At the invitation-only opening reception/press conference, some of the special guests included U.S. ambassador to Germany, Philip D. Murphy, his wife, and members of his staff. He was the first one up dancing and was all but speechless when he stood at the microphone to make his comments after their performance. His staff came back the next day with their families for the public performance. Murphy met every one of the students and had his photograph taken with them. And he heaped praise not only on them but also on the exhibit and the city of Memphis. It was quite surreal and very fulfilling to be in Berlin with these students, ambassadors themselves for the city of Memphis, taking the Memphis sound to Germany to this large exhibit all about the ol' hometown.
For those of you who haven't heard or read about it, the exhibit is a museum-quality shrine to the music and civil rights history of Memphis, as well as a promotional exhibit about how Memphis has embraced it all with world-class attractions and museums. Here, in the heart of what was once communist Berlin, you walk into a Gibson showroom with a huge image of Mavis Staples as the backdrop behind the stage. You then walk into an exhibit about Beale Street, complete with a big mural of A. Schwab and a monitor looping footage of Beale Street, complete with all of the music, neon, street musicians and barkers, and the Beale Street Flippers. Around the corner, there is wall after wall of Earnest Withers photographs from the 1950s and 1960s, all images of Memphis — the good, the bad, the ugly, and the ironic. Withers' daughter, Rosalind Withers, was also there to speak and explain some of her father's works.
You then walk into a big exhibit dedicated to Sun Records, with all sorts of photos, records, memorabilia, and articles of clothing that belonged to Elvis Presley, Johnny Cash, Ike Turner, Jerry Lee Lewis, and others. There's a custom Gibson guitar signed by Elvis sideman Scotty Moore, which will likely be auctioned off in the U.S. next year, and another monitor with footage of Sun Records artists. After that you walk into a massive area dedicated to Stax Records with murals of the Stax Museum, the neighborhood around Stax, and the barber and beauty shops across the street. There is showcase after showcase of memorabilia, including bar tabs signed by Otis Redding, dozens of albums, bigger-than-life photos of some of the most iconic Stax artists, and stage costumes and clothing that belonged to Isaac Hayes, Rufus Thomas, Wilson Pickett, and others. (I admit I had a hand in this.)
The rest of the space is dedicated to Memphis civil rights history, with life-size models of protesters, footage of Dr. Martin Luther King, a collection of Jim Crow-era "art" and advertisements making fun of African-Americans juxtaposed with an Ike & Tina Turner album cover depicting them ironically eating watermelon (one of my favorite things in the exhibit), and much, much more.
All of this was done by a couple from Germany, who went out on a limb and spent a large chunk of money to create and host the exhibit, just because of their love of Memphis. All over Berlin, there are some 50,000 posters, tourism card racks, and countertop postcards promoting the exhibit, with images of Mavis Staples, Martin Luther King, Johnny Cash, and Elvis. It is in the news, it is on the radio, and as of this writing, Mayor A C Wharton is scheduled to visit the exhibit while in Berlin on other business. At the Stax Music Academy performance, I met people from Germany, Holland, South Africa, Austria, Australia, and who knows where else, including someone from Jackson, Tennessee.
I knew this was going to be pretty amazing, but to be in Berlin and see Memphis everywhere among the palaces and cathedrals and museums was an awesome sight. It's hard to explain. This is the first time anyone knows of an exhibit in Europe dedicated to an American city — and it is Memphis, Tennessee. Everyone here should be proud.
Oh, and then there's that little detail about my Soulsville Charter School students being the only students in the United States outside Danville, Kentucky, invited to attend the vice-presidential debate at Centre College. Like I said, please allow me to brazenly, self-servingly, and unabashedly brag.