R.A. Coleman's 'Electronic Memories'

Lost and Found Sound: Documenting Memphis' Black Community

The young R.A. Coleman

The young R.A. Coleman The Robert A. Coleman Archives hide caption

itoggle caption The Robert A. Coleman Archives

While searching for early Memphis Recording Service discs for their September 17th story on record producer Sam Phillips, The Kitchen Sisters came across an acetate hand-labeled - "The Wedding of Curlie Lee Smith and Charles Patterson, Jr., November 1, 1953 in collection of Memphis professor David Evans. His wife had come across these oversized discs in an antique store and thought that her husband, an avid blues/home recording collector might be interested in them.

The disc was made by R. A. Coleman, an African American photographer who was recording the rituals and festivities of Memphis' black community during the same years Sam Phillips was doing similar recordings in Memphis' white neighborhoods.


As home recording technology became available, photographer R. A. Coleman began experimenting with sound. Soon in addition to a photographic memory from R. A. Coleman, customers could purchase an "electronic memory" as well.

In a research trip back to Memphis in March, The Kitchen Sisters, looked up the name "Charles Patterson Jr" in the phonebook and called. And Curlie Mae (the Reverend mispronounced her name in the ceremony) answered, and the image and story of RA Coleman started to unfold. The Pattersons' had lost their wedding recording long ago and were delighted to be reunited with it.

Produced by The Kitchen Sisters, Nikki Silva and Davia Nelson.

Levi Frasier, a local playwright, led us the RA Coleman's grandson, C. Eric Lincoln and to his mother and uncle. And with these interviews and music of Coleman's time, Davia Nelson and Nikki Silva prepared this Lost and Found Sound portrait of "Electronic Memories: R.A. Coleman's Memphis."

Special Thanks to: The Coleman Family — Minnie Coleman Lincoln Reeves, Robert Coleman Jr., Sarah Lincoln and C. Eric Lincoln Jr.; Prof. David Evans, University of Memphis; Prof. Marvin Bensman, University of Memphis; The Mississippi Valley Collection, University of Memphis; Jacquie Gales Webb, Smithsonian Productions; Levi Frasier; Dr. Ernest Withers; Rev. Charles Patterson Jr. and Curlie Mae, Mt. Zion Baptist Church; Hal Jaffe and Hal Jaffe's Portrait Photography; Ernest Donaldson and the Pattersonaires; Ethan Dener; Andrew Roth; Susan Westfall, Jamie LaMar and Maureen McCormick of WKNO Radio in Memphis; and Phil Baker and Jamie Baker, The Talbot Heirs Guesthouse. Also Special Thanks to Sun Studios, including Mark Bell, Betty Bell, James Lott, Robert Rixie, Karyl Kong, Karen Foster, Sam Tibbs, Michael Conway, Lisa Gill, Scott Taylor, Holland Hardin, Erika Mulgrew, Mic Walker, Trip Lamkins and Kerry Ryan.

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