Blues Quintet Southern Avenue

Members of the blues quintet discusses their critically acclaimed self-titled debut album and the band performs Don’t Give Up in their national television debut.

Southern Avenue is the name of a fiery young Memphis quintet that embodies its home city's soul, blues and gospel traditions, while adding a youthful spirit and dynamic energy all their own. The group features five young but seasoned musicians who came from diverse musical and personal backgrounds to create music that spans their wide-ranging musical interests, while showcasing the powerful chemistry that the group has honed through stage and studio experience. Southern Avenue encompasses Memphis-born, church-bred sisters Tierinii and Tikyra Jackson, respectively a soulful, charismatic singer and a subtle powerful drummer; guitarist Ori Naftaly, an Israeli-born blues disciple who first came to America as an acclaimed solo artist; and the band's newest addition, keyboardist Jeremy Powell, an early alumnus of Stax's legendary music academy.

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Announcer: And by contributions to your PBS station from viewers like you. Thank you.

Pleased to welcome Ori Naftaly and Tierinii Jackson to this program. They are members of the blues quintet, Southern Avenue, out of Memphis, Tennessee signed to the famed Stax Records. Their self-titled debut reached number six on the Billboard Blues chart and has been receiving all kind of critical praise. Ori and Tierinii, good to have you for the first time on this program.

Ori Naftaly: Thank you.

Tierinii Jackson: Thank you, thank you.

Tavis: Glad to have you. Your story is fascinating. Let me start with you, Ori. Your story is fascinating. You were born in Israel?

Naftaly: Yeah.

Tavis: How did you end up in Memphis [laugh]?

Naftaly: It’s not that different.

Tavis: Okay [laugh]. Not that different. Okay, yeah. I’ve been to Israel, yeah.

Naftaly: It’s a small town in a big area, right? And it has a lot of history. And it’s about the music and the food. I relate to all of that. I didn’t come here because I wasn’t having fun or I wasn’t doing well in Israel, you know. I had everything going pretty good. I just took this opportunity to represent my country at this challenge in Memphis because I always dreamed about Memphis.

Tavis: A musical challenge.

Naftaly: Yeah, and I wanted to become a better musician. I don’t think that, you know, with all the respect, cities like L.A. and New York and Chicago that are big, they represent a lot of options and opportunities. But to be a better musician, places like Memphis and New Orleans, I think make you just a better musician in all aspects.

You know, my career took me to L.A. from Memphis, even, so I knew that I still can make all my dreams true, even though it’s a small town. But, for me, Memphis is huge. I mean, it’s bigger than Tel Aviv. I don’t know anymore, but…

Tavis: And what did you fall in love with when you got to Memphis, other than the music, I assume?

Naftaly: Well, in Memphis, there’s a feeling of us against everybody, you know. And that feeling is something that there’s only 14 million Jewish people around the world and you know Israel is such a small country and that feeling of a day-to-day basis, the people in Memphis and the people in Israel have the same, whether it’s from two different — it’s just the same thing. You know, it’s just real…

Jackson: The hustle.

Naftaly: Yeah, and I relate to that. I can’t be in a place where it’s, you know, there is some laziness, but just also…

Tavis: Also in Tel Aviv, yeah.

Naftaly: It’s just the right amount of it, you know.

Tavis: So Memphis is home for you?

Jackson: Yeah.

Tavis: So how did y’all like end up hooking up as a group?

Jackson: He had this wonderful drummer that he hired for his solo band. And he was looking to replace his lead singer, so through the music community, he found me through his drummer, and the rest is history. It was so like together.

Tavis: So you got together. It just gelled.

Jackson: It just gelled. That was stubborn a bit, but I knew it was good, you know.

Tavis: And your sister is also in the group?

Jackson: Yes, she is.

Naftaly: I had to let that drummer go and kind of hire her sister [laugh].

Tavis: Was that part of the deal?

Jackson: Well…[laugh].

Naftaly: I mean, she didn’t know me and I have an accent, you know. I mean, might as well, you know, have her sister there. I’m kidding. I mean, she has a talent that brings like…

Jackson: I offered him my brother first and he said no. It’s like, well, my sister…

Tavis: She plays too, huh?

Jackson: He’s like, “Okay.”

Tavis: How would you describe your music?

Jackson: I just describe it — I mean, in general, we describe it as Memphis music, but I just describe it as soul music, you know. Something you can feel and whether it’s the rock and roll in it or the blues in it or the R&B that you hear…

Tavis: And the gospel in it.

Jackson: Or the gospel in it, it’s also music to me. But, yeah, we generalize it as Memphis music because Memphis music has so many different influences in it. It melts in a certain way that it just feels real Memphis-like, you know.

Tavis: So I just read somewhere that you and your sister grew up in a church in Memphis.

Jackson: Yes.

Tavis: And how did you — I don’t want to say make the crossover — but I know that…

Jackson: I ran.

Tavis: You ran [laugh]. That might be the answer.

Jackson: I’m kidding.

Tavis: Because if you were raised the way I was raised, you’re in an environment where they only want you to sing gospel music.

Jackson: You’re only allowed to sing gospel. You’re only allowed, you know, to do the church thing. But like music to me has been my life. It’s been like my outlet. I was trying to write songs before I could spell. Like my brother would find them and make fun of me. So like music to me is music and I don’t know what they call church music or gospel music. Like I said, music to me is soul music. If I can feel it, if I’ve lived it, then I’m gonna sing it and there’s not gonna be anybody to tell me no.

Because the honesty is what reaches the masses, so breaking away from the church singing, there wasn’t like an internal battle or anything because I just do what I feel. But, yeah, because my family is such a church-oriented family, my grandparents were the founders or my parents or the ministers. You know what I mean?

And because of the family church, everybody just decided to be involved as far as like not supporting and giving their opinions and what they’re not supporting. You know what I mean? That’s just life and it happens. I’m not the first. I understood that going public with myself as an artist, I would hit those walls, but it’s okay. Church made me. I won’t take it away.

Tavis: There you go. Y’all are making it work. As I said earlier, near the tops of the charts when it first came out. And tonight, you get a chance to judge for yourself because closing us out is Southern Avenue performing their song, “Don’t Give Up” from this self-titled debut. Ori and Tierinii, good to have you on the program. Thanks for coming on.

Jackson: Thank you.

Tavis: I’m going to shut up now so y’all can perform [laugh]. Thanks for watching. Keep the faith. Here they come, Southern Avenue. Stay with us.


Announcer: For more information on today’s show, visit Tavis Smiley at

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Announcer: And by contributions to your PBS station from viewers like you. Thank you.

Last modified: September 12, 2017 at 5:06 pm