Hands clapped, feet stomped, and melodies filled the air at Bickford Community Center as the girls of Angel Street choir rehearsed for their upcoming spring concert on Saturday, April 22nd.
Angel Street, a local nonprofit organization that uses music as a means to mentor young girls in North Memphis, began in 2012 as what founder Jill Dyson thought would be just a one-time performance at a women’s Christmas dinner.
She remembers being moved by the standing ovation the choir received after that first performance and wanting to continue to provide an outlet for the girls to express themselves creatively.
“We had so much fun in just a short amount of time,” Dyson says. “It struck a chord with me that this was something special.”
Angel Street has grown into a program that offers performance readiness training, songwriting and vocal lessons, as well as professional recording experience to girls ages 8 to 18 — in a poverty-stricken, and often violence-prone, neighborhood — who might not have these opportunities otherwise.
Since forming in 2013, Angel Street has seen more than 140 girls walk through its doors, and the group has performed many times across the city — including a performance for former president Jimmy Carter and Memphis mayor Jim Strickland at the Jimmy Carter Work Project with Habitat for Humanity in November of last year.
Programming at Angel Street extends beyond musical training though, and seeks to help girls understand their value, discover their purpose, and become equipped to be leaders.
“We just use music as an excuse to get together,” says Dyson. “It’s a great tool to engage young girls. There are a lot of activities that are male focused, but this is an intentional way to get girls to feel safe sharing their voice.”
After seeing the impact that Angel Street had on one girl from the North Memphis neighborhood, Dyson realized there was a real need for access to music and other forms of art in the community.
From Bickford Community Center to the Hollywood stage, Terrian Bass, now 20 years old, was one of the original members of Angel Street, and in fall of 2015, she sang her way to the “showcase” round of American Idol.
When Bass is not touring professionally with her group The Rivals, she serves as a mentor and vocal coach for the girls whose shoes she was once in. Bass says she realizes the importance of music and believes it connects people to one another.
“People from different spectrums can come together through music,” she says. “Even if it’s just, ‘Hey did you hear that song?’”