The Memphis Thirty Five
Movers & Shakers of the Past Three Decades: A Special Thirty-Fifth Anniversary Photo Essay
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Without Jack Belz’s vision, Memphis’ downtown renaissance might never have happened. Scion of the city’s most prominent commercial real-estate family, he made the fateful decision in 1975 to purchase an abandoned hotel no one else wanted for $400,000. Tens of millions of investment dollars later, The Peabody was reborn in 1981 to become Memphis’ signature landmark, the societal heart of our city, and the very first building block of the redevelopment that followed. Other Peabodys flourish now in Little Rock and Orlando, but there’s no place like home for the Belz family, which continues to play a leading role in Memphis’ infrastructure transformation.
PHOTOGRAPHED IN 2011 COURTESY BELZ ENTERPRISES
Arguably the city’s most important musical artist between Elvis Presley and Justin Timberlake, Green was the last true Southern soul star of the ’70s and a singular force, applying his idiosyncratically beautiful voice — which ranges from cute to carnal, grit to glory — to classic hits such as “Let’s Stay Together” and “Take Me to the River.” Green famously left pop for the pulpit, but never quite stopped recording or performing. And he’s re-emerged in a major way over the past decade, releasing three fine secular albums, two with late Memphis producer and mentor Willie Mitchell, and one with hip-hop star Amir “Questlove” Thompson of the Roots. All the while, he still finds time to preach on Sundays, too, in his Full Gospel Tabernacle in Whitehaven.
PHOTOGRAPHED IN 1993 BY STEVE ROBERTS
Harold Ford Sr.
Former mayor E.H. Crump is usually considered the “Boss” of Memphis politics, but Harold Ford Sr. — a graduate of LeMoyne-Owen College and son of an inner-city funeral director — grew to become the same kind of boss with the same kind of style. With his precinct-by-precinct power and the extension of his family’s influence throughout all of Memphis officialdom, he wielded influence far beyond the positions he held — first as a state legislator, then as the Ninth District congressman for 22 years. After bequeathing his congressional seat in 1996 to son Harold Jr. (who kept it until a failed U.S. Senate bid ten years later), the patriarch of the Ford political line retired to Florida, where he still resides, a high-powered lobbyist with a reach all the way to Washington.
PHOTOGRAPHED IN 1981 BY ALAN ULMER
Karen Blockman Carrier
After a short stint as an art teacher, Karen Blockman Carrier charted a culinary course, and the city’s dining scene is all the richer for it. A graduate of White Station High School, she made her way to New York and learned the ropes of the restaurant biz. Drawn back to her hometown in 1987, she launched the catering firm Another Roadside Attraction and a host of hip restaurants — Automatic Slim’s, Cielo, Beauty Shop, Dö, Mollie Fontaine Lounge — garnering kudos from the likes of Bon Appetit and Gourmet. Looking back on her career, she told a reporter, “I knew I wanted to rock this town because Memphis is cool. And for me, it’s been phenomenal.”
PHOTOGRAPHED IN 2011BY JONATHAN POSTAL
Memphis was an island in the financial world when Allen Morgan Jr. cofounded the Morgan Keegan investment firm in 1969. This city had no investment banking firms, no local brokerage firms, and no big insurance companies. Morgan and his partners bought into Memphis when its stock was low, raising their profile and purchasing a seat on the New York Stock Exchange for $150,000 in 1970. Four years later, the Dow Jones Industrial Average fell to 577. Morgan remained bullish on stocks and Memphis. Their vision was rewarded. In 2000, Morgan Keegan was purchased by Regions Bank for $789 million.
PHOTOGRAPHED IN 2009 COURTESY MORGAN KEEGAN & CO.