Messick High School
Memphis, TN


Original Messick County High School building facade above entrance
Photo courtesy Class of 1969, Messick High School

Messick High School in Memphis was originally built in 1908 at the corner of Spottswood Avenue and South Greer Street at a cost of $30,000 and the first classes were held in 1909. It was said to be the first consolidated school in Shelby County, comprised of the elementary schools of Buntyn, Fleece Station and Avalon and located in what was originally Buntyn, Tennessee, a rural area of Shelby county east of Memphis.1 It was named for Elizabeth Messick, the then Superintendent and self proclaimed first student of the University of Chicago. She later married Elmer E. Houck, city editor for the Commercial Appeal (any relationship to the Houck's of the O.K. Houck piano company in Memphis is unclear).2


newer Messick High School building - ca. 1947
Photo courtesy 1947 Messick HS Yearbook

Several more buildings were added in the '20s and by 1930 Buntyn was annexed to the city of Memphis. The school's status then changed from a county to city High School, at which time it became the city's oldest school.2 At that time the campus featured several buildings which included the High School, Junior High school, Auditorium and Gymnasium and comprised half of the block surrounded by Spottswood and Carnes Avenues west of South Greer Street.


Messick High School
Photo courtesy 1961 Messick HS Yearbook


The Royal Spades/Mar-Keys - Don Nix, Steve Cropper, Charles "Packy" Axton, Donald "Duck" Dunn, Terry Johnson, Ronnie Stoots and Wayne Jackson - ca. 1960
Photo courtesy Its only Rock 'n Roll

Alumni of Messick High School include Memphis natives Steve Cropper, Donald "Duck" Dunn and Don Nix, originally of the Mar-Key's but better known later from Booker T and the MG's, key figures in the Memphis Soul sound and Stax Records. Other's would later include Jimi Jamison of the band Survivor and Andrew Stevens, son of actress Stella Stevens who co-starred with Elvis in Girls! Girls Girls! 3


Scotty, Elvis Bill and perform at Messick High School Auditorium  - ca. Feb. 1955
Photo © EPE, Inc.

Around late January or early February of 1955 Elvis, Scotty and Bill made two appearances at the High School. It is believed to be around the time they were back in Memphis recording new songs which resulted in their fourth record at Sun, Arthur Gunter's "Baby Let's Play House," which when released that April would become Elvis' first record to chart nationally. Oddly, in it he substituted the lyric, "You may have a Pink Cadillac," months before he actually owned one. The flip side featured "I'm Left, You're Right, She's Gone," written by Stan Kesler.


Scotty, Elvis Bill and perform at Messick High School Auditorium  - ca. Feb. 1955
Photo © EPE, Inc.


Scotty, Elvis Bill and perform at Messick High School Auditorium - ca. Feb. 1955
Photo © EPE, Inc.


Scotty, Elvis Bill and perform at Messick High School Auditorium (same as above, closeup) - ca. Feb. 1955
Photo © EPE, Inc.

According to Peter Guralnick, Bob Neal, who had officially signed on as Elvis' manager the first of the year, had enlisted their aid in support of his son Sonny, a student at Messick campaigning for student council, possibly class president. Peter though, implied the appearances may have been in the spring: 

Bob liked the boy — he couldn't say anything bad about him, he was almost like another member of the family. They all went Water-skiing on McKellar Lake together and picnicked out Riverside Park; when Bob’s son Sonny ran for student council in the spring, Elvis and Scotty and Bill appeared at the Messick High chapel program in support of his campaign, and Elvis regarded Helen almost like a second mother. Bob couldn’t imagine ever losing him, and when he talked to Colonel Parker about all their far-flung plans, it was never with anything less than a sense of partnership in a glowing future.4


Messick High School's new 1400 seat Auditorium - ca.1961
Photo courtesy 1961 Messick HS Yearbook


Senior elections in the Messick High School's new Auditorium - ca.1967
Photo courtesy 1967 Messick HS Yearbook


Lambeth college representative addresses seniors in Messick High School's new Auditorium - ca.1967
Photo courtesy 1967 Messick HS Yearbook


Messick High School's new Auditorium main entrance - ca.1967
Photo courtesy 1967 Messick HS Yearbook

The appearances were said to be for the High School and Junior High and while one appearance was held in the Auditorium, the other was held in the Gymnasium.


Messick High School's (old) Gymnasium building entrance - ca.1961
Photo courtesy 1961 Messick HS Yearbook


Bill, Elvis and Scotty perform at Messick High School Gymnasium - ca. Feb. 1955
Photo courtesy Mike Freeman via FECC/rizz56


entering Messick High School's (old) Gymnasium for a pep rally - ca.1961
Photo courtesy 1961 Messick HS Yearbook

According to David Garret who operates the Class of 1969 website, the old auditorium (the one of Elvis' performances) was not entered from the outside but was directly connected to the old Senior High building built in 1908. There were two ramps on either side of a long trophy case on the 2nd floor of that building which led you up half a story into the auditorium. It was one & a half stories high - occupied the top half of the second floor and the entire third floor. many students from that era remember the performances quite well, and it seems there were a number of them. Communicating with earlier alum groups he added, most memories are of performances in the auditorium rather than the gym.


1961 Junior High Basketball Team in (old) Gymnasium  - ca.1961
Photo courtesy 1961 Messick HS Yearbook


Game between Messick and Overton in Messick High School (old) Gymnasium  - ca.1961
Photo courtesy 1961 Messick HS Yearbook


Scoring for Messick during a game in Messick High School (old) Gymnasium - ca.1961
Photo courtesy 1961 Messick HS Yearbook


ceremony commemorating Statehood for Hawaii and Alaska in the (old) Gymnasium (opposite end view) - ca.1961
Photo courtesy 1961 Messick HS Yearbook


Messick High School's (old) Gymnasium building main entrance - ca.1967
Photo courtesy 1967 Messick HS Yearbook

Steve Cropper though said he had no recollection or knowledge of their appearances at Messick, but understandably so, he was still a student at Sherwood Junior High at the time. On February 5th the Memphis Press-Scimitar published an article about them with pictures of the three of them and Sam Phillips at Sun. The following day in between shows at Ellis Auditorium they would all meet with the Colonel and Tom Diskin officially for the first time at which time the Colonel would agree to help out booking shows for them.


Original Messick County High School building - ca.1961
Photo courtesy 1961 Messick HS Yearbook


Messick High School - ca. 1962
Photo courtesy Class of 1969, Messick High School


Messick High School - ca.1967
Photo courtesy 1967 Messick HS Yearbook

A new 1400 seat auditorium and gymnasium were built in the late 1950s and operational by 1958.  The new auditorium building was designed to look like the older gymnasium building. Messick's new gymnasium was built at a cost of $300,000 and became the "girls" gym while the "boys" gym remained in use until the school closed. By 1969 the school was almost overpopulated but by the 1970s, however, the neighborhood's population was on the decline and so was enrollment.2 The buildings decayed and the school district changed and school board voted to close the school. The last class graduated in 1981 and the following year the original main building was one of the first to be demolished.5


the "County High School" remained on the front of the building until the building was town down in 1981
Photo from Special Collections, University of Memphis Libraries courtesy Memphis Flyer


Messick (Vocational) Adult Center in Memphis - ca. 2008
Photo courtesy On This Very Spot

What remains of the campus today is operated by the Memphis school system as the Messick Adult Center at 706 South Greer. The buildings where the boys performed are no longer there.  The auditorium itself was converted into science labs when a new auditorium was built and demolished in the '80s with several of the original structures.


Birdseye view of the former Messick High School Campus and Auditorium - ca. 2011
courtesy Microsoft EarthData


Birdseye view of the former Messick High School's newer Auditorium - ca. 2011
courtesy Microsoft EarthData

page added August 20, 2012
revised September 3, 2012

Special Thanks to Steve Cropper and David Garret for their input on this page and to Brian Petersen and other members of the FECC for their ongoing interest, help and support.

1 according to the 1948 Messick High School Annual, courtesy Messick HS Class of 1951-52 website
2 according to the Class of 1969, Messick High School website
3 according to On This Very Spot - Messick High School
4 excerpt from Peter Guralnick's Last Train to Memphis
5 according to Elizabeth Messick and Messick High School by Vance Lauderdale - The Memphis Flyer - October 20, 2009



Donald "Duck" Dunn - (1941 - 2012)
Photo courtesy littleb722

Donald "Duck" Dunn, sadly, passed away earlier this year. Born in Memphis on November 24, 1941, Dunn was given his nickname by his father as the two watched a Donald Duck cartoon on TV. He began playing the bass guitar when he was 16. Steve Cropper made the announcement when he wrote:

Today I lost my best friend, the world has lost the best guy and bass player to ever live. Duck Dunn died in his sleep Sunday morning May 13 in Tokyo Japan after finishing 2 shows at the Blue Note Night Club.

Only a month earlier Steve had noted:

What a disastrous few days for Duck Dunn and myself and music fans all around the world. 1st Andrew Love tenor for the Memphis and STAX horns who played on so many recordings and the famous STAX / VOLT tour in ’67 with Otis Redding, will be laid to rest Saturday in Memphis, then Dick Clark who gave our High School band The Mar-Keys our first big break with “Last Night” on American Bandstand in ’61, then Levon Helm drummer singer with the “BAND” who Duck and I played and toured with on two separate albums when Levon went solo.

quotes courtesy Steve Cropper and Play it Again Steve

 

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