Who's Who

Memphis Madness

Karen Pulfer Focht

Our annual guide to the city's movers, shakers, and other news-makers. 

To understand Memphis, you need to understand the cast of characters who make our community distinctive. This year's "Who's Who" list includes people who have shaped this city in the past and will play important roles in its future. Not every noteworthy Memphian appears on this list  but by reading about those who do, you'll glean a broad sense of our complex history, commerce, and culture. 

RAUMESH AKBARI · A member of the Tennessee Senate since 2019, representing District 29, Akbari was previously a member of the state’s House of Representatives for the 91st District. She has received considerable national attention, including serving as speaker at the 2016 Democratic National Convention and as a member of the keynote address team for the party’s 2020 convention. Appointed by President Biden to a national criminal justice task force, she was the Marshall Memorial Fellow in Europe for the German Marshall Fund. Akbari has served as chair of the Tennessee Black Caucus of State Legislators and currently serves as financial secretary of the National Black Caucus of State Legislators. In Nashville, she is first vice chair of the Education Committee, and is a member of the Commerce and Labor Committee and the Ethics Subcommittee. Regarded as a rising star in the state Democratic party, she considers herself “Blersian” from mixed Persian and African-American parentage.

JEN ANDREWS · The first official employee of the Shelby Farms Park Alliance, in 2016 Andrews was named CEO of the renamed Shelby Farms Park Conservancy. Prior to her current role, she led communications and development for the conservancy, including leadership of the $75 million capital campaign for park improvements (among those, the Shelby Farms Greenline, Woodland Discovery Playground, and the Heart of the Park). Her stewardship includes daily operations along with generating support and revenue to further enhance the future of Shelby Farms Park. 

WARD ARCHER · The ad man turned music mogul’s major current fixation is protecting Memphis’ famous water. In 1990, Archer oversaw the creation of Archer-Malmo, Tennessee’s largest and most successful advertising shop. After stepping back as CEO, he created Music + Arts studio to be a destination for recording artists and film sound mixing, and Archer Records to bring the best of Memphis’ contemporary music to the world. Archer’s most lasting impact is Protect Our Aquifer, the nonprofit he founded to ensure that the Memphis Sand Aquifer remains clean and accessible to future generations. “This is all happening against a worldwide backdrop of drought and freshwater shortages,” he says. “It’s a long haul, but we’re batting 1000 so far.”

Ekundayo BandeleEKUNDAYO BANDELE (left) · Bandele’s vision when he founded Hattiloo Theatre in 2006 was, and is, to establish an African-American repertory theater that inspires the community and accomplishes significant work, from plays to outreach to education. His leadership includes spearheading a $4.3 million capital campaign to build Hattiloo’s two-theater venue that opened debt-free in 2014, and raising another $900,000 in 2016 to build the Hattiloo Development Center. He’s not only created theater buildings, he creates theater itself: He’s directed many plays, and received a $20,000 grant from the MAP Fund to write and produce Tumbling Down, a play about the removal of this city’s Confederate statues.

BRETT BATTERSON · Batterson leads the Orpheum Theatre Group as it offers Memphians plays and musicals, concerts, comedians, and other acts throughout the year. The theater welcomed back full-capacity shows this past season, featuring popular performances like Hadestown and Tootsie. The return follows a sequence of innovation through the pandemic, including converting the Orpheum stage into a mini-golf course and hosting outdoor concerts lit entirely by candlelight. Batterson continues to maximize the organization’s mission to entertain, educate, and enlighten. The theater is a four-time Tony Award-winning co-producer of Broadway shows (most recently, under Batterson’s watch, in 2018 for The Band’s Visit).

Jack BelzJACK BELZ (right) · As chairman of Belz Enterprises, Belz heads one of the South’s largest real estate and development firms. A longtime booster, activist, and participant in Downtown development, he is best known for bringing back The Peabody, which served as the impetus for Downtown’s renaissance. He is the driving force behind Peabody Place, an eight-block mixed-use development. He also founded the Belz Museum of Asian and Judaic Art, utilizing his passion for art-collecting. Belz worked with the Memphis Housing Authority and Henry Turley Company to develop Uptown, and has partnered in Downtown projects such as Harbor Town, South Bluffs, and elsewhere.

VERNELL A. BENNETT-FAIRS · As the 13th president of LeMoyne-Owen College, Bennett-Fairs is the second woman selected to lead the only historically Black college in Memphis. Her career spans 26 years in higher education, having served as an associate professor and college administrator. She has a passion for student and community engagement, leading to her development of 807 Day of Giving and Loving Our Community Outreach Days to strengthen and expand the relationship with South Memphis. Bennett-Fairs has additionally boosted academic programs and established the first Program of Distinction and Endowed Chair for Computer Science specializing in cyber-security and information technology.

Blobby Mark MoriciBLOBBY (left) · Officially named Blobert Mark Morici, this canine made his editorial debut in the pages of this magazine back in May, and boy, oh boy, has he found his voice. When not writing, Blobby, a foster fail from Memphis Animal Services, spends his days lounging around, sitting for treats even when none are offered, and strutting the V&E Greenline like he owns the trail. This July, he graduated first (and only) in his class at PetSmart’s doggie training program.

FLOYD BONNER · The sheriff of Shelby County since 2018, Bonner holds two electoral distinctions. He led the entire field of candidates for all county races in votes in 2018, and, in his 2022 reelection race, he was basically the candidate of both local parties, as the nominee of the Democratic Party and the endorsee of the Republican Party — a hat trick that had rarely, if ever, been accomplished. Bonner began with the Shelby County Sheriff’s office in 1980 as a jailer. In 2010, after numerous intervening promotions, he became chief deputy to Sheriff Bill Oldham, serving in that capacity until his own election.

JOZELLE LUSTER BOOKER · When business leaders need to find new growth strategies, they call Booker, president and CEO of the Mid-South Minority Business Council Continuum, an economic accelerator for minority and women-owned enterprises. Operating a leading MBDA Business Center for the U.S. Department of Commerce, she oversees a national network of scalable minority suppliers. Whether it’s connecting small businesses with corporations, helping large companies improve their diversity programs, or helping small Memphis companies grow revenue, she has a reputation for getting results.

PAUL BOYLE · In the late 1960s, Boyle Investment Company, led today by Paul Boyle, developed Memphis’ first office park, Ridgeway Center at Poplar and I-240. The project was a game-changer as were later projects like River Oaks, Humphreys Center, and Schilling Farms. It’s been a family enterprise even before the company was established. Edward Boyle developed Midtown’s Belvedere Blvd. in 1907, and in 1933 three of his sons formed the investment company that expanded into real estate development, sales, leasing and management, construction, mortgage banking, and insurance. Bayard Boyle Jr. led the company starting in the 1970s and remains co-chairman with his brother-in-law, Henry Morgan. Meanwhile, Paul Boyle, who began his career with the company’s construction firm, now oversees all of the company’s operations in Memphis and Nashville including commercial and residential real estate as well as insurance.

CRAIG BREWER · He spearheaded the digital filmmaking revolution in America with his debut The Poor & Hungry, and Brewer put Memphis rap on the map with the Oscar-winning Hustle & Flow. He gave Samuel L. Jackson one of his meatiest roles with Black Snake Moan, then updated the dance classic Footloose for the twenty-first century. He wrote the screenplay that rebooted Tarzan, then reunited with his Hustle stars for the hit TV show Empire. He helmed Eddie Murphy’s comeback movie Dolemite Is My Name, and then re-teamed with the comedy king for Coming 2 America, an international hit that became the biggest movie Amazon Studios ever produced. What will Memphis’ premier director think of next?

RUBY BRIGHT · Under Bright’s leadership since 2000, the Women’s Foundation for a Greater Memphis has served as a backbone organization in the city, promoting philanthropy, fostering leadership, and supporting program services for women and families. Nationally recognized, WFGM harnesses the power of place-based, strategic fundraising and grant development for intergenerational impact. Since 1996, WFGM has invested more than $38 million in some 600 programs involving more than 160 nonprofits. Earlier in 2022, Bright announced that she will retire at year’s end.

Doug BrowneDOUGLAS V. BROWNE (right) · For almost 20 years, Browne has overseen The Peabody, Memphis’ most storied hotel. Celebrities, politicians, and quite a few ducks have passed through these doors during a stopover in Memphis. With over 40 years in the hotel industry, Browne has his finger on the pulse of what makes hospitality ventures tick, and currently lends his expertise to Memphis as board chair of the Metropolitan Memphis Hotel & Lodging Association. Browne was earlier this year named the 2022 board chairman of the Greater Memphis Chamber.

DON BRYANT · First gaining fame as a songwriter, Bryant co-wrote the hit “I Can’t Stand the Rain” in 1973 with Ann Peebles, whom he married soon after. Though possessing a fine voice, he was content to write songs — over 150 through the years — until Fat Possum Records released his album Don’t Give Up on Love in 2017, followed by You Make Me Feel in 2020. Backed by the Bo-Keys, producer Scott Bomar’s soul revival group, 80-year-old Bryant now tours the world, with appearances at Italy’s Porretta Soul Festival and a celebrated set at the 2022 Beale Street Music Festival.

DR. PETER BUCKLEY · After a unanimous vote, Buckley became chancellor of the University of Tennessee Health Science Center in 2021. He has authored 20 book chapters and more than 300 articles in research in psychiatry. Buckley is additionally a Distinguished Fellow of the American Psychiatric Association and a member of the board of the Schizophrenia International Research Society. As the chief executive officer of the six doctoral programs in Memphis and regional clinical locations in Knoxville, Chattanooga, and Nashville, Buckley aims to strengthen the university’s role throughout both Memphis and Tennessee.

NED CANTY · Since January 2011, Canty has brought opera to the city and the city to the opera as general director of Opera Memphis. In 2012 he launched “30 Days of Opera,” an annual monthlong festival of free performances throughout Memphis. In 2017, Canty launched the McCleave Project, making Opera Memphis the first opera company in the nation to make an ongoing commitment to increasing equity and diversity in opera — backstage, onstage, and in the audience. Canty was named an Inside Memphis Business CEO of the Year in 2017, and recently completed his second term on the board of Opera America.

CHANCE CARLISLE · A hospitality and real estate executive, Carlisle is chief executive officer of Carlisle LLC. He oversees the company’s family office, real estate development, and restaurant teams. Carlisle LLC’s wholly owned subsidiary Wendelta Inc. owns and operates 165 Wendy’s restaurants in the southeastern United States. He serves on the board of directors and has held numerous leadership positions within the Wendy’s system. Recently, he’s focused on One Beale, a 5.5-acre, $400 million Memphis riverfront development that includes three Hyatt-branded hotels (including the Hyatt Centric and Caption by Hyatt), 232 luxury apartments at The Landing Residences, eight restaurants and bars, and a 465-car garage.

KAREN BLOCKMAN CARRIER · After graduating from the Memphis Academy of Art and teaching art, Carrier went to New York and charted a culinary course. Returning to Memphis in 1987, she launched the catering firm Another Roadside Attraction and a host of hip restaurants — Automatic Slim’s (sold in 2008), Cielo, Beauty Shop, Mollie Fontaine Lounge, Dó Sushi, Bar DKDC, and Back Do/Mi Yard — garnering kudos from The New York Times, Bon Appétit, and Gourmet. During the pandemic, she opened Hazel’s Lucky Dice Delicatessen, which brought her back to her culinary heritage and kept her employees on the job. Carrier’s eclectic style, marketing savvy, and culinary mastery have kept her restaurants in high demand. She was inducted into the Society of Entrepreneurs in 2004.

PAULA CASEY · An organizer and lecturer on women’s rights issues, particularly the 72-year struggle for women’s suffrage, Casey is publisher of The Perfect 36: Tennessee Delivers Woman Suffrage. She served as president of Tennessee Woman Suffrage Monument, Inc., and was primarily responsible for the fund-raising for the monument itself that was unveiled in 2016, in Nashville’s Centennial Park. As chair of the Memphis Suffrage Monument committee, she was also the prime mover in fund-raising and design activities for the Memphis Suffrage Monument, several years in the making and installed in 2022 on the campus of the University of Memphis law school.

PAUL CHANDLER · As executive director of the Germantown Performing Arts Center (GPAC), Chandler is responsible for much of the area’s entertainment, arts education, fundraising, performing arts, and visual art programs. A recent addition to GPAC’s facility has been The Grove, a $7.5 million outdoor performance venue that opened in 2020 next to the main structure to host concerts, themed events, happy hours, movies, and more. He also spearheaded a public art master plan thanks to a $50,000 grant Germantown received from the National Endowment of the Arts Foundation’s Our Town program.

Darrell CobbinsDARRELL COBBINS · Real estate has long been the Cobbins family business. After watching his grandfather create Lakeview Gardens subdivision in South Memphis (the first middle-income neighborhood for Black professionals), Cobbins began his path toward founding Universal Commercial Real Estate. When he opened his company in 2007, he presided over the only Black-owned commercial real estate firm in Memphis and drew in big clients including FedEx, City of Memphis, Crosstown Concourse, and Baker Donelson. With a focus on inspiring youth through his work, Cobbins drew the attention of former governor Bill Haslam and was invited to be a member of the Tennessee State Board of Education, where he still serves.

ASHLEY COFFIELD · Rhodes College was where Coffield got her first experience defending reproductive rights as a volunteer for Planned Parenthood. She worked with the Public Health Foundation in Washington, D.C., and became an advocate for disease prevention. She returned to Memphis, served on the Planned Parenthood board and became CEO of the Memphis affiliate in 2013. In 2016, Coffield received the Women of Achievement Award for Courage and oversaw the merger of the Memphis and Nashville affiliates to form Planned Parenthood of Tennessee and North Mississippi.

STEVE COHEN · Now serving his eighth term as congressman from Memphis’ 9th District, the Vanderbilt/UM law school graduate has for many years been a mover and shaker in national politics. As chairman of the House Judiciary Subcommittee on the Constitution, Cohen conducted hearings in 2019 on the issue of reparations for African-American citizens, a logical follow-up to his earlier sponsorship of an official apology for slavery by the U.S. House of Representatives. He was first elected to a congressional seat vacated by Harold Ford Jr. in 2006 after more than 20 years as an influential member of the Tennessee Senate, where he helped shepherd our state lottery into being and was the body’s most prominent progressive. Despite some vigorous gerrymandering of his district by the GOP legislature in Nashville and opposition from well-funded Republican challenger Brown Dudley, Cohen seemed poised to win a ninth term in August 2022.

Carol ColettaCAROL COLETTA (left) · If city design is an art form, Coletta is a virtuoso. In her four years as president and CEO of the nonprofit Memphis River Parks Partnership, she’s reimagined six miles of riverfront and five park districts along the Mississippi riverfront. The most visible project, on track to open next year, has been the $61 million redesign of Tom Lee Park. Next up is a new vision for Mud Island. She is a former senior fellow in the Kresge Foundation’s American Cities Practice. She founded a $50+ million national collaboration of foundations, local nonprofits, and governments to Reimagine the Civic Commons in five cities, including Memphis. Coletta was vice president of community and national initiatives for the John S. and James L. Knight Foundation, led the start-up of ArtPlace, was president of CEOs for Cities, and was director of the Mayors’ Institute on City Design.

Jennifer CollinsJENNIFER M. COLLINS (right) · Rhodes College is charting a course under new leadership. Following the departure of President Marjorie Hass and a term under interim head Carroll Stevens, the college’s new president took office this July. Collins is a bona fide liberal arts and legal advocate, coming to Memphis after more than eight years as the Judge James Noel Dean of Law at Southern Methodist University in Dallas, Texas. While a member of the law faculty at Wake Forest University, she created the university’s first-ever LGBTQ+ Center and Women’s Center in order to create a level playing field. Now, she brings her drive for liberal arts excellence and inclusivity to Memphis.

DR. REGINALD COOPWOOD · Regional One Health is the primary source of medical care for much of our city’s population, in addition to providing trauma and burn care for the region. Coopwood took on the mantle of president and CEO of Regional One in 2010; his work is complemented by a commitment to community well-being. Previously, he was CEO of the Metropolitan Nashville Hospital Authority. Honors for his work include being named Inside Memphis Business’ CEO of the Year in 2014 and receiving the Tennessee Hospital Association’s CEO Meritorious Service Award in 2011, the Diversity Champion Award in 2013, and the President’s Award in 2016.

REGGIE CRENSHAW · This West Point graduate who retired from the Army with the rank of captain knows something about leadership. Crenshaw worked with General Electric Capital, Bank of America, Ford, Wachovia, and ServiceMaster before going out on his own with Crenshaw and Associates Consulting. Since August 2021, he’s been president and CEO of Leadership Memphis.

CERELYN “CJ” DAVIS · She made history in April 2021 when she was named the first female chief of the Memphis Police Department. Davis started as a patrol officer in Atlanta, and quickly ascended the ranks to commander, where she oversaw the integration of the city’s video surveillance system. A graduate of the FBI Academy, she has worked with departments as far away as Israel. In 2020, she testified before the Senate Judiciary Committee on police reform in the wake of the George Floyd protests. Now she’s hard at work keeping Memphis safe.

KEVIN DEAN · As the head of Momentum Nonprofit Partners, he has doubled the budget and transformed the organization into a resource center to strengthen other Memphis nonprofits. When the pandemic hit in 2020, Dean coordinated the creation of the Mid-South Covid-19 Regional Response Fund, which dispatched millions of dollars in grants to struggling communities. For good measure, he also earned his Ph.D. at Vanderbilt University in 2021 — proving a good leader knows how to multitask. Dean was a 2022 Inside Memphis Business CEO of the Year.

MICHAEL DETROIT · For more than three decades, Detroit has been a fixture of Memphis theater. As executive producer of Circuit Playhouse, Inc., he oversees the city’s largest professional theater operation and the largest professional audition conference (Unified Professional Theatre Auditions) in the United States. He has appeared in numerous stage productions and feature films such as Christmas at Graceland, Home for the Holidays, and The People vs. Larry Flynt, but his biggest achievement is successfully directing his company through the pandemic. This season, Playhouse on the Square, Circuit Playhouse, and TheatreWorks will produce 15 shows, 13 of which are either world or regional premieres.

DR. JAMES DOWNING · The CEO of St. Jude Children’s Research Hospital since 2014, Downing is the architect of the institution’s plan to expand clinical care and research programs in Memphis and around the globe. He was instrumental in launching the Pediatric Cancer Genome Project, which has yielded discoveries across 23 types of pediatric cancers and generated new computational tools benefitting the broader field of genomic medicine. He championed St. Jude Global, a program focused on raising pediatric cancer survival rates internationally. He was saluted as a 2020 CEO of the Year by Inside Memphis Business and received the honor again in 2021 for his work in safeguarding the St. Jude campus during the pandemic. 

William EgglestonWILLIAM EGGLESTON (right) · Eggleston began exploring photography in the mid-’60s. Inspired by Henri Cartier-Bresson, with echoes of Lee Friedlander, he embraced advances in color photographic printing at the time. Since 1976, with his breakthrough exhibit of color prints at the Museum of Modern Art, he’s been considered one of America’s most notable photographers. A major three-volume retrospective of his early work, Eggleston: The Outlands, was published by Steidl last year. His ties to the music world are notable, with photographs featured on album covers by Big Star, Primal Scream, and others. He’s also a pianist and composer, having recorded “Nature Boy” with Alex Chilton in the ’70s; his semi-classical electronic improvisations were released on the album Musik (Secretly Canadian) in 2017.

ANNA MULLINS ELLIS · As president and CEO of New Memphis, Ellis oversees an organization devoted to retaining and training diverse talent in our community. She began with New Memphis in 2014, guiding innovations to make Memphis magnetic and build the city’s talent pool. She was elevated to lead the organization in 2019. A longtime Memphian, Ellis has experience in nonprofit leadership and media. She was named a “Superwoman in Business” and a “Top 40 Under 40” by the Memphis Business Journal and the Memphis Flyer’s  20<30 list for her work empowering Memphians.

Kelly EnglishKELLY ENGLISH (left) · Chef English and his teams regularly top local dining lists, including this magazine’s, earning awards for Best Chef, Best Restaurant, and Best Service. After helping revitalize the Overton Square area with Restaurant Iris, his fine dining establishment will soon have a new home in a much larger space at Laurelwood Shopping Center. In Iris’ first home, English last year opened Pantà to much acclaim, sharing his love for all things Catalan via tapas, wines, desserts, and gin and tonics. Next door, there’s the Second Line, his casual eatery. In 2019, he saved Midtown’s favorite lunch spot, Fino’s Deli. In 2020, he became a leading advocate for the pandemic-ravaged restaurant community, and fed frontline healthcare workers as they battled Covid outbreaks. English is also a vocal mentor to and proponent of aspiring chefs and restaurateurs.

ROBERT M. FOCKLER · As president of the Community Foundation of Greater Memphis, Fockler oversees the largest Mid-South charitable grant-maker, awarding more than $138 million last year. Under his direction, the foundation manages 1,200 charitable funds for individuals, families, and organizations, with total assets of $1.1 billion. It also administered the Mid-South Covid-19 Regional Response Fund, raising more than $14 million for relief efforts. Fockler leads the foundation’s efforts to present community information at and to offer GiVE 365, a dollar-a-day giving program.

AL GREEN · The silky-smooth soul singer almost single-handedly defined the Memphis Sound of the ’70s through hits like “Let’s Stay Together” and “I’m Still in Love with You,” recorded with producer Willie Mitchell for Hi Records. With multiple Grammy Awards, and membership in the Rock-and-Roll, Gospel, and Songwriters Halls of Fame, he’s a famously publicity-shy artist, mainly seen delivering sermons. In 1976, he stepped away from secular stardom to found the Full Gospel Tabernacle, where he still presides as Bishop. With Mitchell at the helm, Green returned to secular music in 2004, and in 2018 he released “Before the Next Teardrop Falls.”

MICAH GREENSTEIN · The senior rabbi celebrated his 30th anniversary serving Temple Israel, Memphis’ historic 168-year-old synagogue, sustaining its position as the largest Jewish congregation in Tennessee and the Deep South. Greenstein was recognized as Memphis magazine’s inaugural Memphian of the Year in 2013 for his steadfast commitment to reaching across racial and religious lines to cultivate a more relational community. He has been named among America’s Top 50 Rabbis by Newsweek/The Daily Beast, received the 2022 Memphis Interfaith Award, and has served on the national board of the NAACP and the executive committee of the National Civil Rights Museum.

Tracy HallTRACY HALL (right) · The president of Southwest Tennessee Community College since 2015, Hall is the first woman to hold this position. Her transformative work to redesign the student experience and lay the foundation for an equity-first culture has earned Southwest the prestigious Achieving the Dream Leader College designation and national Bellwether Award for Planning, Governance, and Finance.

CARMEON HAMILTON · She began her career as a blogger in 2011, writing to an audience of her college friends about trying to make a new home on a budget. Now, Hamilton is one of the most in-demand interior designers in Memphis, and a budding television star. In 2021, she won the grand prize on Design Star: Next Gen, and was entrusted with her own show. Reno My Rental premiered on Discovery+ last fall. Filmed entirely in Memphis, it brings Hamilton’s focus on affordable elegance to a national audience.

Penny HardawayPENNY HARDAWAY (left) · Hardaway made Memphis’ favorite sport look easy as a first-team All-American basketball star at then Memphis State, then as an All-NBA guard with the Orlando Magic. Coaching his college alma mater has been a more challenging venture for the 1996 Olympic gold medalist. It took four seasons for Hardaway to achieve his first goal: a return to the NCAA tournament. An investigation of Hardaway’s program lingers, one related to the recruiting and handling of James Wiseman before the 2019-20 season. His top 2021 recruit (Emoni Bates) has departed after one injury-plagued season.

BILL HARDGRAVE · Named the 13th president of the University of Memphis in 2021, Hardgrave began his tenure on April 1, 2022. Since starting this position, he has promised to lay out a strategic plan to chart the university’s next five years, including increasing funding, continuing to make tuition accessible, and sustaining student and faculty recruitment stemming from U of M’s recently recognized Carnegie R1 status, a top research designation.

CAROLYN CHISM HARDY · Starting as an accountant, Hardy became the first Black and first female plant manager at J.M. Smucker. She implemented continuous operations at Smucker’s and Coors Brewing Co. After managing the Coors brewery in Memphis, she purchased the facility to launch Hardy Bottling. Since selling the brewery, she has become president and CEO of Chism Hardy Investments, Hardy Beverage, and Henderson Transloading, which she sold in 2021. In 2019, she published her first book, Look Up, in 2020 Step Out, and in 2021 Impossible Turned Possible. She is a director and advisor for numerous organizations including past chairwoman of the Greater Memphis Chamber and of the Chamber’s Chairman’s Circle.

LEE HARRIS · The current mayor of Shelby County, Harris defeated Republican challenger Worth Morgan in the August 2022 election. A Democrat, he was first elected county mayor over Republican David Lenoir in 2018 after prior elections, consecutively, to the Memphis City Council, representing District 7, and the Tennessee state senate (where he represented District 29 and served as Democratic Leader, becoming the first Black lawmaker of either party to hold a leadership position in the senate). As mayor, Harris has proceeded with vigorous campaigns on behalf of pay equity for employees, juvenile justice reform, and advances in contracting opportunities for women and minorities. He has sought to achieve solidarity with the often independent-minded county commission on budget matters, and in line with the times, has increased focus on public safety and public health. Harris was born and raised in Memphis, and studied at Morehouse College, followed by Yale Law School.    

Sally HeinzSALLY JONES HEINZ (right) · Since February 2011, native Memphian Heinz has served as president and CEO of the Metropolitan Inter-Faith Association (MIFA), the volunteer-supported agency that supports the independence of vulnerable seniors and families in crisis. MIFA’s high-impact programs touch some 50,000 people in this area annually.

MARK HEUBERGER · As CEO and president of the Collierville Chamber of Commerce, Heuberger keeps the community running smoothly and acts as a resource to local business owners. Heuberger was an essential part of MLGW for 26 years before taking his knowledge of business and administration to Collierville, where he has quickly become a major figure in the city’s local administration. 

JODY HILL · Memphis Theological Seminary, which prepares people for ordained and lay Christian ministry, is led by Hill, a 2000 graduate of the institution. He was named president in January 2020 of the diverse Cumberland Presbyterian Church-associated school that represents more than 25 denominations. He led MTS in developing fully online and hybrid classes, and has spearheaded fundraising for innovative programs like the House of Black Church Studies, a partnership with the Center for Chaplaincy Studies, and a pre-seminary program. In response to the pandemic, MTS is also working on a program to assist congregations with at-home Christian education for young people. 

Carissa HussongCARISSA HUSSONG (left) · One of this city’s exemplars of leadership in the arts, Hussong helms the one-of-a-kind Metal Museum and has furthered its international reputation. Not only does it display works of top metalsmiths, it has strong educational and community-engagement components. She has been central to acquiring Rust Hall, the former home of the Memphis College of Art, which will be the museum’s new state-of-the-art facility and education center. It will keep its current location on the Mississippi River for artist residencies. Before taking over the Metal Museum in 2008, Hussong was the founding executive director of the UrbanArt Commission and was instrumental in transforming how Memphis made and appreciated public art.

BARBARA & J.R. HYDE · Few Memphis families have had such an impact on Memphis. Barbara is chairman and CEO of the Hyde Family Foundation. She has led efforts to bring innovative education initiatives to Memphis, most notably the KIPP Academy, Teach for America, and New Leaders. As a founding member and past chair of the Shelby Farms Park Conservancy, she led the master planning and fundraising efforts to transform the park into a world-class amenity.
J.R. “Pitt” Hyde founded AutoZone in 1979, one of three Fortune 500 companies with Memphis headquarters. He is one of the city’s leading philanthropists, instrumental in founding the Memphis Bioworks Foundation, Memphis Tomorrow, and National Civil Rights Museum, and was part of the partnership that brought the Grizzlies to Memphis.

IMAKEMADBEATSIMAKEMADBEATS (right) · The founder of the Unapologetic music, media, and fashion collective, IMAKEMADBEATS (aka James Dukes) is one of hip hop’s most innovative visionaries, as heard in his multi-volume MAD Songs series. The rappers, producers, and designers he’s surrounded himself with have quietly built a minor empire out of his home studio over the past ten years. After building a reputation at Quad Recording Studios in New York, he returned to Memphis; now, the sense of mission apparent in his 2019 TEDx talk shapes all he does. Last year, Unapologetic and the Black arts nonprofit Tone began rehabilitating a former industrial tower into a space for revitalizing the Orange Mound community, where Dukes grew up; in recognition for this work, he shared this magazine’s 2021 Memphian of the Year honor with collaborator Victoria Jones.

DR. MANOJ JAIN · Dubbed the “Dr. Fauci of Memphis” by Mayor Strickland, Jain has led the Memphis and Shelby County Covid-19 Task Force. He earlier founded Mid-South Infectious Disease Associates. His writing and research on infectious diseases have been published internationally, and he has worked with U.S. surgeon general Vivek Murthy and congressman Tim Ryan. Along with his medical achievements, Jain founded the Gandhi-King Conference, which promotes nonviolence in the South.

TAYLOR JENKINS · In three seasons as head coach of the Memphis Grizzlies, Jenkins has steered the franchise upward, fast-forwarding the collective effort toward a first NBA title. After a 34-39 inaugural campaign (shortened by the pandemic), Jenkins led the Grizzlies into the playoffs in 2021 (38-34 record), then astounded the rest of the NBA by posting the league’s second-best record (56-26) in 2021-22, earning Memphis its first Southwest Division championship. The Grizzlies led the NBA in rebounds, blocked shots, and steals. Turning 38 in September, Jenkins has far more success ahead of him than behind, with a certain parade down Beale Street still the ultimate goal.

Fred JonesFRED JONES (left) · The Southern Heritage Classic presented by FedEx is an annual cultural celebration that culminates with a football game between historically Black universities Jackson State University and Tennessee State University. It has been held at Simmons Bank Liberty Stadium since 1990 thanks to Jones, president of Summitt Management Corporation, an entertainment consulting firm. Each year, the game has averaged more than 50,000 in attendance with thousands outside the stadium at its popular tailgate experience. In 2010, Jones received the Authur S. Holmon Lifetime Achievement Award from the University of Memphis, was added to the Beale Street Brass Note Walk of Fame, and was recognized by the Tennessee Senate and House of Representatives for extraordinary efforts. In 2019, he was honored by the City of Memphis with his own street — Fred Jones Way — next to the stadium where he’s been making history for more than three decades. 

Victoria JonesVICTORIA JONES (right) · A third-generation Memphian, Jones shared the 2021 Memphis magazine Memphian of the Year honors with IMAKEMADBEATS. She is the executive director of Tone, a nonprofit devoted to elevating Black voices in the arts. After establishing a popular gallery in the historic neighborhood of Orange Mound, she partnered with local record label Unapologetic to buy a long-neglected industrial site to transform it into a community hub. The Orange Mound Tower development will be a haven for the arts and entrepreneurship, and a declaration of independence for the surrounding community.

BRYAN JORDAN · The current chairman, president, and chief executive officer of First Horizon National Corporation shepherds financial services offered through First Tennessee, Capital Bank, FTB Advisors, and FTN Financial businesses. But while the merger with Lafayette, LA-based IBERIABANK two years ago seemed big, First Horizon is poised to change ownership soon, with an impending sale to Canada-based Toronto-Dominion Bank (TD Bank). If the transaction goes through, Jordan will maintain a presence in Memphis, operating as vice chair for TD Bank. He was named CEO of the Year by Inside Memphis Business in 2017.

KEVIN KANE · As president and CEO of Memphis Tourism for 31 years, Kane can cite dollar figures, rankings, crowd flow, ticket sales, and economic impact. His reach is far, with satellite offices in the United Kingdom, Germany, France, Japan, Australia, and New Zealand. The lifelong Memphian is also president and CEO of the Memphis Management Group, which manages the newly refurbished Renasant Convention Center and the Cannon Center for the Performing Arts.

Al KaponeAL KAPONE (left) · Alphonzo Bailey (aka Al Kapone) was a standout artist in the 1990s Memphis hip hop scene. An early contemporary of Three 6 Mafia, he’s guested on their tracks as well as recordings by 8Ball & MJG and others. Kapone’s soundtrack contributions to the 2005 film Hustle & Flow included “Whoop That Trick,” now a staple chant at Memphis Grizzlies games. More recently, Kapone’s Hip Hop Blues (2020) and this year’s Blues Rap Music feature collaborations with guitarist Eric Gales, Luther and Cody Dickinson of the North Mississippi Allstars, and others, to forge a new hybrid of Memphis music, past and present.

LAUREN KENNEDY · When she became executive director of the UrbanArt Commission in 2015, Kennedy was charged with bringing artists and neighborhoods together around public art. Through recent programs including significant projects at Memphis International Airport and Renasant Convention Center, UAC has leveraged more than $3 million in new project opportunities in Memphis and continued to grow this city’s public art program. With more than 130 projects across the areas, she looks forward to the organization celebrating its 25th anniversary in 2022.

TOMMY KHA · Photographer Kha garnered national attention this year after the Memphis International Airport removed and soon reinstalled two of his pieces in the new Concourse B — Constellations VIII, a self-portrait of Kha dressed in typical Elvis-style get-up, and Golden Fields, which features a cardboard cutout of Elvis lying in sheets. What ensued was a conversation about censorship, racism, and Elvis fandom. Though based in Brooklyn, Kha returned to his hometown of Memphis for a 2022 summer residency at Crosstown Arts. His photography explores themes of racial identity, sexuality, and representation.

DEBBIE KING · After beginning her career with the Southaven Chamber of Commerce as membership coordinator in 2012, King was promoted to executive director in March 2022. She has tirelessly worked to build a team and an elite benefits package for members of the Southaven Chamber to grow their businesses. Her hard work has paid off, and membership is the highest it has ever been in the history of the 52-year-old organization.

Zach KleimanZACH KLEIMAN (right) · Some executives in professional sports seek the same spotlight players tend to occupy. Not Kleiman, since 2019 the executive vice president of basketball operations for the Memphis Grizzlies. Having cut his teeth for four seasons under former general manager Chris Wallace, Kleiman made significant initial impact by selecting Ja Morant with the second pick in the 2019 NBA draft. Over the last three seasons — even as a pandemic squeezed spectator sports — Kleiman has surrounded Morant with record-breaking young talent. After a season in which the Grizzlies posted the league’s second-best record, Kleiman was named the NBA’s Executive of the Year, a rare feat for a man still shy of his 35th birthday.

Patrick LawlerPATRICK LAWLER (left) · Now in his 42nd year as the CEO of Youth Villages, Lawler has grown the organization from serving 25 youths to offering hope to more than 32,000 young people, across 94 locations in 23 states, annually. It is today one of the largest private providers of services to troubled children and their families in the country. He has established specialized treatment programs involving more than 3,000 employees, and during the pandemic, increased the number of youth served by 25 percent thanks to new facilities like Bill’s Place and the Bower Activity Center. The White House cited Youth Villages as an example of “effective, innovative nonprofits” that are “high-impact, result-oriented” organizations. In 2020 Lawler was the recipient of the Jefferson Award for Outstanding Public Service Benefiting the Disadvantaged, a national honor considered the Nobel Prize for service. He also was named a 2022 CEO of the Year by Inside Memphis Business.

JERRY LEE LEWIS · Few musicians have enjoyed such a reputation as “The Killer.” The native of Ferriday, Louisiana, came to Memphis in the 1950s to record such classics as “Whole Lotta Shakin’ Going On” and “Great Balls of Fire.” Named to Rolling Stone’s “100 Greatest Artists of All Time” in 2004, the next year he received a Lifetime Achievement Award from the Grammys, among other honors. In 2013, he opened the Jerry Lee Lewis Café and Honky Tonk on Beale Street. He has released more than 60 albums and in 2020 a special performance, Whole Lotta Celebrating Goin’ On, was livestreamed on Facebook and YouTube. Jerry Lee Lewis: Trouble in Mind, a documentary produced by Ethan Coen, was released earlier this year. He resides in a Nesbit, Mississippi ranch house with a piano-shaped swimming pool.

DEBBIE LITCH · Under Litch’s leadership as executive producer, Theatre Memphis completed a $6.2 million renovation and expansion and celebrated its 100th anniversary season. Litch became executive producer in 2004 after stints at Memphis Brooks Museum of Art and the Memphis Symphony Orchestra. She has received the Memphis Symphony’s Hebe and Amphion awards, the Germantown Arts Alliance Patron of the Arts Award, the Gyneka Award from the Women’s Theatre Festival of Memphis, the Memphis Ostrander Janie McCrary “Putting It Together” award, and the Tennessee Governor’s Arts Leadership Award.

JASON LITTLE · Having been named to his position in 2014, Little is only the fifth person to serve as president and CEO in the long history of the Baptist Memorial Health Care system. Under his leadership, Baptist has seen immense growth, with the former 14-hospital network increasing to 21 facilities in the Mid-South. Little’s career at the hospital has spanned two decades; he arrived at Baptist in 2002 after serving as operations administrator at the Mayo Clinic in Scottsdale.

Lawrence MatthewsLAWRENCE MATTHEWS (right) · An innovative musician, talented visual artist, and documentary filmmaker, Matthews defines “polymath.” His award-winning photography and kinetic sculpture explore issues of race and class in America. As his musical alter ego Don Lifted, he released 325i, his third album of confessional dream pop, in November 2021. The co-founder and programming director for Tone is just getting started.

GRETCHEN WOLLERT MCLENNON · A lifelong love of ballet and the arts propelled McLennon to the leadership of Ballet Memphis in 2020. As a child, she was a student in the Ballet Memphis school and part of the junior company. She served on the board of directors for close to a decade and was chair from 2014 to 2017, shepherding the construction of the company’s award-winning facility in Overton Square. McClennon brings more than 15 years’ experience in the philanthropic and nonprofit sector.

KEENON MCCLOY · As the head of Memphis Public Libraries, McCloy oversees an urban library system with 18 locations, a radio and TV station, a 2-1-1 call center, and diverse offerings of 7,000 programs impacting nearly 3 million customers. McCloy initiated a private funding campaign for JobLINC, a mobile job/career service. She envisioned and secured private support for the teen learning lab CLOUD901, one of the largest and most innovative STEAM labs nationwide free for public use. In 2021, Memphis Public Libraries won the National Medal for Museum and Library Service, an award granted by the Institute of Museum and Library Services “to institutions that demonstrate extraordinary and innovative approaches to community service.”

Boo MitchellLAWRENCE “BOO” MITCHELL (left) · Royal Studios is one of the oldest continuously operating recording facilities in the world. As a co-owner and active producer and engineer there, Mitchell has worked on many classic recordings, including the global smash, “Uptown Funk,” and other tracks of every genre. This year, Cedric Burnside’s I Be Trying, produced by Mitchell, won a Grammy for Best Traditional Blues Album. The producer Willie Mitchell raised his daughters’ children, Boo and his brother Archie, as his own sons. Growing up in the control room, the younger Mitchell absorbed the lore of the musicians, the microphones, and the magic, leading to Royal’s continued success as a recording destination to this day.

ROBERT MOODY · The internationally acclaimed conductor is in his sixth season as music director of the Memphis Symphony Orchestra. The MSO has seen exponential growth in programming, recording, new commissions, and endowment growth to well over $26 million. He serves concurrently as music director for Arizona Musifest. Prior to Memphis, Moody was music director for both the Portland (Maine) Symphony Orchestra and the Winston-Salem Symphony. He’s also been named principal opera conductor for the Lakeland (Florida) Symphony/Opera. 

JA MORANT · The young NBA talent earned the league’s Rookie of the Year honor, then made room on his mantel for the Most Improved Player award just two years later. Such is the extraordinary rise of Morant from somewhat-obscure college talent (at Murray State) to second-team All-NBA player in 2021-22. Morant has caught the eye of Madison Avenue, achieving a star power unlike any other Grizzlies player in franchise history. He started the 2022 All-Star Game and posted numbers (27.4 points and 6.7 assists) that suggest perennial All-NBA status. Perhaps best of all for Memphis championship hopes: Morant’s numbers got even better (28.2 and 9.2) in the playoffs. He signed a five-year contract extension in June that should keep him in a Grizzlies uniform until at least 2028.

WORTH MORGAN · Now in his second term as a Memphis city councilman since his election in 2015, Morgan became the Republican nominee for Shelby County mayor in 2022 and titular head of the GOP ticket, but lost to Democrat Lee Harris in the August 2022 election. In line with the slogan “We Can Do Better,” he has offered to provide more direct leadership on public safety, greater personal accessibility and transparency, and promised to honor all freedom-of-information requests. An insurance sales executive, he has been endorsed by the Memphis Police Association and Shelby County Deputy Sheriffs Association. He overcame serious illness as a youth, became a White House intern in 2008, and was manager of the Memphis office of Bill Haslam for Governor in 2010.

DR. SCOTT MORRIS · A family practice physician and ordained United Methodist minister, Morris founded Church Health in 1987 to provide quality, affordable healthcare for working, uninsured people and their families. Church Health conducts over 61,300 patient visits a year in Memphis and aims to serve as a model for community medical care nationwide.

STEVE MULROY · The Democratic nominee for District Attorney General won the August 2022 election against longtime DA Amy Weirich, after waging a vigorous campaign for revision of criminal justice procedures, stressing a need for bail reform, post-conviction DNA testing, conviction review, and less frequent remanding of juvenile offenders to Criminal Court, among other matters. Mulroy has been critical of what he calls the “lock-’em-up-and-throw-away-the-key” approach of Weirich and alleged racial disparities in her office. Formerly a two-term county commissioner, he is the Bredesen Professor of Law at the University of Memphis, specializing in constitutional law. Mulroy has headed drives for voting-machine reform and adoption of ranked-choice voting, and is a veteran of civil rights litigation in the Department of Justice under the Clinton administration.

BILLY ORGEL · A native Memphian, Orgel is president and CEO of Tower Ventures, which builds and manages cell towers in 35 states. He has also been involved in restoring historic buildings in Downtown Memphis, including the Tennessee Brewery. Orgel formerly served as chairman of the Shelby County Schools Board and is current chairman of the Sports Gaming Council for the State of Tennessee.

JUSTIN PEARSON · Ever since he fought for books for his fellow students at Westwood’s Mitchell High School, Pearson has been an activist. When he learned that the Byhalia Pipeline was slated to run through his South Memphis neighborhood, he swung into action, forming Memphis Community Against the Pipeline. The grassroots organization won an unlikely victory, protecting the vulnerable Memphis aquifer in the process, and has since expanded its mission to address environmental injustices of all kinds.

CARL PERSON · The founder and CEO of Customized Solutions Company knows about commercial development partnerships and marketing, and is putting that knowledge to use in revitalizing the city. “I see Memphis as a whole transforming,” he says, and he’s working to make it happen. As president of the Memphis Brooks Museum of Art board, he is championing the Downtown move of the institution that’s scheduled to be complete by 2025. He is also instrumental in The Walk on Union and Tom Lee Park projects, working to ensure that minority firms are well represented.     

David PorterDAVID PORTER · Growing up in South Memphis, Porter was part of the neighborhood coterie of young creatives that included Maurice White and Booker T. Jones. Porter became indispensable to Stax Records, composing hit after hit for Sam and Dave and other artists with his co-writer, Isaac Hayes. Today, he claims over 1,700 songwriter and composer credits and is honored in the Songwriters Hall of Fame and Rolling Stone’s 100 Greatest Songwriters of All Time, not to mention a Mr. David Porter Street in his hometown. He’s now active in two Memphis organizations he helped to found, The Consortium MMT (Memphis Music Town) nonprofit and Made in Memphis Entertainment (MIME).

PROJECT PAT AND JUICY J · The brothers Patrick Earl Houston (Project Pat) and Jordan Michael Houston (Juicy J) were co-founders of Three 6 Mafia with DJ Paul in 1991. Despite Project Pat’s incarceration, he rebounded with the successful Ghetty Green in 1999, and had a hand in Three 6 Mafia’s 2000 hit, “Sippin’ On Some Syrup.” Three 6 Mafia headlined the 2022 Beale Street Music Festival to great acclaim. One early Juicy J track has been re-sampled so many times that it was named the “most influential rap song of 2018” by Rolling Stone. Since Three 6 Mafia’s Oscar win in 2006, Juicy J has worked in the television and music industries. Pat appeared on “Knife Talk,” the 2021 track on Drake’s Certified Lover Boy album, which peaked at #4 on the Billboard Hot 100.

JORIS M. RAY · A Memphis native and product of Shelby County Schools (SCS), where he is now the director, Ray has served the district for more than 24 years from executive leadership to the classroom. He has been instrumental in improving the lives of thousands of SCS students, no matter which neighborhood they call home. Successes include implementing a game-changing process that ensures all students have an opportunity to be properly identified for the Creative Learning in a Unique Environment (CLUE) program and creating the Continuous Improvement Zone to offer support to schools removed from the state’s Priority list. He also achieved the monumental task of transforming SCS into a 1:1 digital device district by placing technology into the hands of every student. As of this publication, Memphis-Shelby County Schools board members said Ray was under investigation for “allegations of impropriety.”

BILL RHODES · His career as an intern at Ernst & Whinney (now Ernst & Young) kickstarted a profession which saw Rhodes become the youngest president of a Fortune 500 company, AutoZone, at just 39. He oversees the largest and fastest growing company in the automotive aftermarket industry, a $14.6 billion company (fiscal year 2021) with more than 6,800 stores. Rhodes is a minority owner of the Memphis Grizzlies and is the past chairman of the Retail Industry Leaders Association. In 2013, Inside Memphis Business named him CEO of the Year. One of his proudest moments was AutoZone’s selection as a Forbes 2021 World’s Best Employer. 

Beverly RobertsonBEVERLY ROBERTSON (right) · As president and CEO of the Greater Memphis Chamber, Robertson draws together collaborators to showcase the city as a business destination as well as a place for existing businesses to thrive. Under her tenure, the Chamber has followed the principle of “prosperity for all,” aiming to leverage Memphis’ status as one of the country’s largest majority-minority cities and attract growing industries. Despite dealing with the Covid-19 pandemic, in 2021 she led the Chamber to its best-ever year in terms of finances and economic growth. After more than four years at the helm, Robertson plans to step down in December 2022 and turn the organization over to her successor, Ted Townsend. But as a parting gift, she unveiled the ambitious Prosper Memphis 2030 plan, which aims to create 50,000 high-quality jobs, with half of those going to minorities.

KENNETH ROBINSON · In February 2015, Robinson was named president and CEO of United Way of the Mid-South, serving Shelby County and seven surrounding counties in Tennessee, Arkansas, and Mississippi, after serving as a volunteer and former board member with the organization for more than 20 years. Robinson is former pastor and CEO of St. Andrew AME Church, where he spearheaded the Circles of Success Learning Academy, one of Tennessee’s first charter schools, and molded the church into an entity responsible for $22 million of new investment in South Memphis. He is also the former Tennessee Commissioner of Health and served as public health advisor to Memphis Mayor A C Wharton and Shelby County Mayor Mark Luttrell. 

LAUREN MCHUGH ROBINSON · Huey’s has been a community institution since the first restaurant opened in Midtown in 1970. Now, with nine restaurants in the Memphis area, it’s a leader in the hospitality industry. When the Covid pandemic played havoc with restaurants in 2020, Huey’s CEO Robinson vowed to preserve the jobs of her 600 employees, becoming an industry exemplar in seamless online sales and take-home dining.

Gayle RoseGAYLE ROSE (left) · As a professional musician studying clarinet in Iowa, Rose never imagined she would play so many vital roles in Memphis. She is currently a director of the Institute for Public Service Journalism at the University of Memphis. She was the founder and CEO of EVS Corporation, chair of the Rose Family Foundations, and chair of the Memphis Symphony Orchestra. She was named CEO of the Year by Inside Memphis Business in 2012 and Humanitarian of the Year by Diversity Memphis. She co-founded the Women’s Foundation for a Greater Memphis and is well-known for landing the NBA Memphis Grizzlies. Rose founded Team Max, a volunteer organization honoring the memory of her late son.

ELIZABETH ROUSE · As president and CEO of ArtsMemphis, Rouse oversees the support of 70 organizations and hundreds of artists. During her 16-year tenure in various roles, ArtsMemphis has allocated $50 million, started funding individual artists, and implemented a more equitable grant-making structure, enabling more arts experiences for more Memphians. Throughout the pandemic, ArtsMemphis elevated its role, helping the arts community re-imagine a forever changed sector.

RICHARD SHADYAC JR. · As president and CEO of ALSAC (American Lebanese Syrian Associated Charities) Shadyac promotes awareness for St. Jude Children’s Research Hospital. ALSAC coordinates the fundraising activities of 12 million active donors and more than 1 million volunteers. Under Shadyac’s leadership, the organization has become the top healthcare charity in the country, the top not-for-profit healthcare brand, and most trusted brand, hosting fund-raising activities annually in all 50 states, including the FedEx St. Jude Championship and St. Jude Memphis Marathon Weekend. Funds raised by ALSAC — more than $2 billion last year — fuel the six-year, record $12.9 billion St. Jude strategic plan to expand patient care and research and help more children with cancer worldwide.

Kevin SharpKEVIN SHARP (right) · The Linda W. and S. Herbert Rhea Director of The Dixon Gallery and Gardens since 2007, Sharp has contributed to more than 25 books on American and French art and organized more than 100 exhibitions. The Dixon showcases important works of art, hosts dozens of education programs, and maintains a 17-acre garden. Under Sharp’s leadership, the Dixon offers free admission for all, and a continuing commitment to community.

RYAN SILVERFIELD · Silverfield made his head-coaching debut in the biggest game in University of Memphis football history, taking over for the departed Mike Norvell before the 2019 Cotton Bowl. He’s since overseen two of the more unusual seasons in Tiger history. The Tigers went 7-3 in the 2020 regular season, playing in near-empty stadiums as required by pandemic protocols. Memphis concluded the season with its first postseason victory — at the Montgomery Bowl — in six years. Last fall, the Tigers gained bowl eligibility for the eighth consecutive season, only to have the University of Hawaii bow out of the Hawaii Bowl — the day before the game — with a Covid outbreak on the team. A truly regular season would be welcomed by the Tigers and their third-year coach.

LINN SITLER · Officially recognized in June by the Association of Film Commissioners International as the longest-tenured film commissioner in the world, Sitler has served as the Memphis & Shelby County Film Commissioner since 1987. In those three-plus decades, she and her film commission team have wrangled both big-budget blockbusters (The Firm, The People vs. Larry Flynt) and such gems as Hustle & Flow and Ja Morant’s Beats and Uber Eats commercials. Recognized numerous times for the economic impact of her work, Sitler’s latest endeavor is to produce weekend workshops at no charge to participants by offering preparation and beginning certification in the various production departments.

FREDERICK W. SMITH · FedEx famously began as a proposal in a research paper by Smith when he was a Yale undergraduate. Now, it is a globe-spanning logistics company that moves more than 17 million packages every day and operates more aircraft than most countries have in their air force. In June, Smith stepped down as CEO after 50 years at the controls of one of Memphis’ economic powerhouses.

Katie SmytheKATIE SMYTHE (left) · A native Memphian, Smythe returned to Memphis after a career as a professional dancer and teaching artist in Minneapolis, New York, and Los Angeles. She founded New Ballet Ensemble and School in 2002 to teach excellence in dance while bridging racial and economic barriers. Several graduates have gone on to professional dance careers, notably including Charles “Lil Buck” Riley. Her eclectic work has drawn international attention. In 2014, New Ballet received the National Arts and Humanities Youth Program Award at the White House for its work in Orange Mound, and Smythe was named the Tennessee Governor’s School of the Arts Teacher of the Year in 2019. In 2020, she was the recipient of the Thomas W. Briggs Foundation Community Service Award.

Jack SodenJACK SODEN (right) · When more than 21 million people come to your home (invited, of course), you must be doing something right. Soden has been CEO of Elvis Presley Enterprises, Inc. ever since Priscilla Presley asked him to develop a business plan for Graceland. Since it opened to the public in 1982, the King of Rock-and-Roll’s former estate has evolved into one of the nation’s premier tourist attractions, drawing visitors worldwide and generating an estimated $200 million annual economic impact in Memphis. In 2016/2017, Graceland undertook the greatest enhancement and expansion in its history, including The Guest House at Graceland (a $92 million resort hotel) and Elvis Presley’s Memphis (a multi-gallery entertainment complex). Recently it added the 80,000-square-foot Graceland Exhibition Center.

SUSAN STEPHENSON and CHIP DUDLEY · What does a good partnership get you? For Stephenson and Dudley, that collaboration yielded Independent Bank, one of the largest banks in Shelby County. Founded in 1998, the institution holds more than $1 billion in total assets and $142 million in capital. Each credits their partnership for taking Independent to the heights it’s reached. Dudley previously served as president, chairman, and CEO of Boatmen’s Bank of Arkansas (the largest bank in the state), while Stephenson became the first female chairman of a Tennessee bank when she led Boatmen’s Bank of Tennessee. Now, the two share leadership of Independent Bank, which provides a complete line of financial services, with a specialty in automobile lending throughout the Southeast.

JIM STRICKLAND · Nearing the end of his second term as Memphis mayor, Strickland has been keeping an eye on the results of an August referendum which would cancel Memphis voters’ previous decision to impose a two-term limit for elected city officials. Strickland, first elected in an upset win over previous incumbent A C Wharton in 2015, turned back multiple challengers in the 2019 city election. A former two-term councilman and two-time council chairman, he had gained his mayoralty with a tripartite platform of public safety, blight eradication, and governmental accountability, under the slogan “Brilliant with the Basics.” Employing a creative legal strategy, he calmed a gathering storm by removing two statues of Confederate leaders from prominent locations Downtown. In 2019, the mayor launched the Memphis 3.0 initiative, a new strategic plan for the city and subsequently professed open-mindedness to the idea of finding an alternative power supplier to TVA. A onetime former law partner of David Kustoff, now a Republican member of Congress, Strickland endorsed another Republican, Brent Taylor, for an open state Senate seat in 2022, and was promptly censured by the Shelby County Democratic Party, a body he chaired a generation ago.

RAJ SUBRAMANIAM · Earlier this year, FedEx CEO and founder Fred Smith announced his plans to step down, and Subramaniam, with more than 30 years at the company, was named his successor. Originally from Trivandrum, India, he will head what is perhaps the city’s greatest firm, providing a deft touch to marketing and operations leadership positions. But Subramaniam has also brought a transformative presence to much of FedEx, including reshuffling the operating strategy, growing the e-commerce side of the business, and using global supply chain data to help the company undergo a digital transformation.

MARK SUTTON · Named chairman of International Paper in 2014 and CEO in 2015, Sutton first joined IP in 1984 as an electrical engineer with a paper mill in Pineville, Louisiana, later moving to Thilmany, Wisconsin, as mill manager. He then transferred overseas and was named vice president and general manager of European corrugated packaging operations in 2002, where he oversaw operations across seven countries in Europe, the Middle East, and Africa. Sutton relocated to Memphis in 2005 and escalated quickly within the company through several VP roles.

GINA SWEAT · Appointed director of the Memphis Fire Department in January 2016, Sweat is the first woman to lead the department. Her career began in 1992 as a firefighter/EMT and she worked through the ranks of the department, earning promotions to driver (1995), fire lieutenant (1998), battalion chief (2001), and division chief (2008). Under her leadership, the Memphis Fire Department earned a Class 1 Public Protection Classification rating in 2019 (the highest possible rating, held by fewer than 1 percent of fire departments in the nation).

Bishop TalleyDAVID P. TALLEY (left) · When he was appointed in 2019 as the sixth Bishop of the Catholic Diocese of Memphis, His Excellency was soon faced with the pandemic and its attendant complications with public masses, in-person instruction in Catholic elementary and secondary schools, and ministering to Covid patients. Bishop Talley brought plenty of experience, having worked many years in Atlanta followed by a stint in Rome, Italy. In 2001, he was named a chaplain to Saint John Paul II, with the title Monsignor. Later he would return to Georgia where he was named auxiliary bishop of the Archdiocese of Atlanta. Before coming to Memphis, he was bishop of the Catholic Diocese of Alexandria, Louisiana.  

DR. MICHELLE TAYLOR · Appointed director of the Shelby County Health Department in July 2021, Taylor has worked tirelessly to improve the health and safety of our community, from navigating Covid variants and vaccines to advocating to treat violence as a public health issue. Previously, Taylor, a pediatrician, served as deputy director for practice integration at the Association of Community Health Centers and division chief of the aerospace medicine division at the Office of the Air National Guard Surgeon General. These previous leadership roles, among others, have driven Taylor to work on behalf of vulnerable populations, regarding chronic disease, shortened life expectancies, and concentrated poverty.

Carla ThomasCARLA THOMAS (right) · “‘Cause I Love You” by Rufus and Carla Thomas was the first song cut at Stax Records’ famous McLemore Avenue studio. The hit, which turned the world’s attention to the Memphis R&B scene, was just the beginning for the young girl who grew up in the shadow of Beale Street. She would put 20 songs on the Billboard charts, including immortal hits like “Gee Whiz” and “B-A-B-Y,” and remains the beloved queen of Memphis soul.

WENDI THOMAS · She had already made a name for herself as a crusading columnist and investigative reporter for The Commercial Appeal when Thomas founded MLK50. Named for the year of its founding, 2018 — the fiftieth anniversary of the Martin Luther King Jr. assassination — MLK50 is committed to its mission of justice through journalism. In 2020, the Harvard Nieman Fellow won multiple industry awards for her reporting on exploitive healthcare billing practices.

KEVIN THOMPSON · When he was named executive director of the Memphis Museum of Science and History (MoSH) in January 2020, Thompson dreamed of sharing Memphis’ rich culture and history with both tourists and residents of the city. The MoSH collection of museums, for which he previously served as a board member, includes Lichterman Nature Center, Mallory-Neely House, Coon Creek Science Center, and the Magevney House. In February 2022, Thompson continued his goal of increasing appreciation for Memphis history by collaborating with the South City Museum & Cultural Center to celebrate that community’s residents and accomplishments.

MATT THOMPSON · Beginning his career at the Memphis Zoo in 1995, Thompson has worked as a zookeeper, curator, director of animal programs, and chief zoological officer. In the latter role, he oversaw the zoo’s diverse collection of more than 3,500 animals. He continued to work in leadership roles, as executive director and vice president, until June 2022, when he was named the zoo’s president and CEO following the retirement of former CEO Jim Dean.

Dr. ThrelkeldDR. STEPHEN THRELKELD · During the darkest days of the pandemic, there was always a friendly face popping up on our TV screens to walk us through everything that was going on. Infectious disease specialist Threlkeld distinguished himself as a leader during the Covid-19 crisis, helping to guide local policy during uncertain times. A managing member alongside his brother, Michael, he helps run Threlkeld Infectious Disease and is also president of the medical staff at Baptist Hospital Memphis, as well as acting as an epidemiologist and assistant professor at UTHSC. But despite that heavy workload, Threlkeld has consistently made time over the past couple of years to answer questions about Covid and act as a front-facing resource.

PAT KERR TIGRETT · A beacon of style worldwide, Tigrett is a force in hometown issues as well. She is a patron of the city’s musical traditions, an entrepreneur, a collector, and a philanthropist. She is chairman and CEO of Pat Kerr, Inc., a couture design firm, and founder of the Memphis Charitable Foundation, the umbrella organization for the Moonshine Ball, Blues Ball, Jingle Bell Ball, and Nutcracker Ball benefiting Memphis music, children, and the arts. Her international client list includes royalty (literally). Kensington Palace featured the Pat Kerr Royal Collection, commemorating the 20th anniversary of Princess Diana’s death. Tigrett was one of 20 collectors worldwide featured in the exhibition.

JOE TOMEK · Memphis has been home to professional golf since 1958, but 2022 marks a new era — under new leadership — as the FedEx St. Jude Championship will lead off the FedExCup Playoffs at Southwind (August 11-14). Tomek succeeds Darrell Smith as executive director of the FESJC after spending four years with the PGA Tour’s Championship Management team. The new playoff format will bring the PGA’s top 125 players to Memphis for the first of three events to determine the season’s champion.

Lily Bear TraverseLILY BEAR TRAVERSE (left) · She grew up roaming the fields when not locked in a trailer, but Lily Bear has been a proud Memphis dog since August 2017. She is of noble temperament, sweet disposition, impossibly fluffy fur, and unknown breed. Lily can often be found romping through the Old Forest at Overton Park, keeping watch over her cat-brother, Lucky Boots, and expressing displeasure with passing trucks one and all. In May 2019, Lily modeled for the cover of this magazine, photographed in the act of consuming a rainbow sno-cone. She considers herself a major rival of the local pack of Grizzly Bears.

HENRY TURLEY · He is the real-estate renaissance maker in Memphis. With Jack Belz and architect Tony Bologna, Turley developed the upscale Harbor Town residential and commercial community on Mud Island, prototype for what’s come to be called “New Urbanism.” He’s also behind the South End community (where he lives). Again with Belz, Turley imagined Uptown as a thriving neighborhood for lower-income Memphians. It now serves as a model for what HUD calls a “Choice Community.” He is leading revitalization efforts in Jackson, Tennessee, with Healthy Community, along with the $55 million redevelopment of Central Station in the South Main Arts District into a multipurpose complex. His most recent project is Orleans Station, ten acres (primarily residential) that will connect the UT Health Science Center with Victorian Village and The Edge district. In 2018 Turley received a Distinguished Service Medal for his “inspired vision” from Rhodes College, home of the Lynne and Henry Turley Memphis Center, which offers students and faculty programs encouraging their involvement in improving life in Memphis.

VAN TURNER · In 2021 Turner became the first major potential candidate for mayor of Memphis in 2023, appointing an official exploratory committee for the office. He is a partner in the law firm of Bruce-Turner PLLC. A second-term county commissioner, first elected in 2014, Turner served a pivotal term as commission chair for the 2018-19 year. He is also president of the local branch of the NAACP and of Memphis Greenspace, Inc., the nonprofit that took control of several Downtown parks in 2017 and purged them of Confederate monuments. Recently, Turner announced Memphis Greenspace would partner with Memphis Juneteenth Festival president Telisa Franklin to plan monthly events at Health Sciences Park.

Michael UgwuekeMICHAEL UGWUEKE (right) · The president and CEO of Methodist Le Bonheur Healthcare oversees a $2 billion, six-hospital integrated system. With over 20 years’ experience in healthcare, Ugwueke has designed and launched game-changing initiatives to grow business opportunities and deliver high-quality, safe care to patients across the Mid-South and beyond. Accolades include Modern Healthcare’s 2012, 2018, and 2020 Top 25 Minority Executives in the Nation, the Baldrige Foundation’s Harry S. Hertz Leadership Award, and the Tennessee Hospital Association’s CEO of Distinction.

CRAIG UNGER · Afternoon ball games at AutoZone Park Downtown have been a popular pastime for quite a while now, and general manager Craig Unger has been a huge part of making the stadium a destination for both die-hard sports fans and casual family outings. Since 2014, he has overseen the day-to-day operations of the Memphis Redbirds franchise, the AAA affiliate of the St. Louis Cardinals baseball team. Under his stewardship the team captured the Pacific Coast League championship in 2017 and 2018, as well as emerging victorious in the 2018 Triple-A National Championship Game. And Unger helped pull a big rabbit out of the hat when working alongside United States soccer superstar Tim Howard to launch Memphis 901 FC in 2018. Now in its fourth year of professional soccer, the organization is flying high at the top end of the Eastern Conference standings under head coach Ben Pirmann.

AMY WEIRICH · A 20-year-plus veteran of the D.A.’s office, Weirich was appointed Shelby County District Attorney General in 2011 by then Governor Bill Haslam and has maintained her position ever since despite being the subject of numerous controversies, including official rebukes from the Tennessee Court of Criminal Appeals and the state Board of Professional Responsibility. In August 2022 she lost her bid for reelection, facing a formidable challenge from Democratic candidate Steve Mulroy. Formerly the chief prosecutor of the Gang and Narcotics Prosecution Unit and division leader for the Special Prosecution Unit, Weirich is a recipient of the Bobby Dunavant Public Servant Award and Frances Loring Award. A Republican, she handily won reelection in 2012 against Democratic opponent Carol Chumney and won reelection in 2014 to a full eight-year term in the face of personal attacks from the Democratic nominee, former TV judge Joe Brown.

Kirk WhalumKIRK WHALUM (left) · As the saxophonist on Whitney Houston’s classic “I Will Always Love You,” Whalum toured with both Houston and Luther Vandross for years, a prime example of the musicianship cultivated in the Memphis gospel milieu. He grew up in the Olivet Baptist Church, where his father was a prominent minister for 30 years. Whalum is now back in his hometown, and has brought a more globally aware perspective with him. Nowhere is that more apparent than on his 2019 release, Humanité (Artistry Music) and the accompanying film, Humanité: The Beloved Community. Staying true to this mission of bringing people together through music, Whalum hosts a one-hour podcast Humans Being, which features interviews with various Memphians with beautiful minds.

MICHAEL WIGGINS · Named president of Le Bonheur Children’s Hospital in 2019. Wiggins is overseeing a $95 million critical-care expansion and recently opened a 21-bed satellite hospital within Jackson-Madison County General Hospital in Jackson, Tennessee. For the 12th consecutive year, Le Bonheur has been named a U.S. News & World Report Best Children’s Hospital. Wiggins formerly served as senior vice president of clinical operations for Children’s Health in Dallas and as vice president of operations at Children’s of Alabama in Birmingham. He serves as board chair for Children’s Hospital Alliance of Tennessee.

RUSSELL WIGGINTON · Named president of the National Civil Rights Museum in summer 2021, Wigginton has decades of working in education, philanthropy, executive management, and program development, as well as strategic planning and partnership building. He taught at Rhodes College, his alma mater, as a history professor and was a senior-level administrator there for 23 years. His 2000 doctorate in African-American history is from the University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign. Wigginton has written numerous articles and essays on African-American social and labor history and has served on many civic boards, including the museum’s.

Dana WilsonDANA WILSON (right) · As president and CEO of BRIDGES since 2020, Wilson, a native Memphian, helps teach young people necessary skills for leadership, problem-solving, and team-building. She’s overseen the launch of the Youth Action Center, a hub for youth and adult collaboration aimed at bringing youth into community-level decision-making. In 2020, she initiated the Coalition for Youth Mental Health, a group of youth advocates, youth-serving organizations, mental-health professionals, and healthcare systems experts, to use community data to design, implement, and advocate for improved social and emotional wellness and increased access to mental health services for youth.

PAT MITCHELL WORLEY · Mitchell Worley took over as president and CEO of the Soulsville Foundation in August 2022. She is the former executive director of the Stax Music Academy and deputy director of the Soulsville Foundation, the parent nonprofit that operates the Stax Museum of American Soul Music, Stax Music Academy, and The Soulsville Charter School, all at the original site of Stax Records. Mitchell Worley has co-hosted the globally syndicated blues radio show Beale Street Caravan for more than 20 years.

Paul YoungPAUL YOUNG (left) · In his role as president and CEO of the Downtown Memphis Commission (DMC), the organization tasked with economic and community development in the Central Business Improvement District, Young leads the work to create a thriving and vital Downtown district that benefits the entire region. Young’s passion for community service has been evident throughout his career. Before joining the DMC, he served as director of the City of Memphis Division of Housing and Community Development (HCD), where he was responsible for furthering citywide community development initiatives, including administering an annual budget of over $16 million from federal and local funding sources.