March 2011 Archives

A Memphis executive has been named as one of the 20 most influential African-Americans in radio, according to an Associated Press story today. Radio INK Magazine named to its list Howard Robertson, former local radio and TV station manager, publicist for Stax Records and current president of Spotset Network:

 ... which networks groups of radio stations from a database of 13,000 across the U.S. and Puerto Rico to meet the needs of advertisers and advertising agencies.

Spotset's clients include the Tennessee Lottery, General Mills and Nationwide Insurance.

Robertson is also a former board chairman for the Memphis in May International Festival, and his wife, Beverly, is executive director of the National Civil Rights Museum.

Memphis NOT one of Salon's 10 most segregated; comments weigh in

Salon published today a list of "the 10 most segregated urban areas in America," and Memphis, with its long history of racial strife and its ongoing racially tinged controversy over the funding and administration of its public schools, did not make the list. In fact, none of the 10 urban areas is in the South. This led a commenter named RobRob9 to say:

Where is Atlanta?

Birmingham? Charlotte? Jackson? Memphis?

This seems to suggest that the South has a more integrated urban society, despite its history. It also seems to suggest that, when people from the North lecture the South about race relations, they tend to do so from the safe enclaves they have carved out of their cities for people of their particular skin color.

There's plenty of segregated communities in Southern cities, of course. But as a Southerner accustomed to being lectured about race relations by scholars and pundits from New York and Chicago and Los Angeles, I appreciate the irony here.

Another commenter, Mark in LA, brought up a 2008 story by The Commercial Appeal to suggest that efforts to reintegrate cities might have adverse effects:

Oh, the heinous thought crime - people want to live amongst people more like themselves!!!!!

And self-segregate. Shouldn't there be a law? Shouldn't there be a government program? There is, it is called section 8 housing. See what it did to poor suburbanites in Memphis.

Memphis rooting for Savannah port expansion

An article in this past Sunday's Savannah Morning News illustrates the extensive reach of Memphis as a commercial hub. The piece, headlined "Savannah deepening receives diverse and widespread support," examines the forces arrayed in favor of a large-scale expansion of the Savannah, Ga., seaport, which received a tentative OK four months ago from the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers. "They are cities and states, corporations and small businesses, trade associations and transportation giants," including interests from right here in Memphis.

With a metro population of just more than a million people, it is a huge logistics hub with more than 150 million square feet of industrial space. It's home to FedEx, International Paper and a host of other major companies.

So why does Memphis care about deepening the Savannah Harbor?

"We just recently completed the Memphis Regional Freight Infrastructure Plan, which identifies Savannah as a very important East Coast gateway port for Memphis," said Dexter Muller, senior vice president of community development for the Greater Memphis Chamber.
Both CSX and Norfolk Southern railroads are located on terminal at Georgia Ports. The two Class 1 railroads also have significant logistics facilities in Memphis.
"The improved deepwater harbor with its direct connection between Savannah and Memphis is not only of regional but national importance," Muller said.

This is definitely something to watch as railroads and other companies continue to expand intermodal facilities in Memphis. More on that here, here and here.

Catching up with Memphis-born actress Ginnifer Goodwin

Just a couple of weeks ago, we learned that native Memphian, Lausanne Collegiate School alumna and successful film and TV actress Ginnifer Goodwin had signed on with ABC's "Once Upon a Time" to play a revamped version of Snow White.

ginnifer.jpg Today, in an interview with New York magazine's Chat Room, Goodwin talks about wrapping up the HBO series "Big Love," and about what led her to continue working on TV with the "Once" pilot:

As we were getting ready to end ["Big Love"], I started reading everything I could, looking for my next project. I wasn't in a rush to do more TV because of the grueling schedule, but I found that TV pilots were where all the brilliant writing was happening. It was the writing that convinced me to do the pilot I'm working on.

Elsewhere in Ginnifer news, gossip site reported today that Goodwin has petitioned a court to change her legal name, spelled "Jennifer," to her professional spelling. Reports over the years have said she adopted the name "Ginnifer" to mimic how her Southern relatives would pronounce her name.

UPDATE: Jennifer Biggs, who watched "Big Love" for its entire run, has some thoughts on the show's signing-off.

Forbes ranks Memphis No. 3 among America's Emptiest Cities

Memphis ranked No. 3 in Forbes' list of emptiest U.S. cities. To formulate its rankings, the business publication "ranked cities over all four quarters of last year by single-family and rental vacancy rates, then averaged the ranks to determine the top 10."

Here's what Forbes had to say about Memphis:

The city's 9.4 percent unemployment rate isn't particularly high, but there are thousands of units of deteriorating rental property near the city's center, helping to push the rental vacancy rate to 16 percent in the fourth quarter of 2010, according to the Census Department, down from 21 percent at mid-year. 

"There are several pockets of blight around the city, and as a result, absentee property owners have responded by boarding up their properties," said Mark Fogelman of Fogelman Management Group, a closely held property firm with 5,000 units in Memphis. Those blighted areas exaggerate the Memphis vacancy rate, Fogelman says, which has been stable at 7 percent to 8 percent in most of the city's other submarkets.
In an item for, economist Mark Perry argues for something he calls "Equal Pay Day for Men," which he noted would have been celebrated last Wednesday, March 16, in Memphis.

Perry's idea is a play on the long-running "Equal Pay Day" observance, the calendar date until which the average U.S. woman has to work to be paid what the average man made just in the previous year (It'll be April 12 this year).

Time magazine reported last year on new research showing that among some groups, the pay gap is narrowing significantly and even reversing. Writing for the American Enterprise Institute's The Enterprise Blog, he explains how the so-called "reverse gender gap" affects young, single males in America's largest metro areas, including Memphis:

In America's largest cities, single, childless women under the age of 30 now earn 8 percent more on average than their male counterparts ... .
... For example, today (March 16) is the day in 2011 that the average young, single male worker in Memphis will have to work to earn the same income as the average female in his peer group earned last year in 2010. In Atlanta, "Equal Pay for Young, Single Men" won't fall until next Monday on March 21, and the average Equal Pay Day for all of the cities in the study was on February 1."

Sam Phillips, mentor of the 'Million Dollar Quartet'

In an article coinciding with the London run of the Broadway musical "Million Dollar Quartet," Colin Escott of The Telegraph profiles Sam Phillips, the Memphis Recording Service and Sun Records owner who assembled the legendary 1956 jam session featuring Elvis Presley, Carl Perkins, Jerry Lee Lewis and Johnny Cash.

He looked like a poster boy for the rigidity and frigidity of early Fifties white America. Even in impromptu snapshots, he's wearing a jacket and tie, and not a hair is out of place. But, as a teenager, Phillips had driven to Memphis from his home in rural Alabama.

"We drove down Beale in the middle of the night," he said years later, "and it was rockin'. It was so active, musically, socially. God, I loved it!" 

The Telegraph also relates an anecdote about the origin of the moniker "Million Dollar Quartet." The session took place as Elvis, by then  signed to the RCA label, was back in Memphis for a visit.

Phillips knew that anything "Elvis" was news, and a story in the Memphis Press-Scimitar would be picked up nationwide. The day after the session, reporter Bob Johnson wrote an article about what he'd seen, and Phillips made sure that Elvis endorsed then-unknown Jerry Lee Lewis. "That boy can go," said Elvis of his piano-playing. Johnson coined the phrase Million Dollar Quartet, and added: "If Sam Phillips had been on his toes, he'd have turned the recorder on. That quartet could sell a million."

Cliff Richard to record star-studded album in Memphis

With John Mellencamp, Cyndi Lauper and Huey Lewis and the News, among others, having recorded recent career-rejuvenating albums in Memphis, a veteran British hitmaker hopes finally to establish himself in the United States after a 50-year career in music. From BBC News:

Sir Cliff Richard, the 70-year-old Peter Pan of British pop music, is to launch an assault on the US market by recording an album in Memphis with soul music stars Percy Sledge and Candi Staton, and a concert in Las Vegas in December. But can he make it in America?

At the press conference held to announce the project, Sir Cliff complained that he had never made it in America, but said he thought it was "jolly well time" that he did.

As the article points out, Richard began his career as something of a British answer to Elvis Presley, but he soon went in a more middle-of-the-road direction. But while in Memphis, he'll be working with a songwriter/producer who is more associated with Motown soul than with Memphis music.

Equally auspicious is the choice of Memphis as the venue for recording the new album, and of Lamont Dozier as its guiding hand.

Dozier is one of the greatest American songwriters of the past half-century.

His early hits were written and produced with the Holland brothers (Brian and Eddie) for the Supremes, the Four Tops and many other Motown artists.

Those who follow Memphis show business might have skimmed the BBC piece and thought, "Let's see, Candi Staton, Cliff Richard, Freda Payne -- that sounds like part of the guest list to a David Gest celebrity extravaganza!"

Sure enough ...

The unlikely impresario for this project is David Gest, who is best known in the US as the former husband of Liza Minnelli and friend of Tito Jackson of the Jackson Five fame.

In Britain, however, Gest has become a minor celebrity of reality television, having been featured in "I'm A Celebrity," "Get Me Out of Here!" and "Celebrity Cash In The Attic."

For those Memphians in West Texas for the Conference USA basketball tournament who might want a side of culture ...

Selections from the permanent collection of the Dixon Gallery and Gardens in Memphis form the backbone of a survey of Impressionist art marking the 50th anniversary of the El Paso Museum of Art. The Texas museum had put out a call to museums worldwide for a traveling exhibit that could help mark the milestone, the El Paso Times reported this week:

Memphis' Dixon Gallery and Gardens answered, offering 30 works by 24 artists that cover French Impressionism from its first stirrings to its last breath. "Monet to Matisse: French Impressionist Works from the Dixon Gallery and Gardens," which opens today in the Contemporary Gallery, features works by the show's namesakes, Claude Monet and Henri Matisse, and fellow Impressionist titans including Pierre-August Renoir, Paul Gauguin, Georges Seurat and Henri de Toulouse-Lautrec.

... "You really get a very good understanding of what happened, primarily in France," (museum art director Michael A.) Tomor said of the exhibit, which was drawn in part from the collection of the late Hugo and Margaret Dixon, Memphis community leaders and philanthropists who bequeathed their collection to the art museum that bears their name. The Dixons' collection has been augmented since the Tennessee museum was established in 1976.
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