Young or old, fast or slow, highs and lows, through it all Memphis is worth celebrating. This is why the Memphis Music Hall of Fame exists - to honor the soul of Memphis and to give praise to the integrity and perseverance of a city that has been tested and tried. A city that, through thick and thin, has stuck to its roots. The delta roots of blues. With a star-filled lineup due for the night, it was only right that the man in charge kicked everything into action. Mayor AC Wharton had some compelling words to say about the city of Memphis as he took the podium.
“Y’all, we are here to celebrate Memphis!... We want you all to feel at home, so kick your shoes off if you have to… The city has been given so much, BB King gave us the blues, Elvis gave us a voice, and Dr. Martin Luther King gave us a conscious… So, without further ado, let the ceremony begin!” With these words the celebration began.
The Hi Rhythm Section, the house band for the night, took the stage, setting the mood for those in attendance. In the middle of the pit, quietly at their table, sat Memphis Grizzlies superstars Mike Conley and Marc Gasol. As if the spotlight could not be any bigger, Memphis’ very own, Justin Timberlake, soon joined them, accompanied by his wife, Jessica Biel, and dear friend, Jimmy Fallon. The entourage gazed upon the stage as musicians were honored and inducted one by one.
Somewhere between the strikes of fingers on piano keys and the evident emotions portrayed through the enshrinement of these Memphis music stars, it was like the city had gained a new personality trait. The gritty, tough, Memphis persona is still there, and it always will be, but a crowd of emotions overtook the room as the big screen projected a memorial video to all musicians who passed away this year. The theme through all of this, the one thing that reigned true was, “there ain’t nothin sad about the blues, blues is a celebration of life happening.”
Throughout the night, one by one, musicians honored their idols by covering their most famous work, and then the man of the night arose from his seat. That’s right, Justin Timberlake was in the building and was accepting his induction to the hall of fame, but not before close friend, Jimmy Fallon, could introduce him.
With a quirky opening speech, accompanied by, strangely enough, DJ Paul of Three 6 Mafia, Fallon squeezed everyone’s funny bone as he gave his personal take on the beloved singer.
“I specifically remember doing an SNL skit with Justin and he turned to me before we went live and with the most serious look on his face told me, you better not mess up the harmony on this sketch.’ And I knew he was for real about it! I felt like Lance Bass!” Obviously, JT’s work ethic doesn’t stop with his music.
As Timberlake walked on stage, he was greeted by hugs from everyone he came across, and as he took the mic, he took a deep breath.
“This is actually the coolest thing to ever happen to me,” Timberlake expressed, “I mean, really, I’m surprised!”
No surprise here, JT. Between being the global face of Memphis; one of the top 100 most influential people in the world; and a multi-threat comedian, actor and singer; of course he is deserving of being inducted! Maybe he is a bit young, but with just a glance at his resume, he has done far more than fit the bill. JT gave thanks to best friends, grandparents, and even elementary school teachers as he accepted his award. Timberlake led the crowd in singing the University of Memphis fight song as he gave heartfelt thanks to Memphis.
“Memphis is the global capital of soul… There’s nothing like this city anywhere else in the world! London ain’t got no Gus’s Fried Chicken… Paris may rendezvous, but they don’t have Rendezvous!” Timberlake said as he hoisted his award. “You all, this is Memphis at its best.”
And he couldn’t be more right. As Sam Moore of Sam and Dave took the stage for the final inductee of the night, he invited Timberlake on stage to give him some help. The two completely contrasted each other, but they had one thing in common, Memphis soul.
With a night full of old school rockers like Keith Richards, Scotty Moore, and Charlie Rich Jr., it was time to make way for the new school. Justin Timberlake embodies new memphis soul and has successfully brought the heart of music back to Memphis. But, no matter who you are, everyone has a little Memphis in them. And no matter where you go, if you’ve been here before, you’ll always miss Memphis soul. There’s nothing else in the world like it. With an ambassador like Justin Timberlake, the soul of the city is in good hands and will continue to influence musicians for generations to come.
View all the photos from the event.
All photo credits: @CalebGHall for @901Music