Welcome to The Dean’s List! The Dean’s List will profile up-and-comers in Memphis who are certain to be the next group of leaders in the nonprofit, corporate, government, and faith communities. The Dean’s List is curated by Kevin Dean.
Tonya Dyson has shared the stage with artists like Justin Timberlake and Stevie Wonder, but you might not expect that a quiet, shy woman could be such an influential power player in the Memphis music scene. “People expect me to be an extrovert, but it’s a role I’ve gradually gotten better at playing,” she says. As a singer/songwriter, Tonya is preparing for the debut release of part one of the anticipated “Finding My Way” series.
Dyson, 38, is well-known for being an essential part of re-igniting the spirit of Stax and Hi Records by sharing her passion for music with others through her brainchild, neosoulville.com and live show production. Tonya is also cultivating that same love of music in younger minds through the Memphis Music Initiative where she teaches music appreciation at two schools.
With 13 years in music promotion and event marketing, Tonya has been a driving force in the Memphis hip hop/soul scene by producing shows featuring Chrisette Michelle, KRS-One, Dead Prez, Kindred the Family Soul, Corinne Bailey Rae, Robert Glasper, Foreign Exchange, Bilal, Floetry and several others. Most notably, Tonya is known for “The Word,” Memphis’ longest running open mic that has been featured on Vh1 & The Grio. She also launched the Soulsville Music Festival two years ago.
We chose Tonya for her important role in ensuring that the spirit of Memphis music lives on in our community!
First off, tell us a great story about your life as a musician in Memphis!
I met Issac Hayes my first few years in Memphis, and he told me that he hated the perfume I had on. I was angered and crushed. I saw him again and brought it up, but he still didn’t apologize. He just said that he noticed that I was wasn’t wearing it anymore and paused while looking at me. It was almost like he was implying that he did me a favor! That was so funny, and I couldn’t do anything but choose to let him have that one and walk away.
What’s the best part about living in Memphis?
I love Memphis because you can hear soul music playing everywhere! I really love that about living here. This is the only place in the world where you can hear Al Green’s “Love and Happiness” while waiting in line at the bank, shopping in Kroger, catching a flight, parking your car. I haven’t been everywhere but I’ve been alot of places and that’s truly unique to Memphis.
What is Neosoulville and why did you create it?
Neosoulville is like a one stop shop for all things soulful in Memphis, and it came from my senior capstone project during my undergrad years at LeMoyne-Owen College. On the web, it exists as a way for people to find out about the “soul culture” of Memphis and beyond. What is soul culture, you might ask? Its the entire way life of life built around soul music that includes other music genres like hip hop, jazz, reggae, and poetry along with visual & literary art, fashion, cuisine, travel, and health (mental, spiritual, physical). On the ground, we help to create events that cater to the aforementioned culture.