Written by Sam Prager
Photographed by Nate Packard
Family, nostalgia and unity make up the foundation for JCKSN Ave, a quintet of sisters who are currently in the process of producing a debut release. The group has put out several singles over the past few years, each a carefully cultivated mile marker in the evolution of the band.
The group’s sound pulls themes from southern gospel, ’90s R&B and Memphis soul, constructed with a contemporary pop blueprint. A combination of powerful songwriting and the sisters’ harmonious nature puts JCKSN AVE. on the frontlines of Memphis’ resurging relevance in the music industry.
Madi, Jess, Mo, Kris and Hannah Jackson are JCKSN AVE.
More often than not in the city of Memphis, music is a legacy art. The passion for music is passed through generations here. A tradition found in the homes of many Memphians, professional or not.
This legacy is certainly true for JCKSN Ave. The five sisters instinctually followed in the footsteps of their parents, who are both music industry veterans. The earliest organized rendition of JCKSN AVE. was in the early 2000s when the three older sisters first started performing together. However, the five sang together at home and in church even before that.
The JCKSN AVE. we hear today features all five sisters and started in 2011. In the eight years since, the sisters have worked cautiously to produce a sound that fuses their faith, family and fundamentally Memphis sound.
“We come from a family where there was music on both sides. Growing up we had the knowledge and the influences of our parents,” Mo says. “My dad is a musician, composer, songwriter, producer, and my mom is a singer and performer — just an amazing rock star. We grew up watching them perform. We were sort of studio babies.”
“But it doesn’t start with them, my dad’s parents were musicians,” Hannah says. “It’s in our blood.”
The quintet grew up in a Christian home with an emphasis on music and how it brings people together. The group grew up listening to jazz standards, gospel singers and Memphis soul. The five sisters each remember growing up with music, though different melodies stand out.
“The first music I remember was Don Moen, Take Six, Ron Kenoly, Kirk Franklin. Then I ventured off into Yo Gotti and Ludacris,” Madi says. “Which were very different, but it all helped shape and mold my love for the art.”
“I remember the Yellowjackets,” Jess says.
“The Yellowjackets!” the group exclaims in unison.
“I remember all of the gospel and jazz, but I remember BET the most. I know it has always been big, but it was super important in our house,” says Kris. “I have this memory of our dad taking us to Best Buy and getting us Stevie Wonder, the Jackson 5.”
“Our parents made a point to introduce us to all types of music,” Mo explains. “Like the Yellowjackets and Steely Dan. The Motown and Stax artists. But it was Michael Jackson that changed my life.”
“Nobody could tell us that we weren’t related,” Kris adds.
“On Christmas one year my parents got me an MP3 player and I found the hip-hop station. I discovered Lil Wayne and was like ‘This is so good!’ That was my start to hip-hop and I’ve loved it ever since,” says Hannah.
“I think each of us has our own kind of favorite genre that we try to turn each other on to,” Kris says. “I think all of it plays a part in the music we actually make. It’s a…”
“Fusion,” Jess interrupts.
“Yes, a fusion!” Kris says.
Even with a musical background that transposes genres, the sisters of JCKSN AVE. agree that at the root of both their musical memories and individual preferences is gospel. Harmony, passion, structure and purpose are staples within the genre and a mantra of the Jacksons.
“I’ve come to find at the core of Gospel its spiritual,” Mo says. “It’s hard to separate it from it because it’s the essence of it, but the musicianship in gospel music.”
“It’s inspiring.” Jess interrupts. “It touches every other genre. So many others take from it. Being in church and hearing someone singing a song they can just take it somewhere totally different. They can just take liberty without losing the song, I don’t know it’s just...”
“Spontaneous,” Kris interrupts.
“Spontaneous! That’s the perfect word,” Jess says.
The Jacksons grew up honoring Memphis’ legacy as a music city by being a music family themselves. In fact they have ties to some of Memphis’ greatest contributors. Their father was a protégé of sorts to Royal Studio’s Willie Mitchell. Mr. Jackson was even given the bongo that was used in Al Green’s “Let’s Stay Together,” though he returned it to the legendary studio shortly before Mitchell’s death in 2010.
The sisters are proponents for many of the pioneering musicians that are often overlooked for Elvis and Johnny Cash.
“The music history here is eclectic,” Mo explains. “We have rock history, we got soul history, we got blues history. Elvis, Johnny Cash, Jerry Lee Lewis, all of them are valid, but there’s just so much more to Memphis than them.”
“Hip Hop! Underground Memphis Hip Hop,” Jess adds.
“We weren’t allowed to listen to Three 6 Mafia or Project Pat growing up, but that music has had such an influence on hip hop being made right now,” Hannah says. “Memphis sound as a whole has a huge impact on music period. Back then and now.”
“I feel like a lot of outsiders can see what Memphis has, but the people who live here can’t seem to appreciate it,” says Kris.
“We need to educated ourselves as a city about our city,” Hannah says.
“Literally, musicians from other places hear we are from Memphis, they’re like, ‘Oh, ya’ll are the ones that are taking everybody’s jobs.’ Memphis musicians in other cities like L.A. or New York or Nashville are dominating the industry there. Musicians are groomed in Memphis; everything’s a piece of cake after growing up here playing music,” says Jess. “They end up going and being a part of the backing band for some of the biggest mainstream artists out there.”
While Memphis musicians are finding success elsewhere, the group believes supporting local musicians and creating more opportunities for them within the city will help retain Memphis’ natural talent.
“In the past there hasn’t been a lot of opportunities for Memphians to make it in the music industry. At least not since the Stax and Sun days,” Mo explains. “But the city’s trying to push forward and it’s better to be late than never.”
“Sometimes I would see and hear of other musicians or producers talk about coming together and creating something new, and for various reasons it doesn’t work,” says Madi. “Mostly from pride.”
“When you deal with these people who have the clout, they can open doors, but they choose not to. They have these cliques they cling to,” Mo says.
“Alot of times it feels like there is either racism or, in the black community, there are cliques that prevent people from starting new things or opportunities. But recently everybody’s been putting their money together to make things better and helping each other more,” says Madi. “Not just black people or white people; everybody. It’s been a great change in how things have been.”
“It’s helped us get along. The fact that music brings people together,” says Mo. “Thank God for that.”
“We need to think of each other as a family. We come from the same place,” Hannah says. “In Memphis it shouldn’t be us against you, we can all create something cool. Everybody can eat. We can all win.”
“I don’t think Memphis can go anywhere else but up,” Jess says.
“It’s constantly evolving,” Madi adds. “It’s ascending. We’re in a great place as a city.”
“And it’s making room for other people too,” Kris says.
“Just leave your freakin’ ego at the door,” Jess says.
“No! Leave it at the house,” Madi laughs.
“Leave it under your bed,” says Kris
“It doesn’t really matter what genre you play as long as we can come together and support each other. Who knows where the city could go or where any of us could go,” says Hannah.
“We’re unity fans; we don’t like division,” Madi says.
“Where there’s unity you have no choice but to win. Things will work out eventually. I see things only continuing to get better,” says Mo.
The group originally started out with the three oldest sisters in the early 2000s. The group, which at the time was spelled Jackson Ave, fizzled out shortly after. However, in 2011 the group reformed with all five sisters as JCKSN AVE. The sisters have been honing their craft ever since, carefully putting out highly manicured and thoughtful singles.
Being in a band with family, let alone five sisters, has its dilemmas, but overall the group wouldn’t have it any other way.
“Being in a band with your sisters can be challenging, but that’s not a bad thing,” says Jess. “It gives you an opportunity to grow both creatively and as a family.”
“At the stage we’re at now, it can be tough, says Mo. “We’re all growing young women.”
“Literally adults,” Jess interrupts.
“That’s what I said. Young women!” Mo says. “We’re growing; we’re learning ourselves. We’re learning each other. There are certain challenges, but it helps us grow.”
“When we’re working together we are working,” says Madi. “And when we’re not, we’re not. But we love being around each other, and it makes the work a little easier. Sometimes we’ll get together and say ‘let’s rehearse’ and we’ll spend two hours just laughing.”
“A scheduled one-hour practice will turn into four hours,” Kris laughs. “Two hours of talking and playing around.”
“Then someone will be like ‘Hey, we’ve got to get serious!’ and I’m like, ‘I’ve got somewhere to be in an hour,’ Madi says.
“It can be challenging, but we’re figuring out our balance, and we’re finding out what works best for us as a team,” Mo explains.
The group cites a variety of influences in their songwriting. However, Mo says, nostalgia plays a big a role in the group’s style and essence.
“There’s so much turmoil in the world. Not that there wasn’t two decades ago, but people want to remember back when we were kids in ’90s,” Mo says. “ We miss those moments, the innocence of it all and the fun. Naturally those feelings come out in our songwriting and who we are as people.”
As far as the band’s songwriting is concerned, the group writes together, with everyone playing a role in the finished product. The group’s 2016 release “All These Dreams,” was written alongside Grammy-nominated artist PJ Morton, who is also the keyboard player for Maroon 5.
“One of us will be like ‘I have this idea,’ and a couple of us will work on it a little bit. Then we’ll bring it to the team. But, when we wrote “All These Dreams,” we all sat in the same room and wrote this song. So it can go either way,” Mo says.
“We all contribute something to the songs and play our roles,” says Kris.
Although there is a no-one-gets-left-behind mentality in the group, it’s fortified by an emphasis on making sure they all keep up.
“We really believe you got to give it all you got. You hear this all the time, you’re only as strong as your weakest link,” Mo says. “Being weak doesn’t mean that you’re not good, but you may not be giving us your all.”
“If we’re all up here with it, then we’re good,” Hannah says.
“It’s bigger than any of us,” Mo says. “It’s not just about us making music. We feel like we have something to share with people. Something that is positive and uplifting and bright. It’s purpose driven. It’s not about us wanting to be stars. Everybody has something to share and its edifying for the next person.”
“The gifts people are born with aren’t just for them. They’re for somebody else, too,” Jess says.
“The gifts people are born with aren’t just for them. They’re for somebody else, too,” Jess says.
“I’ve been thinking about how heavy the push from social media is and the effects it’s had on us as a society the past few years,” Mo says. “Anxiety and depression are at an all-time high. You’ve got to make a point of loving people. You’ve got to go out of your way because you never know what people are battling.”
“Especially artists, they’re much more sensitive to the pressure,” Kris adds. “And to succeed you almost have to have a social media presence nowadays.”
“But the fun part of that is that you get to choose how you want to be presented,” Jess says. “I feel like a lot of people don’t take advantage of that. Some people put it all out there, for everybody to see. They’re naked.”
“It’s still a lot of pressure if you’re going to be on there,” Mo says. “You’re constantly bombarded with everyone’s information. So make sure to love people while you are on there!”
Fans can expect to hear new JCKSN AVE. by the end of 2019, as the group plans on putting out its debut release. It’s still in the process of deciding whether the album, will be an EP or full-length; regardless, the group says the new release will showcase just how much it has evolved over the years.
“I think we’ve kind of found ourselves,” says Hannah. “It’s still evolving and we’re still cultivating the sound, but I feel like we can kind of see the light on who we want to be.”