Interview: Southern Avenue

Photo: David McClister

“My love for music is everything I am,” declares Tierinii Jackson, lead vocalist of Memphis-based rock n’ soul outfit Southern Avenue. The energetic powerhouse with the formidable pipes joined forces with award-winning blues man Ori Naftaly, who initially hired her to sing on a tour; the pair, along with Tierinii’s sister Tikyra Jackson, Daniel McKee, and Beale Street fixture Jeremy Powell, realized they had something special, left their individual projects, and formed the band. “It all just clicked,” she recalls.

Jackson, whose parents were ministers, honed her skills through years of singing in church. “I would sneak into the back row of the adult choir and try to sing with them,” she says with a laugh. “We grew up really sheltered and weren’t allowed to listen to anything but gospel, so gospel was all I knew—I didn’t know anything about people like Al Green or Tina Turner. It was a magical process discovering all of that music when I got older.” However, that discovery came at a price. The young singer began to dream of making music of her own, and gospel was not on her agenda. “It was huge problem for my parents, and my music wasn’t supported. At some point, I left home and started singing on Beale Street to pay rent. I lived in this awful roach-infested apartment in Midtown, it was old and gross but I loved it, it was mine,” she recalls. “I stayed in that apartment all day and wrote music. I was trying to figure out my life, and I was in a terrible situation—my family had cut me off, I was in an abusive relationship, and submerging myself in the music gave me freedom from all the things I was dealing with at the time,” she adds. “Beale Street was my escape.”

Less than a year after forming the band, and after regularly setting not only Beale Street aflame, but finding success in the States as well as in Europe, Southern Avenue was signed to legendary label Stax Records. “It’s a blessing  to be a part of something with such a legacy, but there’s so much responsibility associated with it,” explains Jackson. “Stax is Memphis, and we get to represent what Memphis is; it’s really important, I get to represent my heritage of growing up in the South, in Memphis, the melting pot of music.”

“Every other person here is a musician and grew up singing in church,” she continues. “Memphis is made of many different music-makers with lots of different stories and backgrounds who have come together to make a unique mix. Being on the Mississippi made Memphis accessible, and so many genres have come through and settled here. Growing up, I never understood what genres were, I just called it all ‘music’ because it all comes together here—blues ties up with church music, rock ties up with soul—it’s beautiful.”

Southern Avenue will firmly plant their flag in the musical landscape with the release of their appropriately self-titled debut on Friday, February 24th. “We came together and discovered who we were together. The album was very organic, we weren’t thinking it was a demo or we were going to get signed, we were just trying to survive. It came naturally to self-title it,” Jackson concludes. “It’s who we are.”

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Susan Hubbard

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