Memphis Slim (Peter Chatman), the famed blues singer and pianist, drew attention for his punishing performing schedule and unorthodox lifestyle. Extreme poverty characterized much of his life, but also created a personality which was uncommonly resourceful. His life embodied the paradox of his music: A hard life and rough experiences were transformed into musical energy that is upbeat and full of life, the essence of triumph.
The Collaboratory is meant to remind us of the everyday yet not be encumbered by it as we reach for the extraordinary. This reflects the paradox that is Memphis Slim’s life and music. His boyhood home was typical of many in the low-income neighborhood in which it is located. Like the others, it reflects the character of the individuals in the community, including Memphis Slim: strength, survival against overwhelming odds, and resourcefulness. Key to the Memphis Slim Collaboratory project is maintaining that sense of success against adversity, inspiring future musicians to achieve despite potential setbacks, while simultaneously generating something new and more open to the community.
The concept revolves around taking elements of the house – like the front porch where Memphis Slim entertained soul legends Rufus Thomas and Isaac Hayes – and celebrate them. Elements of the home are pulled out towards the street to welcome the community, converting a “porch” into an exterior stage. Small areas of the re-built exterior façade are carved out to reveal the wood structure beneath and create views through the structure to the interior spaces. While the original house was in too much disrepair to simply renovate, the team recycled as much of the original material as possible.