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The Miner 49ers: Rhodes’ Rotating Band

Publication Date: 3/21/2013

By Caroline Ponseti ′15

The Miner 49ers aren’t your typical Memphis band—or average college ensemble, for that matter. Their styles range from sweater vest and khaki shorts to beanie and horn-rimmed glasses, and their personal musical influences range from heavy metal to jazz. Together, they produce a cohesive sound that is both unique and reminiscent of Memphis’ musical roots.

They identify as “your local Stax band,” playing songs they dub “popular soul” from Amy Winehouse and The Jackson 5 to their newest rendition of Macklemore’s “Thrift Shop.”

Just as the Miner 49ers rotate new songs in with Miner 49ers classics like “Soul Finger” by the Bar-Kays, they also rotate in new members as others graduate. The basic structure remains the same, but the sounds are always evolving.

“Each year is super different,” says saxophonist Alex Wilkerson ‘13. “You learn from the people that leave it behind, and you try to help the new people coming in.”

The Miner 49ers began 15 years ago as a commercial music ensemble. “It used to be a for-credit class with professional instruction,” says drummer Michael Todd ‘13. “But the Professor didn’t have enough free time, so the students took the band into their own hands.” Now, the band is led by Wilkerson.

In addition to experimenting with new genres of music, The Miner 49ers have developed their sound through adding new positions. To add a more “Stax feel,” the group recently welcomed two new backup singers, Mae Casey ’13 and Georgia Loftis ’14, who give the group more substance, according to Wilkerson.

Rhodes’ location in Memphis has given the members a unique musical experience. “Coming into a town with a big music tradition and two historic record labels like Stax and Sun puts a little pressure on you,” says bassist Alex Piazza ‘14. “You have to learn how to play this stuff well.”

In addition to drawing inspiration from Memphis music, the band members benefit from collaborating with one another. “Playing in a group with so many talented musicians has really pushed me to my musical limits,” says guitarist Jeff Warren ’14.

“This group is bigger than the current members,” says Todd. “It’s a part of the school’s tradition.” The band started playing in the annual Rhodes Battle of the Bands before the current members were even Rhodes students.

Since then, they have performed at Rhodes events like Rites of Spring, reunion parties during Homecoming, and Relay for Life. The band members credit the Rhodes community for much of their success. “Rhodes has provided a supportive environment and a willing audience,” says Piazza.

They have also had the opportunity to contribute to the Mid-South musical scene through events like theirĀ GRAMMY U performance, various receptions in Memphis, and a gig at the Governor’s Mansion.

Other band members include pianist Emmanuel John-Teye, trumpeter Matt Hicks, and vocalists Connor Cain and Tea Rose Pankey. Later this spring, The Miner 49ers will go to Young Avenue Sound’s studio for a recording session.

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