Elizabeth Cawein

Elizabeth Cawein is the founder and director of Music Export Memphis, which leverages public and private support to function as an export office for Memphis music, creating opportunities for musicians and driving economic development through music and culture. She is also an adjunct professor of music publicity at the University of Memphis, and in 2019 will teach a new course she developed on Music Urbanism at Rhodes College.

May Playlist: Happy birthday to us

By Published: May 28, 2019 5:57 PM CT

If the City of Memphis were a person with a Facebook profile, it would’ve been littered with cake emojis and animated gifs of exploding confetti this week. As milestone birthdays go, 200 probably deserves more than the standard uninspired “HBD” post.

When your friend turns 200, you owe them at least a carousel of images of the two of you from throughout the years and a paragraph-long tribute to your friendship. At least! Let’s be honest, 200 probably truly calls for a compilation video of everyone you’ve ever met wishing this person a happy birthday, set to the sentimental song of your choice.

So, Memphis, I hope you don’t mind that we skipped all that for your big 2-0-0. We tend to express our love best with a mixtape.

<strong>Elizabeth Cawein</strong>

Elizabeth Cawein

This month’s playlist was an even more collaborative effort than most, and it breaks (bends?) one of my cardinal rules with these mixes by featuring legacy Memphis music. The bulk of the songs came directly from artists who’ve been featured or funded by Music Export Memphis in the past. We asked them to submit a track of their own to include alongside one from a Memphis artist (very far past or not too far past at all) who’s influenced them in some way.

That’s where our mix opens – with Stephen Chopek’s “Made of Puzzles” followed by Booker T. & The MGs’ “Boot Leg.” (Stephen will be heading overseas to tour the UK as a Music Export Memphis Ambassador next month!)

“Booker T. is the first name I think of when someone asks me about my favorite Memphis music,” Stephen wrote in his submission. “’Boot-Leg’ has all the elements I appreciate in a great song. Undeniable groove, strong riff, catchy melody, fierce guitar tone, and most importantly: attitude.”

We’ve also got picks from Marcella Simien (her own track with her band, Marcella & Her Lovers, “I Could Never Lie to You,” and one of her many Memphis influences, David Porter with “Can’t See You When I Want To”); Josh Waddell (“Turquoise” was inspired by Jeremy Stanfill’s “Tennessee Heartbreak”); and Aaron James, who sent us his new single “My New Best Friend is Loneliness” and a confession about sleeping on a rising Memphis star.

“I never got a chance to know Julien Baker when she was in Memphis,” he wrote. “Our paths just missed each other. And to be honest, when she was first starting to get big, I wasn't that into her like everybody else around me was, but I think it just took me a little while to understand her. The rawness, honesty and vulnerability in her writing – it's something that I think everybody should aspire to achieve, regardless of what genre you are in.”

In addition to these contributions, the playlist also features all four of the artists performing at our first-ever pop-up music experience, happening June 1 in downtown St. Louis’ Kiener Plaza. I juxtaposed each of the four with some classic Memphis sounds that felt connected either sonically or thematically: Life, Explicit’s “Motel in Memphis” followed by “I’ll Take You There” from The Staple Singers; The PRVLG’s “What You’re Missing” matched up with “Superstar” by Hi Rhythm; and KadyRoxz’s “My Alone is Holy” with Ann Peebles’ “I Can’t Stand the Rain.”

The final artist on the line-up for that event – which you should share with your friends in St. Louis – is Daz Rinko, who submitted his track “Boo Boo Kisses” for the mix, which was inspired by Justin Timberlake’s “Strawberry Bubblegum.”

I imagine the obvious apology that I must make now is that this playlist does not, in fact, feature 200 songs in honor of our city’s 200th anniversary. With a little more time, it would be easy (easier in Memphis than anywhere else on Earth) but this list wasn’t meant to be exhaustive – not even close! Leave a comment and let me know which songs and artists, past and present, would be on your ideal Bicentennial mix.

And if you want to fill your weekend with Memphis music, you’ve got a chance to do that while also taking part in the official birthday celebration for your fair city at Celebrate Memphis, happening Saturday from 3-10 p.m. in Tom Lee Park. It’s free (yes, totally and completely free!) and has a great line-up of Memphis bands plus tons of other activities happening throughout the afternoon and evening.

It looks like the sun will be setting around 8:05 p.m. that night and Lucero takes the main stage at 8:15 – I can’t think of a better view or soundtrack for ringing in my city’s next century. See you there.


Music Export Memphis Stephen Chopek Marcella Simien Julien Baker David Porter

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