The word came Thursday afternoon that Sid Selvidge has died.
Summing up what he meant to Memphis music is very difficult because his contribution covers so much ground as musician, as an influence, as a counselor on the intersection of music and the lifestyle of making music. And then there was the example of continuing to pursue with dignity and determination something that all too many people believe is neither art nor a pursuit for anyone but the young on their way to some other goal.
Realizing the limitations of trying to encompass all that Selvidge meant to a city with an abundant and ongoing musical firmament, I’ll go for this:
He was an artist with his music in the manner and determination of a painter or a sculptor. And that will be his enduring impact – a body of work that even now is being evaluated and posted on Facebook and YouTube.
Some of the bravest people I know are musicians who take their songs, their voices and perhaps a guitar or a piano onto stages, big and small, temporary and permanent, and connect with audiences night after night.
That is what Sid Selvidge did for a long time in our city and continued doing almost up to his death. He was our troubadour and our portal to the essence of a music that met official resistance and world-wide acceptance and questioned whether either was the point.
Some of us watched much of the journey from the pre-Beatles coffee house days of folk music at places like the Bitter Lemon on Poplar Avenue to the Beale Street Caravan-Levitt Shell residencies.
Others came across him intermittently over the years, a reference point in a city that to those of us who live here doesn’t seem to change fast enough but which has changed tremendously to those who no longer live here.
Still more encountered the old records turned CDs turned digital files in which his voice and his art at first surpassed the technology and then the technology managed to begin to capture what those who saw him live encountered.
The encounter will continue although the body of work is now complete.