Archived entries for music

You’ve heard the name in passing, friends or coworkers talking about the curious new artist with the disastrous performance on Saturday Night Live, so you look her up on YouTube.

This is what you find.

A beautiful young girl with a sultry voice that evokes the best moments of Tori Amos from the 90s.

But, there’s something wrong.

The beauty is artificial. Sculpted with a surgeon’s knife and approaching the alienating expanse of the uncanny valley.

The music is crafted so she won’t have to push out of her vocal range, organized into easily editable phrases that can be cut together from multiple takes and written by song writers that know just what strings to tug in their audience.

The video is just like a few others she put out, a mix of public domain footage and moments of her mouthing the words at the camera, head askew in an awkward attempt at demure sexuality.

If everything about Lana Del Ray smacks of artificial, untenable perfection because that’s just what it is.

Her real name is Elizabeth Grant, and she’s a millionaire’s daughter. Her father made his money by jumping on thousands of domains in the early days of the internet and charging people to lease them from him. Which meant that he had the capital to indulge his daughter when she wanted to become a star. He’s hired managers, producers, song writers, stylists and god knows what else to turn his daughter into this impossible thing.

Elizabeth’s been at this for years, trying to find the right combination of things to fit her unique style of might-be talent. It took them five years and who knows how many marketing reps to settle on the Lana Del Rey name

She released her first EP in 2008, then a full album in 2011 – neither of which are publicly available any more because a decision was made by her “team” to pull them so they’d have a clean field for the newest iteration of the Lana Del Rey construct.

Which about catches us up to the slow motion car wreck that was her on SNL.

Normally, I’d be at head of the pack, racing into savage a pop star for their hubris and lack of talent. But, there’s something different here. To me the story isn’t about how she can’t perform live, the story is about how she was made.

With digital recording technology we can already create singing computer programs to power virtual pop idols. With Lana Del Rey, though, we’re now coming at it from the infinite-number-of-monkeys-with-type-writers direction. Provided a person hits every note in a song just once while be recorded, the song can be sutured together with ones and zeroes into something that sounds like it was done in a single take.

And when a creation like Lana Del Rey steps out onto a live stage, how can you expect such a meticulously crafted illusion to hold up? It would be akin to asking Peter Jackson to do The Lord of the Rings live…in one take.

Lana Del Rey does give me a bit of hope, though. Hope that the same technology that was used to build her will be used by more interesting people to do more interesting things, and they’ll be the ones that push the horizon out just a bit more.

(I will admit I’ve found myself humming the hook to Video Games without realizing it.)

YEARS from Bartholomäus Traubeck on Vimeo.

Laurel pointed this out to me this morning. Yes, those are the rings of a tree trunk being used to procedurally generate music. Good music, too.

This weekend was the first 48 hour Memphis Music Launch, presented by the Memphis Music Foundation, EmergeMemphis and the Launchpad – basically a whole bunch of nonprofits dedicated to improving Memphis.

The concept was that people could pitch any kind of music or business music idea to the other participants. Then, 8 pitches would be picked to have groups work on that idea for 48 hours, presenting at the end of the weekend. From there only four groups would move forward to a showcase show at the New Daisy in July, with the winner getting a record deal and other awesome prizes.

Laurel did a lot of the collateral design work for the project at Archer, and thought that it might be something fun for us to do. You know, do some design work, maybe build a website for a band that needed work.

Like all of our Bad Ideas, this ballooned into something much bigger than we expected.

We ended up working with a group of 8 musicians who were strangers on Friday, and by Sunday were making music that I really feel represents the modern diversity of Memphis and America as a whole. We named them The Delta Collective, and ended up taking over all of their marketing/legal/business research while they got to the business of writing and recording.

And my God did they knock that part of it out of the park.

At then end of the weekend, we presented the band, their music and all of the planning we’d done. I took over the business end of the presentation, and from the audience feedback, we were the best of the bunch.

I’ll never forget when the judges came back after their deliberations.

“Now, here are the winners in no particular order…
The Delta Collective…”

So, they’re moving on to the showcase in July, with L and I acting as publicists/shepherds/managers/enablers.

You can check out the final product at the website we built:

That’ll also lead you all of our social media stuff, too.

We’ve got 90 days to do as much as we can with these guys, who were, just 48 hours ago, total strangers.

No idea what’ll happen in that or beyond that, but at least for the weekend, those six people and the two of us had our lives changed for the better.

I just wish I could have a weekend after that weekend. Our yard needs to be cut badly, ha.

The Map of Metal

Click. Go. Now.

This is fan-fucking-tastic.

Now that we’ve been over the “What” of Hatsune Miku, let’s go over the “Why”. As in, why she’s important.

Pat commented yesterday that on stage Hatsune’s not that different from The Gorillaz live shows, and that her voice is still based on a real person’s voice. And he’s right about both of those things. The Gorillaz project animated performers onto a screen that masks human musicians, and Hatsune’s voice is built up from the phoneme recordings of a real person.

But her key difference from previous, similar things is that her plasticity, her artificiality, is COMPLETE. Absolutely nothing about her is real.

First, let’s think about her as an animated character.

Animated characters are tied to visuals and to voices. It can be argued that Mel Blanc was more key to popularizing most of the Warner Bros characters than their visual representations. The problem here is that Mel Blanc is a human, and humans, well not to spoil the end of your life for you, die. And when Blanc finally did expire, Warner had several years where they had to convince people that Bugs Bunny really sounded like this new guy, and not at all like that old, dead guy. Same thing with Kermit the Frog, or Tony the Tiger, or any character that’s deeply engrained in the social consciousness and voiced by a real human with an expiration date. Hatsune Miko has no expiration dates. Because her voice is created in a computer by the clever application of a few billions ones and zeroes, she’ll never get die. She’ll never get old, go through puberty, or ruin her voice with smoking and whiskey. A thousand years from now, she’ll sound the exact same as she does right now. She is the first voice of the future, because in the future she’ll sound exactly the same.

Now, let’s think about her as a commercial character.

Ultimately, Hatsune Miko was created as a bit of stunt by Crypton Future Media. They’re sound technology people. So, they made the apex of current sound technology. She was meant to raise awareness of the company that created her, and I’m sure her records sales are a nice bonus. Like Pandora and her box, Crypton’s unwittingly unleashed something on the world. There is no question that most Disney pop stars are trained and groomed from a young age to become billion dollar industries. There is also no question that Disney would probably love to not have said pop stars taking a chunk of their revenue and then spend it on things that get them plastered all over the front of grocery store tabloids. Making a pop star out of ray tracing and vocal synthesizers is one way to do that. And it doesn’t have to be Disney doing it, either. If a relatively small company like Crypton can do it, anyone can. Every new product or initiative could have a fake pop star attached to it, filling the air waves and fiber optic cables. And speaking as a guy in advertising who could pitch that to a client, this is fantastic and frightening

Lastly, let’s think about her as a musical character.

Touched on this a bit in the first one, but Hatsune and the future things like her, are fixed point in space. The point can be fixed as a 16 year old pop idol, or a 60 year old torch singer, or a 20 something folk-rocker. And since they are artificial, and built up by a team of people, they’ll never go off on some bizarre introspective tangent and make a record like Pet Sounds. Their music will be consistent, uniform across all of their releases. And if the people behind them ever get bored or want to try something different? They’ll just whip up a new vocaloid and create a new artist.

Hatsune Miko is important because of the simplicity of what she represents: The idea of an unchanging, easily replaceable commercial entity that you owe nothing to and will never do anything to embarrass or betray you.

While I could put money on their never being an indie-rock vocaloid success (ONLY because the hipsters won’t allow it, not because it couldn’t be good), I can’t put that same money on idorus like Hatsune Miko carving out a niche for themselves in pop music.

I give you Hatsune Miku.

A teal-green haired Japanese school girl that’s apparently holding a leek or onion or something in this picture.

She’s fake. Completely not real. She’s the intellectual property of Japan’s Crypton Future Media. And probably the most crystal clear vision of the future that I’ve ever seen.

Crypton Future Media makes sound…things. Mainly digital libraries of sounds or programs to generate those libraries. They’ve sold their products to video game companies, software developers, and even Japanese government agencies. After looking over the list of companies they’ve done work for, I’d be willing to put money that everyone with a toe in the digital world has probably heard their stuff.

So what is a glorified MIDI card of a company doing whipping up an anime character with an apparent obsession with vegetables of the Alliaceae family?

The answer lies in a translation of her name.

Hatsune Miku can be loosely translated to mean “First Sound of the Future”.

And that’s exactly what Hatsune Miku is. She’s a completely artificial anime-esque pop sensation. In a world where pop stars are more often than not manufactured people with equally fake personalities and musical talents, Crypton Future Media has taken a visionary step and gone ahead and cut out the fleshy animal medium entirely.

Here’s the result, performing live in concert:

Hatsune Miku’s voice is created through the use of Yamaha’s Vocaloid voice synthesizer technology. Crypton took the vocal patterns of a young female anime voice actor, Saki Fujita, and through some technical wizardry and the Vocaloid synthesizer, created their most important product yet – a pop star.

God, I can’t tell you how surreal typing that line was. Anyway.

When she…err…it preforms, it’s a pre-rendered holographic projects done against a semi-permeable screen that lets you see the band behind her (featuring some of the crew from Crypton Future Media) and gives an illusion of depth.

Check out this longer video:

William Gibson, the Father of Cyberpunk, was speculating about creatures like Hatsune over a decade ago in his novel Idoru. But some how, I don’t think this is what he had in mind. While she’s not the first, she’s the biggest and most popular digital synthetic artificial whatever pop idol created yet. Hatsune Miku really is the first voice of the future.

Albeit a very, annoying, grating, saccharine future.

More on this tomorrow.

Makeup and Vanity Set dropped a new 8 track EP last night. It’s called Charles Park II, and it’s basically him using Goblin’s classic Dawn of the Dead soundtrack as a witching rod to find the right places to dig down and harvest his best jams yet.

Give it a listen, then immediately go buy it. There’s really nothing better you could possibly be spending $5 on.

That’s Franz Nicolay, formerly of The World/Inferno Friendship Society and The Hold Steady singing a song off his “”Saint Sebastian of the Short Stage” EP. The song is the story of Hollis Mason, a character from the seminal graphic novel Watchmen.

Franz does a brilliant job of capturing the naive, but impassioned an ultimately tragic life of the character. Some of the lyrics are just perfect.

“I believe that I can solve the world’s hurt from underneath this hood.”

“But if the choice is cynicism, rage or giving in…
Well which world would you rather live in?”

“The game has changed, I’m obsolete, it’s a strange world for heroes.”

Franz also has a new album out any day now – “Luck and Courage“. You can get more info at his site, or if you’re an eMusic subscriber like me, get an advance copy of the album today.

I’ve got issues with Weezer.

I was at the perfect age when the nerd-pop bliss that was their self-titled, but fan-dubbed ‘Blue’ album dropped, and I was at the perfect apex of angst when they released ‘Pinkerton’. Those two albums still hit me in a very special way. “In the Garage”, “Only in Dreams” and “Good Life” were anthems for different points of my life (which probably says some things I don’t want to think about). But the for pretty much the last decade, Weezer’s turned out nothing but shit album after shit album. The best thing they did was rerelease ‘Blue’ with a bunch of old b-sides and rarities.

At some point in the past, I’d read that Kurt Cobain was studying Rivers Cuomo’s ability to write pop songs, and Rivers was studying Kurt’s ability to do the same. It made me think that really the only thing that separated the two as song writers was the Kurt killed himself before he sunk into the mire of self-parody. Rivers wasn’t so lucky. He’s just been getting creepier and more awkward with each passing year, and his music has never reached the heights it touched in the late 90s.

At this point, I guess I’ve prepped you enough for this bombshell: Weezer’s new record? ‘Hurley’ (yes, named after the LOST character), is actually not shit. In fact, it’s a pretty awesome little power pop record. You can completely hear Rivers continued channeling of the Beach Boys had Phil Spector, but unlike the last three or four or five (I’ve seriously lost track of the number of albums they’ve had) times he’s tried it, this one is lean enough and smart enough to work.

They lyrics are classic Cuomo: simple notebook scribbles put together into a singular thoughts. This simplicity is juxtaposed against layers and layers of guitars and multi-tracked vocals, but some how you never have the feeling that they couldn’t pull this off live. The album opens big with the fuzzed out speaker war that is “Memories”, and then really takes off two tracks later with “Trainwrecks”. The album sort of sags in the middle, but not in the sense of it being bad, just less good than the intro/outro bits. The third to last track, “Smart Girls”? It feels like the nerd summer anthem that everyone has been trying so hard to manufacture in the wake of “California Gurls”. The whole thing clocks in at about 34 minutes, which is short, but also good, because it keeps this revivified Weezer from sticking around too long and messing it all up.

I’m not saying this album is going to save the world, change the world or even make the world glance in its general direction. All I’m saying is that Weezer’s finally made another good album after ten years of shit. And that’s something that’s good to hear.

Take a listen to Trainwrecks.

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Oh, just a note – stay the hell away from the Deluxe Edition of the album unless you like hearing Weezer cover Coldplay (didn’t think so).

In 1916 WC Handy’s Beale Street Blues was the first piece of blues music to be printed and distributed widely in the United States. It exposed the rest of the country, and the rest of the world, to the blues music that was coming up out of the Mississippi Delta, and to the song’s titular street.

If you’re familiar with the musical structure of the blues, you might have trouble hearing what ties Handy’s work to that of Son House or Robert Johnson, but listen to the phrasing. The traditional three bar blues is still there, just “whitified” for popular consumption. Because of Handy and his ability to turn poor, Southern folk music into something for everyone, blues would skyrocket in popularity, meld with jazz and ultimately give birth to rock and roll. Everyone from Cab Calloway to Buddy Holly to the Beatles to Public Enemy can look to Handy and say what they did started with him.

And all because of one short, dirty street in Memphis, Tennessee.

You’ll see pretty browns in beautiful gowns,
You’ll see tailor-mades and hand-me-downs,
You’ll meet honest men, and pick-pockets skilled,
You’ll find that business never ceases ’til somebody gets killed!

If Beale Street could talk, if Beale Street could talk,
Married men would have to take their beds and walk,
Except one or two who never drink booze,
And the blind man on the corner singing “Beale Street Blues!”

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This has been your Friday Frequency.

Goblin started off life as the Italian prog-rock band Oliver, only to have their named changed to “Cherry Five” in an arbitrary act by their record label. They were sort of your localized Italian version of King Crimson and all those other bands that required their listeners to be incredibly high to “get it”.

They were saved from going down in history as a band no one would remember by a spat between horror film impressario Dario Argento and Giorgio Gaslini, a composer that was working with him on the film Profondo Russo. Gaslini had called the band in to record some some music for the soundtrack, and after his firing, Argento dumped the entire score on their hands. He gave them just two days to turn the project around. One to write, one to record.

Changing their name to Goblin for the score, the group would score their biggest hit yet. The score to Profondo Russo would stay on the charts for more than a year and sell over a million copies. The group had cemented a place for themselves in cinematic music, and as a partner to Dario Argento.

But this isn’t about Profondo Russo‘s score. This is about Suspiria’s.

Suspiria was released in 1977 as was the opener for what Argento refers to as his “Three Mothers” trilogy. The movie is filled with stark contrasts between dark and color, decay and ornate finery. The brutal deaths in the movie are the stuff of horror movie legend. But, you know what stuck out more than the cinematography or the gore or the acting? The music. The insane blend of orchestration Goblin produced for Suspira was far scarier, far more stirring than anything Argento could come up with. Goblin’s score made the movie.

Here are my three favorite pieces from the soundtrack to give you an idea of what Goblin was doing


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The combination of Argento’s auteur filmmaking and Goblin’s soundtrack has made Suspiria into what is general acknowledged to be one of the best horror movies ever made. Hopefully after hearing a bit of Goblin, you’ll understand why.

This has been your Friday Frequency.

This is a story of generations, of war, of momentum, of language, of music. It all starts in Central Asia. That nexus of the world where bits of Turkey, India, Russia and China smash into each other, making something that is the child of all of them, but unique unto itself.

The Roman Empire had pushed out into the world. Following in Alexander’s footsteps, they had marched over the ends of the Earth, bringing roads and the concept of the large world to isolated peoples. The steppes of Central Asian were the farthest reaches of the Empire, and the home to the people that would one drive it to its end.

When the Roman Empire contracted, opportunistic warlords rose up its wake. Goths, Vandals, Huns spilled into the cracks. The spoils of former oppressors were theirs to take. They pushed into the heart of Europe, and ultimately settled there. Roman and Germanic cultures were supplanted by invader’s, creating a pocket of the East, smack in the middle of the West.

The Eastern influence was reinforced when the last spasm of the Mongol invasion petered out in Bulgaria. The Mongols had fought for so long, and come so far from home, that they didn’t know how to get back. Luckily, they found a group of people that weren’t so different from them and settled down. Two cultures, far removed from their homes, merged into one, making something new.

Now that we’ve gotten the history lesson out of the way, what does all of that mean and what does it have to do with music?

Well, it means that you’ve got a language and a music theory in the middle of Europe that doesn’t match anything around it. The folk music of Hungary and Bulgaria has more in common with Chinese opera than it does with anything in Europe.

The specific example I’m going to give you is the Bulgarian Women’s Choir.

This is Pilentze Pee (Pilentze chante) off the Le Mystère Des Voix Bulgares – Volume 1 record.

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Just on a surface level, you can feel the mystery that permeates this music. But if you apply a knowledge of history, and understand just who these people are, and why their music sounds like this, then you can start to peel the music apart, layer by layer. You can hear all the history that came together to make this amazing sound happen.

Here is Mar Stanke le (Chant de moisson thrace), a slower ballad off the same record.

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Lastly, just to show you that these impossible people are still rolling new bits of culture into themselves, here is the Bulgarian Women’s Choir performing “Oh! Susanna” on the Tonight Show with Johnny Carson.

This is your Friday Frequency.

Zoe Keating is amazing. She plays the cello, and through the magic of digital technology manages to transform a single instrument into a full ensemble. Using sampling, Keating records bits of music and then layers them, one on top of another, to build one of the richest, most amazing sounds I’ve ever heard.

She has a new album out that you can get for a measly $8 through BandCamp, and you can even stream the whole thing before if you want to know what you’re getting into.

Listen to it, buy it. You’ll find yourself coming back to it time and time again.

I’ve been banging around ideas for a more regular feature on the Brain Release Valve, since things like ThisBrokenWorld and I Dare You To Watch This are sporadic as all hell.

Note: That is not a cue to the world at large to start dumping tons of bizarre shit onto the Internet, there’s enough of that as it is.

Starting this Friday, and hopefully every Friday after, I’ll be posting something I’m calling “Friday Frequency”. I’ll take a piece of audio, most likely music – but there are a few radio dramas/speeches/etc I’ve got designs on, post it here and give you a few hundred words about why I find it interesting. This won’t be a review or me saying “You should like this because XYZ”, but rather me pointing out the context or the elements of the piece of audio that I find interesting. The idea is not to make you want to go out and buy a record, but simply to make you curious about what I’ve posted and find out more for yourself.

Hopefully it will be short enough to keep things punchy and fun without me spiraling down into some half-mad fugue where I rant for a few thousand words about Ulver’s musical evolution.

Friday Frequency. Starting this Friday. Hope you like it.

EDIT: Changed from Frequency Friday to Friday Frequency. Allowed for a better ending bit.

THE SORE LOSERS – “Beyond Repair”

Peter sent me this video this morning, first thing in the morning, actually, before I’d had a chance to glue my head bits together, so I couldn’t tell if this song was any good or not.

And in watching it now, I still can’t make up my mind. The visual completely overtakes any brain cells I should be devoting to the song, which makes me think that it isn’t that good, but I’d like a second, or third, opinion.

Finally, a music video that goes so far that it actually makes you forget there is a song playing.

Ah, progress.

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The track is about ten minutes long, so just hit play, pop a new tab, and go about your day.

It’ll sneak up on you. At first you’ll think you’re hearing bits of Sigur Ros, but then the Creepy pokes its head out and it all changes. It gets big and hollow and intricate before finally gliding off into nothingness.

I think I’ll be listening to it for the rest of the day.

Story goes that Martin decided to learn how to play guitar one day.

And that’s how he decided the instrument would be played.

Good luck finding anything by him, though. He does a lot with minimalist composers, but very little of his own solo work. Supposedly there is an album partially finished somewhere, but God only knows if it’ll ever see the light of day.

They played Act 2 straight through, but then they came back around for some old favorites.

EDIT: Slightly cheating and making this 045/365 for my Project 365

More at my Flickr.

And you can see the rest of this year’s Project 365 here.

Me: A 20-something at the Lucero show last night with his girlfriend and roommate on a blanket.

You: A horde of douchebags with no respect for the Shell or its rules.

Last night was a perfect sort of early fall night in Memphis. A little muggy, but warm enough to make you forget that it is already October. Lucero was set to kick off their biggest tour yet with a free show at the Levitt Shell. The opening bands were two beloved Memphis acts. I had a perfect spot in the middle, a soft quilt and a cooler full of samosas. It was going to be a good night.

Then, you show up. With your twelve packs of Bud Light and Marlboro Light cigarettes. You set up around me and mine, and I eye you warily, but not with any overt malice. Maybe you’re just going to bend the rules a little bit. Sure, the Shell bans all alcohol and smoking because it wants to stay a family-friendly venue, but this is a Lucero bar crowd. (Except for those dozen or so small children running around the stage for the first two acts. Oops.) Turn one of those aluminum cans from your beer into an ashtray, and I’m fine. Put your shitty beer into a bag or trashcan after your done, and I’m fine. Don’t do any of these things, and you’ll piss me the fuck off.

Remember what the Shell used to be like? Before the Mortimer Levitt Foundation spent millions of dollars to rebuild and update the dilapidated structure that was there? Remember all of those broken, jagged, splintering benches that were more often than not occupied by a derelict or drug addict? Remember how all of that lush, green grass was nothing more than caked dirt or mud? Remember how the speakers were blown out and the lighting was non-existent? Well, you may not, but I sure as fuck do. The Levitt Shell is a musical wonder in Memphis. A free musical wonder at that. And assholes like you that come in and destroy something like that don’t deserve to use it.

It isn’t like the Mortimer Levitt Foundation set out to block your fun. There are ashtray/trashcan things all over the outer edge of the Shell space. Get off your lazy ass and walk the twenty yards to one of them. It isn’t hard. I watched my girlfriend do it a few times, she didn’t seem put out at all. And the booze? I don’t really give a damn about it as booze, I’m more concerned about walking past a group of frat boys with their crushed empties spread around them like  territorial markings. This isn’t your front porch, broheim. You’re taking money out the Shell’s pocket when they have to clean up after your lazy, cheap beer swilling ass. If you want to drink at the Shell, and God knows last night I did, mix up a cocktail and put it in a water bottle or something. There is no need for idiocy like that.

The bottom line is that the Levitt Shell is a public space, and public spaces should be left as good as you found them, if not better. I walked out last night with a bag full of trash that wasn’t my own because of you douchebags. The Shell is one of the best things going in Memphis, and it’ll never cost you a dime for a show. But, if you mistreat it, it will go away. And if that happens and they start thinking about turning it into a parking lot again, you’ll have no one to blame but yourself.

Check out the real Missed Connection on

Also, check out the girlfriend’s reaction to Lucero’s addition of horns to their old songs.

I have a horrible feeling they’ll completely miss the point of all of this, but whatever. No such thing as bad press…right?

The about blurb:

TURN UP THAT DIAL! From the underground dance clubs of 1950s Memphis, Tennessee, by way of hit runs at the La Jolla Playhouse and Seattle’s 5th Avenue Theatre, comes a hot new Broadway musical — inspired by actual events — with heart, soul and energy to burn. He’s a young, white radio DJ named Huey Calhoun (Chad Kimball), whose love of music transcends race lines and airwaves. She’s a black singer named Felicia Farrell (Montego Glover), whose career is on the rise, but who can’t break out of segregated clubs. When the two collaborate, her soulful music reaches radio audiences everywhere, and the Golden Era of early rock ‘n’ roll takes flight. But as things start to heat up, whether the world is really ready for their music – or their love – is put to the test.

A thrilling theatrical event that combines Broadway splendor with the roots of rock, MEMPHIS features an original story by Joe DiPietro (I Love You, You’re Perfect, Now Change) and a brand-new score with music by Bon Jovi founding member David Bryan. Directing is Tony nominee Christopher Ashley (Xanadu) and choreography is by Sergio Trujillo (Jersey Boys). The cast also features Derrick Baskin, J. Bernard Calloway, James Monroe Iglehart, Tony nominee Michael McGrath and Cass Morgan.

Get ready to experience all the exuberance and the emotion…the beauty and the controversy…of a wondrous, defining time in our history.
You’re tuning in to MEMPHIS.

And lets not forget the ever important YouTube video.

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