Evvie McKinney is a graduate of both the Stax Music Academy and The Soulsville Charter School (2016). Evvie performed with SMA in Berlin Germany in 2012 for the United States ambassador to Germany and others, and in numerous other local and national concerts. In 2018, Evvie won the championship of the first-ever episode of the television show “The Four.” She currently lives in Los Angeles and is signed to Republic Records. She was named iHeartRadio’s next “On the Verge” artist; an artist development program supporting the winner with airplay across iHeartMedia radio stations nationwide. This program has helped launched the careers of artists like Sam Smith, Fifth Harmony, and Nick Jonas.
Roc Nation performing artist and songwriter Kirby Lauryen is from Southaven, Mississippi. An alumna of the Stax Music Academy and Berklee College of Music, Kirby sparked a career in songwriting by writing A Song A Day on YouTube for 275 days. She was signed to Roc Nation on Day 302.
Kirby has co-written hits like, “Die With You” by Beyoncé, “Only One” by Kanye West and Paul McCartney, “FourFiveSeconds” by Rihanna, Kanye West, and Paul McCartney, “Break Your Heart Right Back” by Ariana Grande, and many more to come. Kirby is a prime example that with faith, hard work, and preparation, anything is possible.
On October 5, 2017 the American Society of Composers, Authors and Publishers (ASCAP) hosts its ninth annual “Women Behind the Music” event at Bardot in Los Angeles, where Lauryen will receive the prestigious honor along with music executives Ashley Calhoun and Ericka Coulter. Kirby will join the ranks of other “Women Behind the Music” award recipients such as R&B rap stars Salt-N-Pepa.
Produced by the ASCAP Rhythm & Soul membership team, ASCAP’s “Women Behind the Music” is created to encourage and recognize women in the music community. It honors not only singers and songwriters but also female executives in all facets of the entertainment business, including managers, attorneys, label executives and music publishers.
Kirby is now a member of the Soulsville Foundation board of directors, which oversees the Stax Museum of American Soul Music and Stax Music Academy and is the first-ever SMA graduate to serve on the board.
Kameron Whalum left, with Bruno Mars.
Former Stax Music Academy student Kameron Whalum has performed for hundreds of millions of people. After graduating from Overton High School and heading to study at the University of Memphis, Morehouse College, and the New School for Jazz and Contemporary Music, his national television debut was alongside Jessie J on Saturday Night Live in March of 2011. A few weeks later, he was called up by megastar Bruno Mars and joined him as a member of the “Hooligans.”
Soon after joining Mars, Kameron became involved in the Mark Ronson phenomenon known as “UpTown Funk,” playing the trombone, singing, and whistling on the song and in the music video. UpTown instantly shot to the top of the charts becoming the Number One record in the world and winning GRAMMYs for Record of the Year and Best Pop Duo/Group Performance. On September 15, 2015, the accompanying video was viewed for the billionth time, making it the fourth most-viewed video on YouTube in history.
Kameron has performed with Mars on the MTV EMA’s, MTV VMA’s, Billboard Music Awards, Canada’s Much Music Awards, the GRAMMY’s, The Halftime Show of Super Bowl XLVII, as well as countless local telecasts. He continues to tour with Mars and is pursuing a solo career as well.
Kris Thomas first began performing publicly at the age of 14 with his church choir. Wanting to hone this talent, he joined the Young Actors Guild, where he gained valuable experience in stage performance and experimented in some acting. The following year, Kris joined the Stax Music Academy where he became a member and lead vocalist of StreetCorner Harmonies vocal ensemble, which became an influential part of his life and career. To this day, he still gives back to the organization every chance he gets. He even featured the Stax students in the music video “Two Kings” when he joined country music superstar Pam Tillis in a moving tribute to their hometown of Memphis and to the 2 kings: Elvis Presley and Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr.
In 2013, Kris was featured on Season Four the hit TV show The Voice, garnering a place on Team Shakira in the blind auditions and making it to the Top Ten finalists. The following year, he again featured students of the Stax Music Academy, this time in the anti-bullying anthem “Remember,” recorded in Florida and Memphis in 2014. That same year, he landed a gig as the lead singer at the B.B. King Blues Club in West Palm Beach, Florida, and is now lead singer at the B.B. King’s in Orlando.
Mikaela Allen was one of the lucky Stax Music Academy students who traveled to Australia in July 2008 during the Stax Music Academy Summer Soul Tour. The concert and cultural tour took the students on an Australian tour of Melbourne, Sydney, and Australia’s capital of Canberra, where the students were treated to tea and a tour of the residence of then United States Ambassador to Australia Robert McCallum and his wife Mimi.
After graduating from SMA, Mikaela attended the Berklee College of Music, where she received a Bachelor of Art degree in Music Business. In addition to studying the music business, she has been singing and playing the flute for 14 years in both contemporary and classical styles. During the 2012 SMA Summer Soul Tour, she performed with SMA students and GRAMMY Award-winner Kirk Whalum in Boston. Mikaela went on from Berklee’s Boston campus to its graduate school in Valencia, Spain, where she studied Global Entertainment and Music Business through Berklee’s Masters program. In addition to earning her master’s degree, she played flute and sang with a soul/funk band throughout Spain. Upon graduation in the summer of 2014, she returned back to the United States to pursue a career in the music business in New York City and is currently an Artist Support Specialist with TuneCore in Brooklyn.
Singa Bromfield was also a member of the 2008 Stax Music Academy Summer Soul Tour in Australia. Although he was accepted to the Berklee College of Music as well, Singa chose to pursue a career as a solo artist. After numerous performances around the country and in Memphis at festivals such as Memphis In May and the Center for Southern Folklore’s annual Memphis Music & Heritage Festival, film director Martin Shore chose Singa as one of the artists to tour with his hit documentary, Take Me To The River. In this role, he and former SMA students Brandon Chornes and Andrew Saino were the opening act for after concerts that followed film screenings in London, Amsterdam, New York City, Memphis, and other locales. The band shared the stage with soul music legends William Bell, Bobby Rush, Otis Clay, the Hi Rhythm Section, and others.
In 2015, B.B. King’s Blues Club owner Tommy Peters handpicked Singa as the guitarist in one of the bands performing in the B.B. King’s clubs on Carnival Cruise lines. Singa traveled and performed for over four months in the Caribbean, Mexico, Central America, Alaska, and other places. He is currently working as a solo-performing artist around the United States.