5 Star Stories: Celebrating 101 years of Amro Music in the Mid-South

Published: Apr. 27, 2022 at 10:21 AM CDT|Updated: Apr. 27, 2022 at 10:22 AM CDT
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MEMPHIS, Tenn. (WMC) - Memphis’ musical history is beyond compare, birthplace of the Blues and Rock-n-Roll, and this week’s 5 Star Story is about a family-owned company that makes it its business to help musicians succeed

We’re talking about one of the nation’s largest piano, band and orchestra stores and the largest in the Mid-South.

Action News 5′s Kym Clark shows you how AMRO Music, in its fourth generation of family ownership, has more than a century-long history of service to music education.

Johneice Anderson is a chemist turned AMRO salesperson.

“I got my first violin from here back in fifth grade when I first started playing violin in school and ever since then, it was just you know...AMRO was the place to go to,” said Anderson. “You know how people say ‘love at first sight’ that was it for me because they did a demo with the kids at the school.”

“So my parents brought me here. It was like wow! I’d never seen something so incredible. First of all the violins but like all the different instruments and it was a new experience for me.”

AMRO is responsible for bringing those experiences to thousands of beginning and well-established musicians for 101 years.

“So it all started with my great grandfather and a buddy who moved down from Cincinnati both classically trained pianists,” said AMRO President C.J. Averwater.

In 1920, Mil Averwater and Frank Moorman, en route to Los Angeles by train, took a stroll on Main Street near the train station during a layover in Memphis.

“And immediately fell in love with the City of Memphis just walking down the old cobblestone streets, so they decided to move back and start AMRO Studios,” said Averwater.

The duo’s downtown piano studio opened for business in October 1921.

“They were down on Front Street and they were on the second floor and they would open the windows and they would play as loud as they could and so people walking on the streets below it would hear and they would walk up the stairs to discover what was going on and they would offer up at eight weeks lesson on the spot. Advertising!” said Averwater.

As for the name...

“They chose the first two letters of their last names -- the A and the M and then the R and the O are musical terms and so that’s where Amro came from and they chose the A because it would show up first in the phonebook,” chuckled Averwater.

Mil Averwater’s partner moved back to Cincinnati a short time later, but Mil continued on solo even through the Great Depression.

“During the depression he traded for milk and eggs and even chickens just to keep,you know, just to stay in business,” said Averwater.

AMRO eventually began to sell instruments, at first to accommodate more students, but it soon became a mainstay. About 50 years ago, the company introduced musical instrument rentals and school visits.

“Then one day he noticed that there were a lot of music educators, band directors driving in from Arkansas and Mississippi by car to buy boxes of reeds and buy other things and so he decided, you know, what I’m gonna get a car and I’m gonna start traveling the dirt roads and calling on these schools, oftentimes having to sleep on the band director’s couch because he’d get so far after dark and so that’s kind of how our kind of the modern part of our business started,” said Averwater.

AMRO, which now sits at the corner of Poplar and Racine since 1980, now carries over 6,000 instruments -- many of them displayed throughout the massive showroom.

“So trumpets, trombone’s clarinets, euphoniums, tubas, saxophones,” said Averwater. “We carry violins, violas, cellos, basses. We carry pianos and digital pianos and we carry church organs, as well.”

And a massive collection of sheet music. Eight educational representatives throughout six state now carry out those school visits started by C.J.’s great grandfather decades ago.

“They’ll go in the beginning and help a parent choose an instrument at the beginning of the school year and then they go and call on the music educators throughout the rest of the year and offer them tools and support whatever we can do to keep them successful and then make sure that those instruments stay in good playing condition so that those kids have their best chance of being successful in music,” said Averwater.

There’s also an onsite repair shop for any instrument mishap and to keep the rentals clean and ready for use.

But what makes the current Averwater President most proud is the dedication of his staff, many of them also musicians, who help carry on his great grandfather’s legacy.

“What we do today still goes back to the passion of him and sharing the benefits that music provides the community because we know that students that play music have higher test scores higher graduation rates we know that adults that play music are just overall happier and in a better place,” said Averwater.

An interesting side note: When WMC brought radio to Memphis in 1923, Mil Averwater played the piano and arranged talent for the live broadcasts on Saturdays.

Today, The National Association of Music Merchants regularly recognizes AMRO as one of the “Top 100 Music Stores” in the country.

AMRO also has a podcast.

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