MEMPHIS, Tenn. — When it comes to Rhythm and Blues, Soul and Rock ‘n Roll, many will argue Memphis is the birthplace and home of these many musical genres.
They’re musical genres that have influenced artists and fans around the globe, and they’re showcased in local museums and others attractions that want to locate here.
Memphis Mayor A C Wharton said he’s supportive of anything that has to do with music in Memphis.
“This is the birthplace. This is where it ought to be. I was in Cleveland, Ohio, the other day and I felt so badly. What are they doing with the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame and all of that? That ought to be in Memphis,” Wharton said last week.
It’s why some thought Memphis ought to be home to the proposed Rhythm and Blues Music Hall of Fame Museum, featuring artists like James Brown, Jackie Wilson, The Jackson 5, Whitney Houston, Otis Redding, and others.
Memphis competed with Nashville, Detroit, Jackson and Clarksdale, Mississippi, to land the interactive music museum.
Lamont Robinson, a former Harlem Globetrotter and founder and CEO of the Official R&B Music Hall of Fame, was in Memphis last week. He toured the Stax Museum and touched the historical marker in front of the museum.
“Ah man, this is great history. Just to touch the names of these greats like Otis Redding, Isaac Hayes, Albert King and Carla Thomas. This is just great here,” Robinson said.
At that time, Robinson was hopeful a deal could be worked out with Memphis city leaders.
“I’ve always been in love with Memphis and for the past two years been in talks with Kevin Kane (of the convention and visitors bureau) and the mayor trying to figure out how we can finance it, but it should be here. We’re not asking for the city to say here’s $10 million, go build a museum. There’s a lot of ways we can work it out. Like I said through sponsorships, naming rights and through grants,” Robinson said.
But Robinson said he had to sing another tune after meeting with Clarksdale city leaders. He says its mayor made him an offer he couldn’t refuse.
Bill Luckett is Clarksdale’s mayor and he told WREG this is a big win for his city.
“We are very excited about this opportunity. This is a perfect fit with what’s going on in Clarksdale and in the Delta and in the region in general because I see now with Memphis and its museums, especially Stax and Soul and with B.B. King and the Delta Blues Museum here with the Highway 61 Museum and the soon to be opened Grammy Museum in Cleveland, Mississippi, we’re going to have a regional destination of music museums,” Luckett said.
Clarksdale offered incentives such as a city-owned building that used to be the Greyhound Bus Depot and possible assistance from the state.
“We’ll probably go to our development department in the state and get some assistance and grants, but the starting point for us was a very nice city owned property that just happen to be available. So, that was a big incentive we could put on the table right now. But going forward we need to negotiate the rest of the deal, but that’s the big plus that we have that no one else was able to offer,” Luckett said.
Of course, Memphis is already home to the Stax Museum of American Soul Music, the Smithsonian’s Rock and Soul Museum, Graceland, Sun Studios, and soon the Blues Music Hall of Fame and Memphis Music Hall of Fame Museums. Both are scheduled to open next year.
John Doyle is the executive director of the Rock and Soul Museum. He said wouldn’t be in favor any proposed museum that might take away from what’s already here.
“Should it be here? I believe we have successfully done in collaboration with Stax, Sun, Graceland, Center for Southern Folklore is we have promoted Memphis music and the Memphis musicians that put this city on unequaled map in so that everybody knows Memphis, Tennessee. That’s our job,” Doyle said.
Others say the R&B museum would have been a great fit for Memphis’ reputation for music, but not if it meant using taxpayer dollars.
Otis Sanford is WREG-TV’s political commentator.
“I love R&B and soul music and grew up on it. All of these acts from the ’50s and ’60s were heroes of mine. I would love to see something like this, but no public money should be used for it. With the way the city’s finances are we have a lot more pressing issues to deal with and again we’re saturated with museums,” he said.
Still some say Clarksdale, Mississippi’s museum win will only help continue to tell the story of Memphis and the Mississippi Delta, a region that influenced music around the world.