The musical legacy of the Bluff City is exciting, diverse, and extremely significant in the history of American culture. Today, Memphis' own Beale Street and Graceland are intimately associated with American music history, especially that of the blues, rockabilly, and rock-n-roll. Many native Memphians agree that it’s hard to talk about the history of music in Memphis without thinking of Amro Music. We agree wholeheartedly! Since nearly a century ago, Amro Music has been an integral part of the rich, musical heritage of the Bluff City. Several nationally recognized artists in jazz, gospel, and rhythm-n-blues have strong associations with the Memphis music scene. Some of these artists had working relationships with Amro Music and even purchased their instruments here.
Where did this rich musical heritage all begin? Let’s take a trip back to a train station in 1921 to find out.
During a train layover in Memphis in the fall of 1921, Mil Averwater strolled north from the train station along South Main Street. While he was there, he and his friend, Frank Moorman, found the future home of their business.
In October of that year, Mil and Frank opened Amro Studios. The business was located on the second floor at 166 South Main, then cobblestoned and traveled by street cars and early model Fords. The name Amro was condensed from the names Averwater and Moorman. Listen to Mil himself describe where the name "Amro" comes from.
Teaching Piano Lessons
In the beginning, the firm was strictly a studio for piano lessons. These lessons were taught by Averwater and Moorman, both of whom had studied piano in Cincinnati. The lesson business was slow in the early days, but they were tireless promoters. They would play piano with windows open to catch the attention of the people on Main Street. When passersby were attracted upstairs, Mil would offer them a 30-lesson course. As enrollments increased, several teachers were added for instruction on saxophone, banjo, and guitar.
In 1923, Mil wrote the book, "The Amro System of Popular Jazz." The book was the method book used by Mil’s students and many other pianists to learn jazz techniques.
Radio came to Memphis in January, 1923 with the opening of WMC. Those with crystal sets could hear the programs that were broadcast at that time only on Saturdays from 2 to 4. Mil played the piano and arranged talent for the live broadcasts. Newspaper stories recalled his performances of then-favorites like "If You Don't Believe I Love You, Look What a Fool I've Been", "Aggravatin' Papa", and "Hoptown Chinatown Hop".
The Great Depression
Amro Studios weathered the Great Depression but not without adversity. Since there was little money for music lessons, Mil resorted to bartering. He often gave lessons in exchange for milk or chickens. Thousands received their first music instruction at Amro, many of whom went on to make contributions to the city's growing reputation as a wellspring of music and musicians.
Expanding the Business
Amro eventually expanded to the sale of instruments. This was in part to accommodate the needs of the students. Ultimately, however, musical instrument sales became a mainstay of the brand. As school band participation grew in popularity, Amro introduced a trial instrument rental plan. Mil and others in the business traveled the gravel roads of Mississippi, Arkansas, Tennessee, Kentucky, and Missouri, calling on school bands and often staying overnight in the directors' homes.
Today, Amro Music is the Mid-South's largest music company in every aspect: sales volume, floor space, number of employees, and quantity of inventory. Amro is regularly recognized as one of the "Top 100 Music Stores" in the nation by NAMM and the "Best in Memphis" for musical instrument stores by the Memphis Flyer. We are particularly proud of our full-time staff of professionals, often recognized as among the most knowledgeable in the industry. Many have been with the company for 15 years or more, some for 30 years or more, and a few for almost 50 years! In addition to their extensive experience in the field of musical instrument products and repairs, many Amro employees play instruments in a professional capactiy and perform regularly at local venues. Some even travel abroad to perform. When you think about it, the folks here at Amro are continuing the tradition that Mil had in mind when he founded Amro Music nearly 100 years ago: playing music for enjoyment and sharing that gift with others.
Amro Music is still owned and operated by the Averwater family today, now in the fourth generation.