Cincinnati already had several music studios in the early 1920's — and Louisville, KY, didn't quite measure up to the market that Mil Averwater had in mind. But during a "temporary" layover in Memphis en route to Los Angeles, Mr. Averwater strolled north from the train station along South Main Street, and he and his friend, Frank Moorman, found their business home.
It was in October of 1921 that Amro Studios opened 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. In the beginning, the firm was strictly a studio for piano lessons, 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.
During the 1920's, jazz became the popular music style, idolized by the younger generation, and held in contempt by "musical purists." Averwater, who had studied classical music for seven years, leaned toward jazz. In 1923, he wrote "The Amro System of Popular Jazz." The book was copyrighted and published and was the method book used by many 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 til 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."
Amro Studios weathered the Great Depression but not without adversity. Since there was little money for music lessons, Mil resorted to bartering, often giving 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.
Amro eventually expanded to the sale of instruments, first as an accommodation to students but ultimately as the mainstay. As school bands' popularity grew, Amro introduced an instrument trial rental plan. Mil and others of the firm traveled the then gravel roads of Mississippi, Arkansas, Tennessee, Kentucky, and Missouri calling on school bands, often staying overnight in the directors' homes.
Three of Mil Averwater's children, Bob, Ron, and Joy, worked in the business while in school and eventually joined the company full time. In 1960 a branch store was opened at the southwest corner of Poplar & Highland, a location now occupied by Dillard Square. The branch was operated by Ron and Joy Averwater. A few years later another branch was opened in Whitehaven.
Mil Averwater retired in 1968. By that time Amro was a full-line music store carrying pianos, organs, guitars, drums, school band instruments, combo equipment, and music. Upon Mil's retirement, the company was incorporated with Bob Averwater as President and Ron Averwater Vice-President.
Another branch store was opened, this one in Raleigh. Sales continued to climb, topping a million dollars per year. In 1981 the main location was moved from downtown to its present location on Poplar. In 1984 Bob Averwater retired and Ron Averwater became company president. Bob's son, Chip, became Vice President. Pat, another of Bob’s sons, joined the company in 1985. In 1991 Chip became President, and in November of 2005 Pat became President and Chip Chairman. Chip's oldest son, CJ, joined the company in 2004, and Pat's son, Nick, came aboard in 2013.
Today Amro is the Mid-South's largest music company in every aspect: sales volume, floor space, number of employees, and quantity of inventory. Most of the music industry's top products are represented, including Accent, Artley, Armstrong, Bach, Boston, Buffet, Cannonball, Conn, Eastman, Essex, Galiano, Henry F. Miller, Jupiter, King, Leblanc, Pearl, Pianodisc, Roland, Selmer, Shires, Steinway, Trevor James, Yamaha, and many others.
Amro is unique in the music industry for its stability and financial strength and is particularly proud of the company's 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, and some for more than 40. Amro currently has nine full-time education representatives, who make regular trips to school bands within a 250-mile radius of Memphis, and one of the only on-site repair facilities in the area, staffed with 18 full-time technicians. 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.
Amro is still owned and operated by the Averwater family, now in the fourth generation. Left to right are Nick, Pat, and CJ Averwater.