Photo by Ronnie Booze

Steve Cropper, Vaneese Thomas & others to perform free concerts this summer in Memphis

Last week, I discovered my feel-good moment of summer. Discover it for yourself Monday and Friday afternoons at B.B. King’s Blues Club on Beale Street, 12:30-4:30 p.m., when the Stax Music Academy Alumni Band presents no-cover, family-friendly concerts.

Photo by Ronnie Booze
The Stax Academy Alumni Band at B.B. King’s Blues Club on Beale Street in Memphis, Tennessee. Photo by Ronnie Booze

The Stax Music Academy is the extracurricular program operated on the Stax Museum of American Soul Music campus that provides music education, mentoring and performance opportunities to high schoolers in the soulful tradition of Stax Records. Last summer, the first class of Stax Music Academy alumni returned home from their first year of college. The co-eds sought summer employment; museum visitors and Beale Street travelers sought entertainment; and the Stax Academy Alumni Band was born.

Now in its second summer performing, the band is bigger and bolder than ever. It’s doubled in size from 10 members last summer to 20 this summer; expect a full rhythm section, horns and six or so vocalists each performance with stand-out solos, both instrumental and vocal; soul standards from Stax and other prolific Memphis studios, like Hi; and lots of dancing, particularly when the band covers Rufus Thomas’ “Walking the Dog.”

Photo by Ronnie Booze

Photo by Ronnie Booze

Photo by Ronnie Booze

Photo by Ronnie Booze

Baye Slappy, a graduate of the Soulsville Charter School (also on the Stax Museum campus) and of the Stax Music Academy, is one of the band’s vocalists. As a student of the academy, he performed at New York City’s Lincoln Center and at the Smithsonian Folklife Festival on the National Mall in Washington, D.C. He’s performed for Stax luminaries like Carla Thomas and William Bell. He finds his sweet spot covering Al Green’s “Love and Happiness” (Hi Records), though he enjoys covering anything by Otis Redding, “because there’s no reason to be sad hearing [Redding’s] songs,” Slappy says.

Photo by Ronnie Booze

Baye Slappy, second from left, on lead vocals. Photo by Ronnie Booze

This summer, however, it isn’t merely the performers that Slappy’s channeling. Former Stax songwriter Bettye Crutcher is summering in Memphis, too, working with the current Stax Music Academy students. As an intern with the Academy, Slappy’s learning all he can from her.

Hear Slappy and his fellow alums at the Monday/Friday concerts at B.B. King’s, or 2-4 p.m. Tuesday afternoons through July 25 at the Stax Museum. Museum concerts are included in museum admission. And mark these special dates:

  • Friday, June 20: Hear the Stax Music Academy Alumni Band perform with special guest Beverley Knight 2-4 p.m. at B.B. King’s Beale Street Blues Club for FREE. Remember the Tony Award-winning musical “Memphis” that debuted on Broadway in 2009? Its London run begins this October with Knight in the lead. She also happens to be one of the UK’s most popular soul singers.
  • June 23-27: Get in on the FREE Brown Bag Lunch Series at the Stax Museum of American Soul Music’s amphitheater, starring Vaneese Thomas June 23;Dr. David Evans on June 24; the Daddy Mack Blues Band on June 25; the Stax Music Academy Alumni Band on June 26; and Steve Cropper, the guitar legend who grew out of Stax and Booker T. & the MGs, June 27. Each artist will perform and take questions beginning at noon each day. The series is part of the first-ever “Steve Cropper Soul & Blues Workshop,” a week-long immersion hosted by Stax Music Academy for adult- and high school-aged guitarists. Cropper will teach workshop participants on Wednesday. Think you have what it takes to enroll? Contact Melody Barham at 901-261-6360.

What’s your favorite summer concert series in West Tennessee?

Hi! I’m Samantha Crespo, and I am Floridian by birth, Tennessean by heart. Growing up, I vacationed in East Tennessee, so I...Read on

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