Memphis, More on “My People/Not My People” and An Evening’s Kiss from Willis Earl Beal

24 Oct


Willis Earl Beal

Willis Earl Beal

Memphis, the film, not the place. But it is the place, a film about place, about a young man who goes to Memphis to make a record, but instead discovers that he needs to discover himself, what matters, what doesn’t.  The story told is non-linear, almost non-narrative, and holds a loving gaze toward Memphis as a work of art–it’s music, it’s people, it’s churches, and it’s natural surroundings.  The description given here is more concrete even than the film itself, which my photographer friend Tina said, “flowed like a moving photo book or series of photos – slow vignettes about a very specific place but with lots of detail left out in between. ”

I came to find out about the film, which I saw several weeks ago at the Cable Car Cinema in Providence, by my friend Nate Kelly.  Nate had noticed that the film was directed by a man with the same name as a former roommate he and his then girlfriend, now wife, Cathy, (a super-close friend of mine) had lived with in Prague  during the 1990’s.  Turned out, their Tim Sutton, is the director of Memphis.


There was much to be enchanted about in Tim’s film, especially,  it’s star, non-actor and real-life musician, Willis Earl Beal. Beal drew me in with his cool non-chalance, angelic singing voice, and dreamy, philosophical, paper-bag drinking, naturalist seeking-self.  Though the film was about the musician’s journey, there was not much of the main character’s music in the film, as the director intended much of the story to be outside of the frame–to happen off-screen, for us the viewers to imagine.  Sutton did not want to direct something that felt like a music biopic, and with his surreal, Memphis, he succeeded.  The film, which used all local, non-actors, will be shown at the 2015 Sundance Film Festival. You can check out the trailer and learn more about Memphis and future screenings of  this unusual, artistic film at

After the movie, when I learned during the Director’s Talk with the audience, that Willis Earl Beal’s present life oddly enough now mirrors some of the film version’s protagonist’s, I had to look him up 0n-line to learn more about him.  I wanted to now hear him sing.

I learned that Beal is from Chicago, is 32 years-old, and lived in New York for some time looking to break into the recording industry.  He had some mild success, was signed to a record label, but ended up leaving his label–due to a combination of unpreparedness for the trajectory to stardom, frustration with the industry that wanted to label him as this generation’s Robert Johnson, or the next Ed Sheeran, as well as the lack of control over his artistry.  Beal is now living in Olympia, Washington, writing and recording music in his home, on his terms.

I came across this interview video of Beal, produced by the Amsterdam based music platform FaceCulture.   As soon as I started listening to Beal speak, I was blown away because it was right while I was in the middle of working on the Keith Thompson interview.  In our interview I had had a  conversation where I asked Keith to elaborate on what I thought I heard him say about certain segments of the black community being either “my people” or “not my people,” and, well, you’ll just have to watch and see what Beal has to say about his own experiences with the way black men acknowledge one another, and the-way he sees himself and others.  I found Beal, and his views on race and person-hood mesmerizing.  Take a look, and then a listen to Beal singing Evening’s Kiss below.



Willis Earl Beal Interview by FaceCulture (Part 1)


There are two more parts to this interview that you can click on the links here to view.  In Part 2 Beal mentions Michael Jackson, and influences on his development as a singer.

Willis Earl Beal Interview – Part 2


Willis Earl Beal Interview – Part 3


Here is Beal singing, Evening’s Kiss


2 Responses to “Memphis, More on “My People/Not My People” and An Evening’s Kiss from Willis Earl Beal”

  1. Sherry Gordon October 24, 2014 at 3:39 pm #

    Dear Wendy Jane,

    Hello, there, my sweet white friend and sister, Wendy Jane! Happy Friday to you as well! Wow, and wow, my sisterfriend! Wow and wow! What an absolutely impressive, so, so very thorough job in which you did, sister, for this spectacular blog post article! I can tell just how diligently you worked on this superbly super article, and you so, so very generously and graciously provided such fantabulous links with this very fine and excellent article, Wendy Jane! I hope, wish, and pray that the film Memphis will come to theaters here where I live in Iowa City, Iowa! It sounds like such a wonderful and a cool film! I can tell how much you loved this film, Wendy Jane! Hopefully it will come to Iowa City, Iowa, or hopefully they will show it on the Sundance Channel and I can see this magnificent film on this great channel!

    I loved seeing and listening to Willis Earl Beal in his three-part interviews! He sounded like such a person full of soul and spirit, and such a deep thinker! I can relate to him, and how he often felt that he was not accepted and that he was seen as an outsider and different from other black people. I can sure relate to that! At times throughout my life, I have felt ostracized from other black people, like I cannot relate or that I don’t fit in. This whole My People/Not My People can be a very tricky and a delicate balance, my sister, Wendy Jane! I loved all three parts of his interview so, so very much, my sisterfriend! I loved his very soulful with feeling singing of Evening’s Kiss, and the moving instrumentation on his guitar! This was really fantastic and fabulous, sister! I thank-you so, so very kindly, dearly, and deeply for this great blog post article and contribution of yours, my white,friend and sister, Wendy Jane! I liked how Willis Earl Beal gave credit to the great influence on him of our Michael Jackson! Just so wonderful! My late mother was born in Memphis, Tennessee, and she relocated with her grandmother and mother to Cleveland, Ohio when she was four-years-old! So there is that great connection for me to this splendid film also, sister!

    Wendy Jane, you are such a gift and a blessing to me, and to your other very grateful and appreciative readers! You are such a brilliant and inspiring wordsmith, and a commanding master of composition in the written word, Wendy Jane! I so, so very thoroughly enjoy reading your astute blog post articles and other writings, and it is such an immense joy, blessing, and pleasure to me to respond to your cool, soulful, spiritual, and Spirit-filled blog post articles and other very fine and excellent writings! You and your marvelous writings just make my days even that much more brighter, sisterfriend! i truly appreciate you, Wendy Jane, and all of your honest, conscientious, and hard and thorough efforts so, so very much, sister! You never ever cease to amaze me, Wendy Jane! Thank-you, thank-you, thank-you, sister, for just being you, and for being my friend and sister, Wendy Jane!!!!!!

    Please have a very Happy Friday which is very nice, special, and blessed, and a super weekend, my white sisterfriend!

    Very Warmly and Sincerely Always,

    Your lesbian black sisterfriend in solidarity, Sherry Gordon

    • Wendy Jane October 25, 2014 at 11:39 am #

      Hi Sherry,

      Your comments make my day as much as you say my writing makes yours. You raise my self-esteem 1,000 times over, so thank you, so, so much for all of your kind words of support.

      Thanks for sharing how you at times also felt like an outsider within the black community, and that you can relate to what Willis Earl Beal had to say about his feelings on the matter. I imagine it is a very tricky thing.

      I hope you enjoy your weekend, and again, thanks for being such a tremendous support, and huge part of WJSS.

      Your sisterfriend,

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