Making Music … And Jobs: Nonprofit offers training in the industry

Making Music … And Jobs: Nonprofit offers training in the industry

Orson Weems got the best education in the music industry under “the instruction, tutelage and mentorship of the legendary Al Bell,” he says. Working alongside the former owner of Stax Records and owner of Al Bell Presents — the man who launched the careers of the Staple Sisters and Isaac Hayes and so many more — Weems gained the know-how to train others in the music business.

He and “GT” Thompson, also a student of Bell, co-founded The Music Education Initiative, a nonprofit with the mission “to engage, educate, elevate and prepare the next generation of professionals in the business of music and entertainment,” he explains.

“Our unique perspective focuses on music and entertainment in the interest of creating new writing, recording, performing artists and industry professionals. It is imperative that more people join the industries, to sustain the amount of live music, outdoor recreation and corporate events, not just in Northwest Arkansas, but nationwide,” Weems adds.

Many of those jobs take place behind the stage. “Our production education and technical training workshops offer job creation and workforce development by having owners and professionals within the production business provide hands-on training of the basics of of live events,” he says. “Topics include stage and event terminology, safety, proper PPE (Personal Protective Equipment), how to handle equipment and gear boxes, types of lighting, types of cables, how to wrap cables properly, and audio and recording tech.”

The nonprofit also works with local organizations to offer job training and placement.

“We work with local production companies, such as Ozark Production Services and avad3 Event Production and venues such as George’s Majestic Lounge, the Faulkner Performing Arts Center at UA and Thaden School,” Weems adds. “At this time, the basic or introductory training we provide does not cost anything. We hope to keep the workshop programming at no or low cost, if we get more support.”

So who benefits from this kind of training? Weems says: “The regional community as a whole, people seeking extra income, people that want to work in a different industry, those that would like a career change or an enhancement to what they may currently do.” Those interested in job training with MEI should visit

MEI also offers music education to the community. Last month, the nonprofit opened two art exhibits in Northwest Arkansas. “A Cast of Blues,” which was on display at 214 CACHE, at 214 S. Main St. in Springdale, allowed visitors to see and touch 15 resin-cast faces of Blues icons such as Robert Johnson, Koko Taylor, Bobby Blue Bland and Bobby Rush. Later Weems and company brought the Juke Joint exhibit to the Pryor Center in Fayetteville and then welcomed Bobby Rush to the porch of the exhibit for a special performance.

Weems hopes that “The Juke Joint will be a teaching, educational tool, a meeting place, a place for lectures, discussions, films, performances and guest speakers to share experiences.” Made of cypress and tin, the Juke Joint is a representation of an actual Delta juke joint and offers a unique spot for concerts.

“We want to have people come to us that call the Pryor Center and say, ‘Can we do something? or ‘Here’s an idea’. It’s open, Weems said of the Juke Joint when it debuted at the Pryor Center in May. At a press conference he stressed that the exhibit offers a tangible representation of Delta Blues that many in Northwest Arkansas may never have seen before. Viewers are invited to walk through the exhibit, read posters and closely examine its artifacts for a glimpse into music history.

The Juke Joint exhibit is free and open to the public from 8 a.m. to 5 p.m. Mondays through Fridays through the end of June. Music and other events are planned for the Juke Joint on display at the Pryor Center on the downtown square in Fayetteville. To keep up with those shows, visit



The Music Education Initiative

Categories: Music