Woods looks for music hope in Soulsville USA

Velisa Woods grew up in South Memphis. Today, she is back in the neighborhood where she is hopeful new support systems will give opportunities to the city’s young music talent.
Velisa Woods called the South Memphis neighborhood of Bunker Hill home as a child.
Her mother grew up nearby on McLemore Avenue and she recalls spending much of her childhood in what is now called Soulsville USA.
 
When visiting her grandmother, Woods said she remembers catching the bus in front of Al’s Tasty Burger Inn at the corner of McLemore and College Street.
 
Woods graduated from Jackson State University in 2005. Today, she’s back in South Memphis where she operates RBS Entertainment managing hip-hop artists, directing music videos, serving as a booking agent and coordinating and promoting events.
 
She’s a jack of all trades in the industry, something Woods said is vital to keep a music career in Memphis going.
 
Woods is a believer in the power of music and the therapy it provides. She majored in education at Jackson State and taught for seven years in Memphis city schools until burnout caused her to leave the profession.
 
“There is a lot going on in this city, whether it’s youth or adults,” Woods said. “You have to have an outlet. Music is therapy. Not everyone goes to church and talks to a pastor. You have to find an outlet.”
 
Music always worked as an outlet for Woods. She credits elementary school music class and the exposure it gave her to violin and cello. Woods learned how to play the violin and later played alto saxophone.
 
She’s concerned about the lack of music education children have today in schools. And with the city’s recent shutdown of the Memphis & Shelby County Music Commission, Woods said there are even fewer outlets for young musicians in the city.
 
She is part of a group that has been rallying support for the local industry in light of the commission’s closing.
 
Woods credits the performance platforms and educational opportunities with Memphis Music Mondays at Hard Rock Café and Stax Fresh Trax as vital for younger artists.
 
The continuation of those inclusive performance platforms is key for the growth of musical talent in the city, she said.
 
With the commission’s demise, Woods is unsure how her business will be affected without that support system.
 
“I don’t know what others will do but we will continue to do what we’re doing,” she said. “It’s unfortunate for the up-and-coming artists. What avenue do they have to perform and let some other people see them? You’re not getting that in schools. They’re not doing programs so you can showcase your talent.”
 
Woods said she’s hopeful of the opportunities the Memphis Slim Collaboratory provides from the heart of the Soulsville USA neighborhood.
 
She has used it as a recording studio and event location for listening and album release parties. Her children have even used it as a computer lab.
 
“It is a spark,” she said.

Read more articles by Lance Wiedower.

Lance is a veteran journalist with more than 16 years of experience in newsrooms in the Memphis area as a reporter and editor, including most recently as managing editor of The Daily News. He regularly contributes to The Daily News, including a biweekly travel column, The Daily Traveler. 
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