Legendary jazz singer Joyce Cobb with Jared Boyd, aka JB, who is among the DJs on the turntables at Central Station Hotel. (Photo: Demarcus Bowser)
#ACCESS901 columnist Joy Doss

Music courses through the veins of Memphis. It is inextricably linked to our past, present and future. Central Station Hotel, one of the newest and coolest spaces in the downtown hotel sprawl, honors the remarkable nature of Memphis music and Memphians.

Built atop and alongside the actual Amtrak station, the Downtown hotel is deliberate in its homage to our city first and foremost but salutes interconnected cities along the migratory line – New Orleans, Chicago and several cities in Mississippi. Each of these  cities has shaped American music and American history, and in particular black music and history.

Creative Director Jim Thompson spoke with us about how this concept came to be. It started with a casual conversation with the guys at Crosstown Arts.  He was to simply install speakers built by his company, Eggleston Works. However, it morphed into his oversight of the creative direction and general aesthetic of the hotel, including bringing a design he drew years ago to life. It’s now the lounge area!

I have been there several times at this point but for those who haven’t, the music theme comes together seamlessly without being campy or kitschy. It is thoughtfully executed and carefully curated, providing metropolitan vibes while simultaneously remaining 100 percent Memphis. We’re a lil bit country, a lil bit rock-n-roll, a lil bit soul-to-soul. All of which is reflected in the look, feel and sound of Central Station Hotel.

When you enter through the lobby, there is a full speaker wall that has already been the backdrop for many-a selfie. There is the record stacks in the lounge comprised of 3500 Memphis-made, connected or inspired vinyl. There is also the very sexy listening room. There are speakers in the guestrooms that allow for the option to tune in to the music being played in the lounge. Even the art selection is reflective of iconic Memphians and the city itself.

Jim Thompson

Jim explains his thinking:

“I love that we get off the airplane at Memphis airport and you hear Memphis music. That’s cool. But it’s not an encyclopedic version of the music. It’s basically the hits. How do we do it in a meaningful way that will last and doesn’t get lost in stereotypical Memphis music? We said, well we need to have DJs in here every day of the week because that gives it the flavor.”

They wanted to establish the hotel as independent from the pre-existing attractions like Beale Street. Most importantly, they wanted to celebrate all forms of Memphis music, not just one genre. “You can come in here and listen to jazz, rap, blues, punk…marching bands. You never know what you’re going to hear.”

So what informed Jim’s aesthetic?

He got an early introduction to via his father’s music store in the 70s and 80s, where they primarily sold keyboards. In fact, the turntables (pictured) are built into one of father’s old organs and it’s hands down one of my favorite pieces in the entire place.

The elder Thompson was very into gospel /church music, another Memphis staple, which was passed along to his son. Gospel of course is as much a part of Memphis music and history as any other genre. Admittedly, Jim is now into more contemporary, post-2015 Memphis music which shows in how inclusive the collection of records is as well as the rotation of DJs.

Central Station is worth the visit, especially if you’re a music head. In fact, I have some friends staying there in the coming weeks! Pass by to get a slice of Memphis’ history, revel in our present and muse about our sun-soaked  future. You may learn something new. I did and I still am.

The accompanying photos showcase some of our biggest influencers, recognizing that the DJ has a voice that is as equally influential as that of our singers, songwriters and producers. Salute to the legends and the new schoolers who carry the mantle into the future!

DJ Crystal Mercedes (left) and soulful SANGIN sista Carmen Hicks (Photo: Demarcus Bowser)
Henry Turley Co. development team member Alex Turley will be helping to set the musical tone at Central Station Hotel as DJ Capital A (Photo: Demarcus Bowser)
Singer Talibah Safiya and DJ Stan “The Man” Bell, aka “The Bellringer.” (Photo: Demarcus Bowser)

(For more information, visit www.centralstationmemphis.com.)