MEMPHIS, Tenn. — The city of Memphis has no shortage of history, especially when it comes to music. One group is working to make sure that musical heritage carries on for generations.
Near the corner of Cooper and Walker, a bronze Johnny Cash statue is planned to be erected toward the middle of March. The reason for this location is simple—it is where Cash first played publicly.
Galloway House, formerly Galloway Methodist Church, was the site of the Cash’s first performance with the Tennessee Two—Marshall Grant and Luther Perkins—in December 1954. This is a history that planners for the statue hope to preserve.
“(Statues) seem to have more permanence and respect than say a building where something great happened, which sometimes doesn’t survive in Memphis or any city,” said Mike McCarthy, the artist of the statue. “Hundreds of years from now, we hope we still have certain buildings and things you can touch, but it may fall to things like markers and statues to give that message to future generations of people.”
Because Memphis is rich with music history, McCarthy said he hopes to help people learn about the city. Though the Cash statue is the only one planned for now, he said he is willing to make more statues to commemorate other historic music place in the future.
“I think the city is under-statued as far as musical heroes go,” McCarthy said. “We need more statues here of other musical heroes.”
He said statues are a good way to bring light to unknown history.
“It’s a learning process of knowing your city, knowing your neighborhood, knowing your street, knowing your history,” McCarthy said. “And knowing that that church was where they first played always kind of blew my mind because in a classic Memphis way, nobody really knew about it. There was no marker, no designation, no nothing.”
The statue was originally planned to go at the front of the Galloway House. But after the building was sold to new owners and was no longer used as a church, Legacy Memphis, the nonprofit started to carry out projects like this, was forced to find a new location or wait to see what the new owners wanted to do.
“So we were trying to wait and see what happened. We waited and waited, and the sale never closed,” said Chip Armstrong, who is on the planning committee for Legacy Memphis.
One thing Legacy Memphis knew, the statue had to go close to this spot. They already raised the money for the statue.
A development company bought a vacant lot next door to Galloway, 999 S. Cooper Street, to put up an apartment building. Legacy Memphis chose the sidewalk in front of that space and got to work.
The statue will be in the middle of an 18-by-6-square foot space, which gives less room than if it was at Galloway, with spotlights shining on the statue and a circle of lights around the base, something Armstrong likened to a “ring of fire.”
Armstrong and McCarthy both said they hope the Cash statue brings attention to the importance of the Galloway building and brings preservation development to the building.
“Memphis has a huge musical heritage, and I think we need to acknowledge that,” Armstrong said.
They hope to have the statue complete and put up around March 16.