IU Soul Revue working with youths in Memphis at invitation of Stax Music Academy

Tuesday, March 11, 2014

Students and faculty from Indiana University's acclaimed IU Soul Revue are traveling to Memphis, Tenn., over spring break to work with talented local youths, including those at the Stax Music Academy, an educational program that continues the tradition of the historic record label.

On March 20 and 21, IU Soul Revue director Tyron Cooper and members of the ensemble will conduct workshops with students from the Stax Music Academy; Overton High School, a city school for those interested in the creative and performing arts; LeMoyne-Owen College, a historically black institution; and the University of Memphis.

They will perform at a concert at LeMoyne-Owen College on the evening of March 21. Those attending will include students from Overton, LeMoyne-Owen, the University of Memphis, and alumni and students who have been admitted to IU from the Memphis area.

The IU Soul Revue -- which celebrated its 40th anniversary in 2012 -- is one of three performing arts ensembles managed by the African American Arts Institute at IU Bloomington. Other ensembles include the African American Dance Company and African American Choral Ensemble. The three ensembles are offered for course credit through IU’s Department of African American and African Diaspora Studies.

Previously, the IU Soul Revue has performed several times in Detroit, the original home of Motown. Cooper, an assistant professor of African American and African Diaspora Studies, directs the ensemble, which traveled to Memphis in response to an invitation from the Stax Music Academy.

"It will be a great privilege and a wonderful opportunity for our students to visit and perform in a place where there is so much history," said Cooper, a two-time Emmy Award nominee and a guitarist and musician who has performed with vocalists as varied as Dionne Warwick, A Taste of Honey, Marietta Simpson and Angela Brown.

The Stax Music Academy hosts afterschool and summer programs for local students and is located within the Soulsville Charter School. Charles Sykes, executive director of the African American Arts Institute, likens the school's mission to his organization. Since 2000, the Stax Music Academy has provided musically talented students with training and direction, while also mentoring them toward success in the classroom.

"The curriculum is rigorous and the students are high achievers," Sykes said, adding that the academy also has a stringent application process. "We'd like to see some of these students come to IU because we think they have the same musical orientation as many of our students."

Also involved in the Memphis visit are representatives of the IU Office of Diversity, Equity, and Multicultural Affairs, the IU Alumni Association, the Office of Enrollment Management and the admissions office.

"While the Memphis tour will be an incredible opportunity for the IU Soul Revue to perform and learn about one of the most important cities in the development of soul music, it also will provide an opportunity for us to bring together alumni and to expose potential IU students to the wealth of talent and commitment to diversity here at IU Bloomington," said James Wimbush, IU vice president for diversity, equity and multicultural affairs, who also is coming to Memphis.

While in Memphis, IU Soul Revue members will visit the National Civil Rights Museum, at the site of the Lorraine Motel, where the Rev. Martin Luther King Jr. was assassinated on April 4, 1968. The IU students will leave Bloomington on March 19 and return March 22.

"The key for me will be to get our students to understand the historical significance," Cooper said. "I'm looking forward to observing our students coming into the reality that they are in a mecca of soul music. I want them to know that they are part of that legacy. … I hope that their visit to the Lorraine Motel touches them intrinsically."

On Friday, March 21, Cooper and the Soul Revue will conduct mock auditions with students at the Stax Music Academy, to help them understand how to prepare for auditions.

Stax Records played a key role in the history of African American music and featured influential performers such as Otis Redding, Rufus and Carla Thomas and Isaac Hayes. It already has another connection to IU: Booker T. Jones, front man for the label’s house band, commuted between Memphis and Bloomington, where he earned a bachelor's degree in music education from the IU Jacobs School of Music in 1967.

In 2012, IU presented Jones, a multiple Grammy Award winner, with an honorary doctorate and, in 2013, its Distinguished Alumni Service Award, the university's highest award given only to an alumna or alumnus.

Other IU alumni are following in Jones' footsteps at Stax Music Academy, where they serve on the faculty.

The school’s vocal director and operations manager, Justin Merrick, was recently selected as a quarterfinalist for the first ever Music Educator Award, a collaboration between the Grammy Foundation and The Recording Academy. Merrick earned a master’s degree from the Jacobs School of Music and served as an associate instructor and vocal coach for the Soul Revue.