Marcella Rene Simien and Graham Winchester
Keepers of Memphis’ creative class.
Marcella Rene Simien
Photograph by Ronnie Booze
People who do more important things than write about music often say that Memphis needs to recruit and retain smart, creative young people. Memphis’ music scene has managed to do just that without the help of think tanks, consultants, or newfangly urban gurus. Memphis, through its musical past and present, is a magnet for tourism and for creative, independent musicians who appreciate the atmosphere of gritty creativity that characterizes this place. Here are two among many young folks working as musicians and electing to stay in Memphis.
Marcella Rene Simien is a native of Lafayette, Louisiana. Her mother introduced her to Memphis when she was growing up in Lafayette and New Orleans. Her father, Terrence Simien, is a Grammy-winning zydeco musician. Marcella moved to Memphis to attend Memphis College of Art, from which she graduated in May. She plans to stay in Memphis.
“Louisiana tends to be a world in itself,” Simien says. “I like to think of it as a separate country from America. The Francophone culture is the greatest contrast to Memphis. The great thing about both places is that there is a bunch of cross-cultural stuff going on. They’re both melting pots for creativity. There’s something about each city’s birth. It was meant for people to come to these places and build communities. It’s difficult to describe, but it’s incredible that over the years … we’ve been able to maintain these artistic communities. Unlike other cities in the South, Memphis and New Orleans feel more colorful. There’s more racial diversity, food, music, all the different cultural aspects of people. There aren’t any other places like this in the country. New York has it, but it’s not the same. We’ve maintained this great Southern grit and soul. Truth. It feels raw and it feels real. It’s more authentic down here. I’m proud of it. I’m proud to be a part of it.”
Graham Winchester is one busy guy. Unlike Simien, who moved to Memphis from somewhere else, Winchester chose to stay in a town where his roots run deep. A 2011 graduate of the University of Memphis, Winchester keeps busy playing drums for several groups including Jack Oblivian, the Sheiks, the Maitre Ds, and Devil Train. Winchester has just completed work on a solo album and does session work on piano too.
“My family has been in Memphis for so long. But I feel like I’ve found my own reasons to love it here. It’s obviously a question that comes up in your head when you’re our age and not married or tied down: Should you move? It’s a question everybody thinks about at this point. But I’ve always been fascinated by Memphis’ music history. I’m really happy with the bands I’m in now and the gigs we’re getting. I never want to stop music. Hopefully, until the day I die, I’ll be doing sessions for whoever wants me. There’s not a ton of money in it. But that goes back to why I like Memphis in the first place. I’ve heard others say that people here create art and music for the sake of that, not the assumption that there’s going to be some big talent agent or booker at your show who will discover you and help you make it overnight. You’re playing for the people who paid to show up. That’s a really energizing feeling. There’s a pureness to what’s going on.”