Opening Friday: Toni Green's Harpo's Juke Joint

Tony Jones | 9/14/2017, 11:34 a.m.
“I’m really excited,” Green said. “I think people are going to be really surprised.”
Memphis vocalist Toni Green.

Memphis-bred vocalist Toni Green will be opening a restaurant and nightclub this weekend, tying the many strands of the city’s musical history into one package.

Located at 4212 North Thomas and called Toni Green’s Harpo’s Juke Joint, the grand opening will be on Friday, Sept. 15. In the juke joint tradition, it will serve as a lunch and dinner restaurant during the week, and come alive for music during weekends.

The venue’s name derives from it being used to depict Harpo’s Juke Joint in the film “The Color Purple.”

It was also famously used in the Patrick Swayze-Sam Elliot vehicle “Roadhouse,” but the long-term success Green hopes for is firmly rooted in the worldwide musical experience she brings to the table.

“We always had the best music in Memphis, and that’s what I want this place to be,” she said. “A music room. Growing up here, I remember the great places such as the Rosewood, the Paradise, the Living Room, the Showcase, Club Handy, places where the music was world class every night they were open.”

Green’s musical skills were developed under the tutelage of many great performers during the city’s heyday as a soul music spot. From there Green went on to become a solo artist representing Memphis soul on some of the most popular stages in Europe.

“My cousin John Gary Williams was a member of the Mad Lads. I worked with Isaac Hayes, Willie Mitchell, Teenie and the Hodges brothers (better known as Mitchell’s studio band HI Rhythm), (regionally popular) Gene “Bowlegs” Miller, Marvel Thomas, the Memphis Horns, I was just surrounded and influenced by so many great artists.”

It all started at home.

“My mother was a member of a social club called The New Sophisticates, and they would let me and my brother come in and play their events. That’s where I really got my start.”

Recently, Green has been featured at the Old Daisy’s First Sunday series, which she says has been a real inspiration.

“I’m amazed by the history there. I think the more people get out and learn about what Memphis has to offer, the appreciation grows. From performing so much in Europe, I’ve learned the impact we’re had around the world.”

From big to small stages, she performed in Greece, Holland, Russia.

“On such stages as the iconic New Morning club (in Paris), festivals opening for Carlos Santana, the James Brown Band, Bono, and others, sometimes before as many as 50,000 people. From France to Italy, Italy to Germany, Switzerland to Britannia, I’ve played all over the world. One of the most fascinating places was Algeria. I was fascinated and it’s linked to St. Augustine and early Christianity.”

In a cute quote from a story Channel 3 did about the city of Porretta, Italy’s fascination with Memphis music, Green spoke of how she reacted when seeing her picture on the back of buses in the town. “I was weeping so hard, child I cried my lashes off.”

All of this is reflected in her musical performances, but for the past month it’s been about that good old southern work ethic, hammer and nails, and the fun part, getting the kitchen together. On the day we dropped in she had cooked food for the remodeling crew.

“I’m really excited,” she said, “I think people are going to be really surprised.”