"Stax Records was like a second home for Otis," stated Zelma Redding. "He recorded some of his biggest hits there and worked with some of the world's best musicians. We are pleased to be able to share some of our personal family moments in this exhibit."

In addition to the artifacts on loan from Zelma Redding and Karla Redding-Andrews, “OTIS REDDING: FROM MACON TO MEMPHIS” contains several items on loan from private collector Bob Grady and never-before-shown artifacts from the Stax Museum archives. “OTIS REDDING: FROM MACON TO MEMPHIS” is hosted with the assistance of ArtsMemphis, the Georgia Music Hall of Fame, and the Big “O” Youth Educational Dream Foundation, which the Redding family founded in 2007 in an effort to continue Redding’s dream of encouraging and assisting youth by enhancing their lives through education and the arts.

Saturday, November 24, 2007

I Have a "Weak Spot" for Ruby Johnson

So many people came through the doors of Stax Records that it's hard to keep up with them all. In fact, every time I walk through the "Hall of Records" inside the museum (which is almost every day!), I see something I hadn't seen before. Another artist who had one LP or some singles but never had that breakthrough hit for whatever reason.

One of those artists is Ruby Johnson, who signed to Stax/Volt in 1965. I actually found out about her when the punk Detroit Cobras covered one of her singles, "Weak Spot," written by the incredible duo of Isaac Hayes and David Porter. I discovered that in our Satellite Record & Gift Shop, we carried the one Ruby Johnson complilation CD, "I'll Run Your Hurt Away," which includes "Weak Spot." I haven't stopped listening to it since.

I recently asked David Porter about Johnson (who passed away in 1999 after a quiet life outside the music business for the most part). I'm paraphrasing David here, but he told me that she had something very special, that all of the sadness and other emotions in her life came through in her voice and in her styling of a song. Indeed.

I haven't been able to find any live video of Johnson, but came across this piece from You Tube, on which "Weak Spot" is the background song for a photo montage of stills of Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr.

Hope you enjoy is as much as I do. If the sound skips on your computer, just got to You Tube and type "Ruby Johnson Stax" into the search bar.


Read Bob Mehr's article on the Hi Rhythm Section and Don't Miss Monday Night's Show!

Just a reminder that the Hi Rhythm Section with Syl Johnson and other special guests are playing together at the Stax Museum Monday, night, November 26th, 7-10 p.m. Read this terrific article below by music writer Bob Mehr that appeared as the Playbook cover story in Friday's Commercial Appeal.

Back in the Hi life
Rhythm section together again at museum for a soulful jam session on Monday, Novemeber 26th!

By Bob Mehr
Friday, November 23, 2007

The Hi Rhythm Section: Theirs was the sound of seduction and sorrow, of romance and reverie. Their playing defined the pleading charms of "Let's Stay Together" and the sweet surrender of "Here I Am (Come and Take Me)." They gave the world the steamy showers of "I Can't Stand the Rain" and the gospel ache of "A Nickel and A Nail."

In an era (the mid-'60s to the mid-'70s) and a region (the South) that produced some of the greatest house bands of all time -- the American Studios group, the Muscle Shoals Swampers -- the Hi Rhythm Section stood out as a singular-sounding unit. Its languid, dreamy grooves became a signature that helped propel the careers of Otis Clay, Ann Peebles, Syl Johnson, and most notably Al Green.

Led by producer/arranger Willie Mitchell, the group included the three Hodges Brothers -- guitarist Mabon "Teenie," bassist Leroy and organist Charles -- keyboardist Archie Turner, and drummer Howard Grimes. Their work on classic Hi Records albums like Green's I'm Still In Love With You and Peebles' Straight From The Heart helped carry the torch for Memphis soul music into the '70s, even as their South Memphis neighbors at Stax fell by the wayside.

On Monday, the full Hi Rhythm section reunites for the first time in over a decade, to play a special show at the Stax Museum of American Soul Music, part of its "Last Mondays In Studio A" concert series. The show will feature the Hi group doing its own set as well backing up classic collaborator Syl Johnson for a performance.

In the hands of Mitchell and his men, the melding of jazz chords and R&B beats marked a shift in the sound and feel of soul music as it entered the "Me Decade." "Between Stax and Hi, the music moved from the dance floor to the boudoir, and everything changed," says Memphis music historian Robert Gordon, who produced the 1997 Al Green box set, Anthology. "The lights got turned down and it got a little softer and a little warmer."

Part of the power of the Hi band derived from the close-knit nature of their players, who'd come up under the tutelage of patriarchal "Pops" Mitchell and were family in one way or another. "The fact that the same blood -- literally the same blood -- is pumping through most of their hearts, makes the beat sync up in a family way," says Gordon. "There's a level of closeness in what they do and who they are as people and their history together, that means they can take the music to a tighter place than other groups can get to."

The story of the Hi Rhythm Section goes back more than half a century. The Hodges brothers came from a family of 12 children, raised in what were then the farm lands of post-World War II Germantown. Their father, Leroy Sr., led his own blues outfit, the Germantown Blue Dots. Most of the Hodges boys apprenticed in their father's group -- including Teenie, who began playing guitar with the band at the age of 12.

While Teenie continued working with his dad, Leroy formed his own R&B band, the Impalas, with a group of young musicians who included Tommy Lee Williams and Archie Turner, the stepson of noted Memphis trumpeter and band leader Willie Mitchell.

In the early '60s, Teenie, then just an eager-to-please teenager, turned up at Mitchell's home where the Impalas were rehearsing. "I really wanted Willie to hear me play," says Teenie. "He said 'no, you can't play worth a damn! Your problem is you use a thumb pick, you need to start playing with a flat pick.' So that's how I started playing with a flat pick. I was 16 when he told me that."

That was the first of many musical lessons Mitchell would offer Hodges. Within a few months, he had unofficially adopted Teenie, who came to live with and learn from the band leader for the next seven years. "I'd go with him to his gigs at the Manhattan Club (in West Memphis)," recalls Teenie. "Sometimes I'd just sit there and watch. Sometimes I'd play a set. Then, eventually he hired me to play on the weekends. Then I went out of town to a show in Ohio. And I played with him everywhere after that."

Within a year after Teenie became a full-fledged member of Mitchell's band in 1965, his brothers Charles -- who had been playing with O.V. Wright -- and Leroy would also join. A few years later they added drummer Howard Grimes, one of the pioneering young players who'd helped shape Stax's earliest recordings, thus birthing the core of what would become Hi Rhythm. .

In between their live dates, the band would develop their sound recording sides for Mitchell as well as a selection of his fellow Hi Records artists including Ace Cannon, Charlie Rich and Jumpin' Gene Simmons.

In the late '60s, Mitchell and the band cut back on their touring schedule to focus more on the work at Mitchell's Royal Studio.
While he had been a popular and accomplished dance-band leader and artist, Mitchell's innovations in the studio and the changes he brought to the language of soul through his recordings would be his greatest lasting achievement. It was through his group of young charges -- the Hodges brothers, Grimes and Turner, back from a military stint in Vietnam -- that he helped fashion this new musical landscape.

"See, I used to be a jazz player," says Mitchell. "And so I was using jazz chords against R&B music -- and it worked...."

"Willie set the tone, and his background as a horn player was influential in that there was a kind of brass patina that's over the whole thing," says Robert Gordon. That brassy element was further fueled by the horn contributions of Mitchell's sax-playing brother James, and the Memphis Horns trumpeter Wayne Jackson and saxophonist Andrew Love, whose work added the final ingredient to those classic Hi recordings.

Although the Hi Rhythm section had success with a stable of R&B and soul stars, from Don Bryant to O.V. Wright, no artist better captured or more intuitively understood the mood of the music than the man who would enter their world in 1969: a young Arkansas-born singer by the name of Al Green.

"I had cut Otis Clay, Syl Johnson, and everybody. But with Al, I was looking for a specific sound," says Mitchell, who discovered Green during a gig in Midland, Texas. "And he was the only one that could hear jazz changes and really sing in that style. Once we got that together, I just kept making arrangements like that and that was just hit after hit."

"The thing was that Al could slow down enough to play with those guys," says Gordon. "He was able to play his voice like a jazz instrument, which fit in really well with Willie's concepts. In addition to being a vocalist, his throat becomes an instrument in the band."

Green's pipes were so distinctive that even familiar fare, such as the Beatles' "I Want To Hold Your Hand" or the Box Tops "The Letter" were made new in his hands. "He's one of the best, if not the best, to ever style a song," says Teenie. "He can do a song that's sold a million copies, but once he does it you never even know it's the same song."

By the time the Hi Rhythm Section had reached its mid-'70s peak, their work with Green and others had helped define nearly 20 gold and platinum albums and countless chart hits. In 1976, the group recorded its own little remembered but fiercely funky LP, On The Loose, which found

Teenie, Charles and Archie Turner handling vocal duties. But the following year, Hi Records was sold to Southern label mogul Alvin Bennett (who also purchased the remains of the bankrupt Stax) and in the transition to new ownership -- as well as the loss of Al Green to the church -- the studio band broke-up. "After that, I kinda stopped playing for a couple years," says Teenie. "Then in '79 we started back playing again."

The Hodges continued to play throughout the '80s and '90s, working with bluesman Albert Collins, touring Japan with Otis Clay, and periodically reforming the Hi Rhythm Section with Grimes and Turner for the odd tour or session gig. Charles Hodges would eventually head off to a life of church work, becoming an ordained minister and devoting himself to gospel music. More recently, Leroy and Teenie spent much of the 2005-2006 in the studio and on the road with indie-pop chanteuse Cat Power, as part of her Memphis Rhythm Band.

Monday's Stax show marks the first time all three Hodges brothers have played together in nearly years, mostly due to Charles' ministerial obligations. But, it appears that he's ready to make secular music again, and Teenie adds that the group is planning to secure a booking agent and make more regular appearances as a unit. The upcoming show will also see several old friends, including Impalas co-founder Tommy Lee Williams join them onstage, bringing Teenie and the Hodges brothers full circle from their roots 50 years ago.

"It's very strange, but I just feel blessed to have been doing it this long," says Teenie. "I didn't have nothing to do with it, really, God did it. But, yes, I do feel blessed I was able to make this music and make a lot of people happy."

--Bob Mehr: 529-2517
Music preview
The Hi Rhythm Section with Syl Johnson
Monday 7-9 p.m. at Stax Museum of American Soul Music, 926 E. McLemore Ave., for the Last Mondays in Studio A series.
General admission, $20; Stax Museum members $5. Call 946-2535.

© 2007 Scripps Treasure Coast Newspapers

Friday, November 16, 2007

Last Day to Enter's Stax Prize Contest!

Stax Music Fans!

Friday November 16th is the last day to register for the STAX Museum Soul package that includes:

A Fifty Years of Soul Cap, a STAX 50 year Double CD, the "Respect Yourself" DVD, a STAX snap logo magnet, a red STAX coffee mug, a McLemore Ave STAX key chain, and 4 unrestricted passes to the legendary STAX Museum.

It’s easy to enter. Send us an e-mail at before Friday night November 16th , 12:00 midnight MEMPHIS time CST. In the subject line type STAX Contest. In the body of the message give us your name and city you listen from. One entry per person, per day! Everybody has a chance to win. A random drawing will be held and winner announced.
For more information and non-stop Memphis music, visit

Monday, November 5, 2007

DVDs No Soul Fan Can Live Without!




Absolutely essential for any Otis Redding fan, this DVD features 16 complete performances filmed throughout America and Europe showcasing why Otis is considered one of the greatest soul singers of all time.

Interspersed between the songs are 40 minutes of new 2007 interviews with Steve Cropper (Booker T & the MG's), Jim Stewart (founder of Stax Records), Wayne Jackson (Memphis Horns), and Otis' wife Zelma and daughter Karla. This DVD features a mix of live performances, long-lost television appearances, and rare promotional films, all in remastered sound and video. Includes staggering versions of "I Can't Turn You Loose", "Respect", "I've Been Loving You Too Long", "Try A Little Tenderness" (filmed the day before Otis' tragic death), and more.

Produced by Reelin' In The Years Productions, the team behind such acclaimed DVD series as American Folk Blues Festival 1962-1969, Jazz Icons, and Motown's Definitive Performances, this 90 minute disc is the first full-length program to commemorate the legacy of Otis Redding and paints a stirring portrait of an artist whose music remains as powerful and influential as it was 40 years ago.

Pain In My Heart
Mr. Pitiful
Just One More Day
I Can't Turn You Loose
I've Been Loving You Too Long (To Stop Now)
My Girl
Don't Mess With Cupid
Any Ole Way
My Lover's Prayer
Fa-Fa-Fa-Fa-Fa (Sad Song)
Glory Of Love
Try A Little Tenderness
(Sittin' On) The Dock Of The Bay (new 2007 video)
Credits/I've Got Dreams To Remember

Bonus interviews with Steve Cropper and Wayne Jackson
Image Gallery featuring previously unseen photos from the Redding family, as well as a rare BBC radio interview with Otis himself.
Jukebox feature, which allows you to arrange the musical performances in your own personalized tracklist without interviews.

RUNNING TIME: Approx. 91 minutes
REGION: All Regions
AUDIO FORMATS: 5.1 DTS Surround Sound, 2.0 Dolby Stereo Sound
SUBTITLES: English, French, German, Spanish, and Portuguese

Hi Rhythm Section & Syl Johnson to Perform at Stax Museum Monday, November 26th!

THE STAX MUSEUM OF AMERICAN SOUL MUSIC has been celebrating the 50th anniversary of Stax Records all year. And now we pay homage to Memphis' other great label, Hi Records, with a special Last Mondays in Studio A concert by the Hi Rhythm Section and Syl Johnson! Yes, the Hodges Brothers, Howard Grimes, and Archie Mitchell are reuniting for a rare Memphis performance in a tribute to legendary Hi Records owner/producer Willie "Pops" Mitchell. Together, Mitchell and these musicians have written, recorded on, and produced some of the great music in American History, including that of Syl Johnson himself, along with Al Green, Ann Peebles, O.V. Right, Don Bryant, and dozens of others. More recently, the Hi Rhythm Section recorded and toured with Cat Power.

(Pictured above Syl Johnson. Lower photo, standing around Willie Mitchell, left to right: Leroy Hodges, Mabon "Teenie" Hodges, Archie Turner Mitchell, Rev. Charles Hodges, Howard Grimes. Photo by Gerald Cyrus. Featured in the current exhibit at the Stax Museum, "STAX HERE AND NOW: Current Images of the Stars of Stax Records.")

THIS SHOW, held in our intimate recreation of the famous Stax Records' Studio A, should round out the year of Last Monday concerts with a big, bad, soulful, joyful, uproarious bang! Be there!

What: Last Mondays in Studio A!

Who: The Hi Rhythm Section with Syl Johnson

Where: Stax Museum of American Soul Music

When: Monday, November 26, 2007 - 7-9 p.m.

Compliementary hors d'oeuvres & Soft Drinks - Cash Bar

$20 General Admission - $5 Stax Museum Members

Wednesday, October 31, 2007


On Saturday, December 8th, the students of the Stax Music Academy will perform their annual SNAP! After School Winter Concert with special guests Stax Music Academy Artist in Residence Kirk Whalum and recording star/producer Glenn Jones! The concert - featuring all ensembles of the Stax Music Academy as well as The Soulsville Charter School's Soulsville Symphony Orchestra - will take place at the Mike Rose Theatre at the University of Memphis at 7 p.m. and admssion is just $5! Check back here for more information soon and for the date tickets go on sale!

Video by Rendezvous Records. Directedb by Graham Streeter.

Tuesday, October 30, 2007

Eddie Floyd and the Bo-Keys - Live in Studio A!

Stax legend EDDIE FLOYD and the BO-KEYS rocked Studio A at the Stax Museum last night! Check out these photos. What was your favorite memory of the night?

The Bo-Keys. Ben Cauley is on trumpet and Charles "Skip" Pitts is on the wah-wah guitar!

Marvell Thomas on keys.

Eddie and fellow Stax legend Floyd Newman share an embrace after the show.

Thursday, October 25, 2007

Commercial Appeal Reports on Memphis Symphony Orchestra's work with Soulsville

Symphony mentoring aids Soulsville students

By David Williams (Contact)Thursday, October 25, 2007

The Memphis Symphony Orchestra's Frank Shaffer plays the timpani. "It's a fancy name for kettle drums," he said with a laugh. The lack of pretension suits the symphony these days.

Not content merely to serenade its core audience with the classics, the MSO is looking for ways to become a more involved citizen of Memphis. That has led to a 10-week mentoring program that brings four to six symphony musicians to the Soulsville Charter School for 90 minutes each Tuesday morning.

And so on this Tuesday morning, there was Shaffer, symphony musician, and Evyette Clark, 13-year-old student and marimba player, connecting over sharp notes and a Stevie Wonder tune called "Overjoyed."

As he talked, she played -- and drew praise.
"That's right?" she said, seeming surprised at how well she'd done.
"You got it, girl," said Shaffer, who also teaches percussion at the University of Memphis. "You're a star."

Soulsville, designated for students who previously attended "high priority" schools on the state's target list, has an enrollment of 180 in grades six through eight. Like the symphony, the school sought a partnership with depth.

"We wanted to do more than just get tickets for some kids to go see the symphony," said school chancellor Cary Booker. "We really wanted to have them develop relationships with members of the symphony, to know some of the members by name and to really get an understanding of what the work is about. "We're trying to help kids develop relationships that are strong and positive and help lay the foundation for their future success," Booker said.

By success, he's not talking about mastering a piece of music. He's talking about going to college. As for music, that's merely a tool.

"They're learning a set of skills that are transferable," Booker said. "The kind of focus and practice and dedication that you need to make this instrument make a noise is transferable to the kind of focus and attention you need in order to get good at language arts, to get good at mathematics, to get good at science."

The symphony can teach the students not just about performing -- musically, academically and in other ways -- as individuals, he said, but as part of a group.

"It's not simply, 'I'm going to make my instrument make a noise,'" Booker said. "But, 'I'm going to make it make a noise that fits with all the other noises -- to create a piece.' "

Clark talks about the program in that larger sense. Sure, she's improving her marimba skills, but ...

"It gives me more opportunity to know the world," she said. "It's been a very good program."
Shaffer, in his role as teacher, seems to be getting an education, too.

"There are all sorts of teaching challenges that I haven't dealt with before," he said. "A lot of times, there are issues where the students are working so hard in other subjects, sometimes they have trouble wanting to do academically related things in music.
"So finding a way to kind of turn them on has been a very good experience for me to figure out."