It takes a special synthesis of leadership, forward thinking vision, and talent to make an impact in today’s world of media. And with a 2016 Emmy Award nomination under his belt and his work with celebrities such as lauded principal American Ballet Theatre dancer Misty Copeland, Carolina Panthers quarterback/ NFL MVP Cam Newton, Grammy nominated gospel group Trinitee 5:7, and television networks such as Aspire, TV One, and Bravo, it’s apparent that New York City based filmmaker/ television producer Eddie Bailey has the patent on this coveted recipe. In addition, his upcoming documentary film Memphis Majic is poised to offer an unprecedented look at one of America’s most culturally rich cities while cementing his company The Savoy Media Group as an industry force to be reckoned with.
A Memphis, Tennessee native, Eddie Bailey discovered his knack for storytelling during his formative years. Early on, Bailey relocated to Atlanta where a burgeoning Black renaissance was underway. Just as he’d moved from Memphis, a metropolis whose pop culture glory had long since faded, Bailey found himself stepping into the next Southern music mecca - a development that would pique his interest in media. Seeking to build on this interest, Bailey entered the prestigious Howard University as a film studies major. Upon graduation, Bailey made the next logical step and set his sights on opportunities to grow as a media maker and storyteller in New York City’s film and television community. “Howard prepared me to do a lot of the creative stuff,” he reflects. “But what college doesn’t really teach you is the business of things. That’s something that you kind of have to learn on your own.”
Not long after touching down in New York City, Bailey hit the ground running - attaching himself to various television productions with networks such as MTV, BET, NBC, and TV One. Bailey soon became an in-demand production assistant, effortlessly ascending the ranks with each episode. With his incomparable reputation in tow, it wasn’t long before Bailey was able to transition from production assistant to story producer. He excelled in his new role on various episodes of television series such as Tabitha’s Salon Takeover (Bravo) and I Married A Baller (TV One). Seamlessly shifting into this new lane, it seemed that Bailey had found his groove. “I enjoyed the ability to manipulate the story line,” says Bailey. “It gave me the freedom to use more of the tools in my arsenal and expand my vision as a producer.”
Unbeknownst to him however, the creative liberties of this new found lane would only serve as a segue to broader horizons. Following a confluence of events, including the 2007 writers strike and the 2008 recession, Bailey was inspired to construct his own lane by laying the foundation for his new production company: The Savoy Media Group. “After college, I had an idea that I wanted to create shows,” he says. “But I don’t think I was ready to be responsible in that way. New York presented me with the experience, confidence and relationships I needed to build my own enterprise.” A full-service production company encompassing videography, editing services and more, The Savoy Media Group was founded by Bailey in 2010 as a springboard for new ventures and a fertile ground for Bailey’s extraordinary creative vision.
Since its inception, The Savoy Media Group’s various endeavors have included projects with high profile celebrities and outlets such as Misty Copeland, Aspire, Cam Newton, and Trinitee 5:7. In 2015, Bailey produced and directed The History of Hip Hop In The Bronx - a TV segment centered on the integral contributions of the New York City borough to hip hop culture. Aired on CUNY TV, the segment featured exclusive interviews with seminal hip hop legend Grandmaster Caz and Grammy winning, multiplatinum producer Jerry “Wonda” Duplessis (Fugees, Destiny’s Child, Shakira, Santana). The History of Hip Hop In The Bronx succinctly captures the essence of a borough in the midst of cultivating a vibrant international phenomenon within the intense socioeconomic pressure cooker of 1970s New York City.
“As Black Americans, I think that’s just our experience,” he says of the relationship between strife and Black cultural exports. “There is a correlation there, but it’s not a necessity to produce great music. As Black Americans, that’s what we know. Does it create some very interesting music? Yes. Because it’s very heartfelt. It’s not pretentious. It’s from the soul.” Astonishingly, the segment was nominated for an Emmy Award at the 59th New York Emmy Awards. Suddenly, it appeared that the culmination of Bailey’s hard work had begun to bear splendid fruit. “It felt good to be recognized by an esteemed organization and group of my peers for work that you truly believe in,” Bailey says reflecting on the news. “The nomination was a bonus. It lent credibility to my name and was a clear confirmation that I was on the right track.”
With the intention of capitalizing on the momentum and picking up steam on that track, Bailey has embarked on what is undoubtedly the most ambitious undertaking of his young career. Memphis Majic, his feature length documentary film, tells the story of his hometown through the lens of a kinetic street dance style cultivated in the city over the past several decades called jookin. “The style is a derivative of hip hop culture and an extension of broader Black culture,” Bailey says. “Memphis was once a music mecca. So I’m using jookin as a mechanism to explore the rich culture, history, racial politics and socioeconomic stratification of the city in a way that has never been done before.”
Beginning in the early 1900s, Memphis began to establish itself as a force in blues and subsequently rock & roll and soul with figures and institutions such as Stax Records, Sun Studio, and the legendary W. C. Handy. Undergirded by a firm blue collar work force, the city’s vibrant culture and textured history has been colored with distinct hues that echo those of other American cities. “When you talk about the Delta Blues and it being the foundation of pop music, you have to talk about Memphis,” affirms Bailey. “When you talk about the Civil Rights movement, you have to talk about Memphis. In the south, Memphis was an epicenter of African American culture. But Memphis also parallels cities like Camden, New Jersey, Detroit, Michigan or Gary, Indiana - all of which are majority Black, largely blue collar, and in a particularly perplexing socioeconomic state. The struggles they’re experiencing in Memphis are being experienced in those other cities as well.”
The film features interviews with academics, artists (Grammy nominated instructor of Stax Museum’s Stax Music Academy Justin Merrick), jookers (Trill V, Daniel Price, G Nerd, Ladia Yates), and clergy (Pastor Earle Fisher of Abyssinian Missionary Baptist Church). Memphis Majic aims to sublimely synthesize the city’s deep history through its culture, politics, and unique race relations to paint an accurate yet arresting portrait of one of the nation’s most important cities of the 20th century. Shot on location in Montreal, Maryland, Atlanta, and Memphis, the documentary intricately probes into the sensitive history of the city.
“The city has a very peculiar racial history,” mentions Bailey. This history intersects with his own family tree. Bailey’s cousin, the late civil rights activist/ lawyer/ circuit court judge D’Army Bailey, secured a loan from Tri State Bank (one of the state’s few Black owned financial institutions) to build the National Civil Rights Museum. This museum annexes the famous Lorraine Motel, the site of the assassination of Martin Luther King, Jr. in 1968. “The funny thing is there’s a plaque commemorating where a former slave trader’s house once stood, which is directly across the street from the courthouse named after D’Army Bailey.” As Bailey focuses his energies on the production of this dynamic documentary that creatively chronicles the rise and decline of an American city, he is simultaneously fine tuning his plans to build The Savoy Media Group into a formidable empire.
With the proliferation of media makers capitalizing on the accessibility of new digital platforms, it’s clear that making an indelible mark in the realm of TV and film has become more competitive than ever. Yet amidst the throng of competitors leveraging style over substance, Bailey is confident that The Savoy Media Group is above the fray with a secret ingredient in hand: the art of the story. “Audiences crave stories that resonate with a certain realness,” he says. “Stories that have a universal appeal and apply to the world at large. I’m skilled at getting to the heart of
the matter of a story in a very seamless way by going into a character and seeing it from their perspective. This allows space for the audience to have the choice to think from various angles.”
Ultimately, Bailey’s goal with The Savoy Media Group reaches far beyond just creating compelling stories. He is convinced that it’s his mission to imbue his passion with a deeper sense of purpose at such a critical time in history. “The Savoy Media Group is a company that I intend to be an ever expanding and evolving entity. Our vision is clear and our footprint is distinct. Whether it’s through developing various television shows or documentary films, my goal is to expand the parameters of how the world views Black people. There are so many stories that have yet to be told. Humanizing stories with depth and intensity that a broad, underserved audience is longing to see and hear. The Savoy Media Group is on the verge of telling those stories and serving that audience with a precision that will undoubtedly become our trademark.”
written by: Rico "Superbizzee" Washington