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The Daily Memphian | The Early Word
The Early Word: Happy birthday to us! Plus, Brian Kelsey appeals

Cheers, Memphis. It’s Monday, Sept. 18, and I’m toasting you with a mocktail. For one, it’s too early for a drink. But also, the new Elwood’s Shack on Park Avenue opens today, and the bar there will exclusively serve zero-proof cocktails. It’ll also feature new desserts and a coffee bar (which, real talk, is probably better for this time of day anyway).

If you want a look at more important dates ahead, check out our new This Week in Memphis feature, which drops every Sunday evening with a round-up of important meetings, court dates, openings and dates for your planner.


Former state Sen. Brian Kelsey, seen here at left in November 2022, represented Germantown in the state House and Senate for nearly two decades. (AP file)

Kelsey appeals conviction: Former state Sen. Brian Kelsey’s 21-month prison sentence on campaign-finance fraud, which is set to begin Oct. 20, could be delayed again as an appeal plays out. Kelsey claims federal prosecutors violated their plea deal by arguing in favor of a tougher sentence than what was agreed upon, and he is asking for bail pending appeal to the U.S. Court of Appeals for the Sixth Circuit. Prosecutors say Kelsey’s request for bail is another delay tactic and that Kelsey violated his own plea deal when he tried to reverse his guilty pleas back in March.

According to The Commercial Appeal, the City of Memphis’ stadium funding proposal allocates $492 million or $494 million for FedExForum, and the Grizzlies reportedly need $550 million for the project. (The Daily Memphian file)

Hoping the Grizz don’t hold a grudge: On Sept. 15, The Commercial Appeal published an exclusive deep dive into the stadium funding proposal, which it obtained through a public records request. Those documents showed a plan for new tax mechanisms and funding streams that would add more money — in addition to the $350 million from the state — for improvements at Simmons Bank Liberty Stadium and FedExForum. The records also showed that the University of Memphis would prefer to take a chunk of the money and split off on its own. Our own Geoff Calkins breaks down the numbers for proposed FedExForum funding, which falls short of the $550 million the Grizzlies say they need. Says Calkins: “Anyone who thinks the city’s proposed agreement will persuade the Grizzlies to sign another 30-year lease is naive.”

Wellness path for inmates? Shelby County is looking to renew its contract with Wellpath, the medical care provider at 201 Poplar since 2013. The move comes after 41 deaths, some for medical reasons, at the jail since the start of 2019. A 2019 CNN investigation into Wellpath, the largest health care provider for jails and prisons in the country, uncovered lawsuits against the company for more than 70 deaths across the U.S. The Daily Memphian’s Ben Wheeler talked to Crystal Tucker, a former local nurse with the company who said she was fired after complaining about substandard inmate care. “A lot of times, these people are dying because the medicine that they need is not on the formulary,” Tucker said. “In other words, it costs too much.”

Former Memphis Police officers Tadarrius Bean (left) and Emmitt Martin III (third from left) appeared in Judge James Jones’ courtroom on Friday, Sept. 15. (Mark Weber/The Daily Memphian)

More Tyre Nichols video coming soon: A Shelby County criminal court judge is expected to issue an order later this week allowing for the public release of additional video, audio, reports and personnel files related to the Tyre Nichols case. The order is a result of a motion filed by a media coalition that includes The Daily Memphian. In related news, on Friday, U.S. District Judge Mark Norris weighed in on how the $550 million civil lawsuit over Nichols’ death should proceed and what parties should be involved in a hearing. Attorneys on both sides agreed the case should proceed without the five officers accused of killing Nichols, as much as possible, so they are not forced to incriminate themselves. In other criminal justice news, a judge said we can expect Cleotha Henderson to go to trial over the rape of Alicia Franklin and the abduction and killing of Eliza Fletcher in 2024.



Ron Childers (left) introduced Drake Hall during a ceremony dedicating a brass note on Beale Street to radio personalities Drake and Zeke on Sept. 16. (Patrick Lantrip/The Daily Memphian)

Zeke and I ... both loved Led Zeppelin, the Stones and anything good. If it was good, we played it.

— Drake Hall, former Rock 103 deejay 
Hall and his late radio partner Zeke Logan were honored on Saturday with a brass note on Beale Street. In the ceremony, Hall reflected on his former colleague, who died in 2015. Hall also hinted that a podcast could be in his future.



The Daily Memphian’s Geoff Calkins reflects on some of his favorite columns over the past five years, illustrated here, as part of our 5-year anniversary celebation. (The Daily Memphian files)

Happy birthday to us! The Daily Memphian turned five on Sunday. In the time since this digital nonprofit news organization was founded, we’ve grown our newsroom to include 40 full-time journalists and 20 freelancers and published more than 35,000 articles. And all of this came during a time when many newsrooms across the country reduced staffs by 90%. In a column today, Geoff Calkins calls The Daily Memphian a “miracle.” Strong word choice, sure, but he points out that we started a nonprofit newspaper in one of the poorest cities in the country on the verge of a pandemic. And it worked! Daily Memphian CEO Eric Barnes reflects on the milestone anniversary. And Memphis Fourth Estate, Inc. board chair Andy Cates emphasizes the importance of our fellow Memphians (that’s you, our subscribers!) to help sustain this Memphis institution. 

Ekundayo Bandele is Hattiloo Theatre’s founder and executive director. (The Daily Memphian file)

Selling out: If you want to see “A Raisin in The Sun” at Hattiloo Theatre before it closes on Sept. 24, well, too bad, so sad. The show sold out weeks before its Friday, Aug. 25 opening. The same thing happened with Hattiloo’s season opener, “The Color Purple.” It’s the first time that Hattiloo has sold out its two season-opening shows. So how did they do it? Founder and executive director Ekundayo Bandele attributes a number of reasons, including new stair-step ticket pricing that offers early birds cheaper tickets. But it’s not too late to get in on future shows: Freelancer Žak Ozmo previews the rest of the theater’s 17th season.

The waters of the Mississippi River were low on Sept. 15. (Mark Weber/The Daily Memphian)

Get your beach gear ready: Remember last year’s historic Mississippi River lows and the new “beaches” that spawned a treasure-hunting trend? Well, it looks like we’re heading into a sequel. After the hottest summer on record and months of drought, The National Weather Service of Memphis is predicting the river could possibly surpass last year’s record low by the end of September. Last year’s low water levels impeded barge traffic and caused a spike in shipping rates. In related river news, a coalition of Mississippi River mayors wants a 10-state compact that would provide legal protections for river resources and better help mayors coordinate during events, like drought and flooding, that affect all 2,300 miles of the river.

Sean and Leigh Anne Tuohy filed a seven-page document in Shelby County Probate Court on Thursday, Sept. 14, in response to allegations by Michael Oher that they personally enriched themselves through him and the movie based on his story. (Gerald Herbert/AP file)

Tuohy response to Oher claims: Memphis couple Sean and Leigh Anne Tuohy filed a response late last week to former NFL star Michael Oher’s claims that the Tuohys tricked him into a conservatorship and enriched themselves through his story, which was shared in the movie “The Blind Side.” The document, which was filed in Shelby County Probate Court, denies that the couple viewed Oher as a “gullible young man” who “could be exploited for their own benefit.” The response claims that proceeds from the film were split evenly among the Tuohy family and Oher and that Oher failed to take necessary steps to ensure an additional $200,000 donation went to the charity of his choice.

The whole rotisserie chicken served at El Pollo Latino on Summer Avenue. (Patrick Lantrip/The Daily Memphian)

Memphis as cluck: The owners of Colombian restaurant El Sabor Latino have opened a second spot just down the street on Summer Avenue. The new spot, El Pollo Latino, focuses specifically on chicken dishes — everything from chicken wings and chicken burgers to arroz con pollo and rotisserie chicken. The latter is made using an old family recipe from co-owner Yuri Restrepo’s uncle, who has owned chicken restaurants in Panama and Colombia for 30 years. “Memphis loves chicken ... but we’re trying to give something different, a Latin chicken,” said co-owner Samir Restrepo.



We’ve got a week of warm days and cool nights ahead in this last official week of summer. Fall starts Saturday. 

Now you’re caught up from the weekend. Have a great Monday.