5 Star Stories: Rhodes College Mike Curb Institute for Music

Published: Nov. 1, 2022 at 10:26 PM CDT
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MEMPHIS, Tenn. (WMC) - In our weekly 5-Star Story series showcasing the things that make us proud to call the Mid-South home, we shine a light on one of the most beautiful college campuses in the country!

Billboard magazine recently named Rhodes College one of the Top Music Business Schools in the U.S. -- even though the school does not have a music business major. But, it does have a music institute that celebrates Memphis’ role in the “Tennessee Music Miracle.”

“Respect Fest” at Rhodes College is a block party organized, produced, performed, and recorded by students or fellows of the Mike Curb Institute for Music -- which featured and celebrated woman-identifying or non-binary artists.

Di Wu, a senior Economics major from China and one of the fest’s featured performers, says the Curb Institute is what made Memphis and Rhodes College feel like home to her.

“Curb is where I found the creative side of myself outside of my academic discipline,” said Wu. “Curb provides me the opportunity to go out and connect with people who are in our Memphis community who are running music studios who are producing music festivals at Levitt Shell, who are producing things on Beale Street, who are running art magazines, in our community.”

Located in Harris Lodge, one of the oldest buildings on campus, the Mike Curb Institute for Music provides space for Curb Fellows to meet and work on projects -- including a collaborative recording space.

It all began in 2006 when Mike Curb of Curb Records, which also happens to be one of the largest independent record companies in the U.S., gifted the college enough money to open the Institute.

He also gifted the home at 1034 Audubon Drive, the first home Elvis Presley bought in Memphis, which Curb Fellows use for interviews, recording and other projects.

Dr. John Bass, Director of the Rhodes Curb Institute, explained why Curb, a record mogul out of Nashville, gave so much to a college in Memphis.

“He always talked about what he called ‘The Tennessee Music Miracle’ and it’s his belief that the music from Tennessee, broadly, Memphis and Nashville, changed the world,” said Bass. “It’s a program that is grounded in exploring the under-researched aspects of Memphis music like, let’s dig in and let’s really learn about Memphis music historically. That was the foundation of it and it’s become something that is like a source using this history as a source of new creativity through students.”

And, he said, it’s not just for music majors or musicians.

“So, rather than having, you know, a music business, a group of music business majors, I’d like to have music majors and business majors and African studies majors and urban studies majors, philosophy majors and the gamut,” said Bass. “And they bring all that amazing stuff that they’re learning in all of these classes to our community and which makes us all richer.”

Senior artist and Memphian London Pirtle realized law school was not her path after writing an article for the Institutes’ magazine or ‘zine Dredge and working with the Institute’s Office of Diversity, Equity and Inclusion.

“I definitely think Curb was a part of that because it made me feel like I can do what I want,” said Pirtle. “I don’t necessarily have to do what others have told me or take other people’s. So, Curb has given me a lot of space to grow.”

Programs at the Curb Institute are based on feedback from people within the music industry.

“And a lot of the feedback that we would get from professionals or from the employers were that it’s less about skill sets and it’s more about how problem-solving and being able to think about creative solutions,” said Bass.

Junior and native Memphian Jackson Hendrix -- a former bio major who turned to computer science and media studies is now Curb’s lead video director and president of Rhodes Radio.

“I have this great internship with the Overton Park Shell, right now. I work on their video crew,” said Hendrix. “So, it’s gotten a lot of those kinds of opportunities and to feel that I am competent to do them.”

Bass said he’s grateful for Memphis music professionals who embrace and welcome the Institute’s students into their worlds -- another reason we’re proud to call this place home.

“And so, it’s a little abstract and it’s sort of hard to understand until you’re in it but, it’s a model that we’ve seen have some success and really build a community and build a home for students who center on Memphis music,” said Bass.

As for the future of the Mike Curb Institute of Music at Rhodes College -- students are currently working on a record label and hope to produce records, soon. Any and all Rhodes students are welcome to join in.

For more details about the Mike Curb Institute of Music on the Rhodes College campuses visit rhodes.edu/academics.

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