Detroit has Motown, but the Mississippi delta is where it all began. The gospel, folk, soul and R&B music that developed there evolved into modern pop and became the soundtrack for multiple generations of Americans; and the city of Memphis became this cultural oasis for all sorts of musical experiments and breakthroughs, exemplified by the heyday of Stax Records. In Take Me To the River, filmmaker Martin Shore paired old-school legends with current hip-hop artists for an album and a documentary about the timeless language of music that speaks across all generations and races.
“Outside, on the streets of Memphis, it was one of the most segregated places in the world, but inside the studio it was a musical utopia,” Shore said. “In Memphis, people made music that suited them—not what other people thought would be good. It wasn’t prefabricated. It was anything but manufactured. It was real music expressed in a real way.”
Snoop Dogg, who collaborated with soul singer William Bell to record “I Forgot to Be Your Lover,” said, “This is where the seed was planted. This is the origins of it all. When I finally meet my day… I can look back at this and show my grandkids—this is history right here.”
Other musical pairings include Mavis Staples with the North Mississippi All-Stars; Bobby “Blue” Bland with Yo Gotti; Bobby Rush with Frayser Boy; Otis Clay with Lil’ P-Nut; Booker T. Jones with Al Kapone; Charlie Musselwhite with the City Champs; Howlin’ Wolf guitarist Hubert Sumlin with Eric Gales and Ian Siegal; and Hi Rhythm Section with Terrence Howard, the doc’s narrator and a Memphis legend himself after his Oscar-nominated performance in Hustle & Flow.
Take Me To the River debuted at SXSW this year, where it won the Audience Award. It opens in theaters Sept. 12.