Christopher Blank

News Director

It all started with ghost stories. Dad convinced me that spirits lurked just outside my bedroom door at night. After years of night terrors, I began listening to LPs of spooky tales, memorizing them and acting them out around campfires on those balmy winter nights in South Florida. In this way, other children would suffer as I had.
 
Naturally, this dramatic flair evolved into a prestigious four-year engagement on the high school drama circuit where my mother’s rapturous reviews provoked standing ovations also from my mother.
 
One day, while working part time as a copy clerk at the St. Petersburg Times, an editor asked me why my hair was dyed bright orange. I explained that it was because I was “an actor.” Was my future decided out of pity? Out of concern for my mental health? I cannot read minds. However, the next thing that happened is that I was made a theater critic.
 
For more than a decade, The Commercial Appeal’s readers tolerated my opinions on everything from classical music to ballet. Even WKNO-FM let me create a little club for theatergoers.
 
When this fine radio station went looking for someone to tell stories of the “news” variety, I made the argument that Memphis is a city full of great stories; no other has a richer cultural narrative. The crossroads of America is a crucible of stories from all walks of life. Also, crossroads are known for ghosts and devils, and who doesn’t love those?
 
They totally bought the argument. So now, I’m looking for great stories. What’s yours?

Ways to Connect

On today's Culture Desk, Brooks Museum curator Stanton Thomas talks about this "Moon and Moss" vase from Newcomb Pottery in New Orleans. Though these vases ceased to be made in 1940, the H. Sophie Newcomb Memorial College continued to exist until 2005, when Hurricane Katrina forced Tulane University to dissolve the school during its rebuilding process. Listen below for more.


Christopher Blank/WKNO-FM

Vincent Astor didn't like smoky bars. But in the 1970s, that's where Memphis' gay community met up. He knew that to create a more tolerant city, he'd first have to be out and outspoken himself. Thus began his decades-long activism in the local gay rights movement. Along the way, he stashed away thousands of cultural documents, which are now available for viewing at the Benjamin L. Hooks Central Library.

  

If the name Richard Halliburton rings a bell, it could be because the bell tower at Rhodes College is dedicated to his memory. Or maybe it's because you're a fan of 20th Century travel writing. In the 1920s and '30s, Halliburton barnstormed the world, climbed mountains and swam treacherous waters. But a new biography by Cathryn J. Prince reveals another side of the famous adventurer -- one he carefully hid from the public.   


Brad Birkedahl

Scotty Moore was one of rock and roll's most famous guitar players, in no small measure because he backed Elvis Presley from the very first record. Moore, 84, died on Tuesday at his home in Nashville. Memphis rockabilly musician Brad Birkedahl breaks down Moore's signature style for us.


Christopher Blank

Most young stage performers yearn for leading roles and top billing on programs. But as a singer and dancer, Justin G. Nelson doesn't hesitate to check the "Ensemble" box on audition forms. This dedicated chorus member became one of the most prolific performers on local stages, and now he's on the road with a touring production of The Wizard of Oz, running at the Orpheum Theatre.  


In the 1960s, Memphis became a recording industry Mecca because of producers like Chips Moman, who died this week at age 79. Moman notched more than 120 hit records on his belt, including Neil Diamond's "Sweet Caroline," B.J. Thomas's "Hooked on a Feeling," and Elvis Presley's mid-career comeback album that included "Suspicious Minds" and "Kentucky Rain." 


Photos by Joe Mazza, Brave Lux.

A Memphis actress returned home from Chicago this week toting one of the city’s top theater awards for Best Supporting Actress in a Play. Cecelia Wingate is a familiar character actress on local stages, but her shiny new Jeff Award went for a role that Wingate says comes naturally – a character loosely based on her.


Forty years ago, when Aretha Franklin, Lou Rawls and Johnnie Taylor were at the top of the R&B charts, Art Gilliam decided to buy an R&B radio station in his hometown. WLOK 1340 AM became the first black-owned station in Memphis. Soon after, Gilliam changed the format to gospel music. He talks with us about what it means to keep a "local" voice on the increasingly corporate airwaves.   


As the Memphis in May International Festival salutes Canada this month, we hear from our northern neighbors about our shared economic interests. Listen to this interview with Consul General Louise Blais based in Atlanta, and then check out some statistics below.


A somber procession began on Sunday in the courtyard of the former Lorraine Motel in Memphis, Tenn., where Martin Luther King Jr. was killed in 1968. Everyone in Memphis knows about that piece of history, but until recently, folks were unaware of a massacre that happened in the same part of town 100 years earlier.

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