So many letters and so many words
So many hearts are bruised by the words
We have taught our children to live by
And we call people by the color of their skin
We’re damaging life where the negativity stands
No bright colors, no happiness supplied
‘Cause we’ve all fought for freedom in some way
Some land, somewhere
With God holding our hand
Won’t you just stand for love
And stand for hope
And stand for joy
And stand for beauty in our
Stand for love
And stand for hope
And stand for joy in our Mississippi
– Teneia, “Stand”
There was a man in my driveway. Not a small man, mind you. A fair piece over six feet tall, and arms the size of both mine and my kids’ put together. I approached him a little cautiously, and then those giant arms went up.
“We’re huggers!” he announced.
Teneia Sanders-Eichelberger and Ben Eichelberger, who form the band Teneia, are huggers. Teneia, as a band philosophy, are huggers. They are huggers of people, of music, of life. They embrace the human condition, but ever with an eye toward redemption and hope. About halfway through sound check, my 13-year-old turned to me and said, “Singer-songwriters are usually sad, but this is actually uplifting.” And that’s the essence of Teneia. Not falsely positive or naive, but just fundamentally dedicated to bringing others up.
Clearly, their energy is contagious. It brought a great crowd out on a storm-threatened night to welcome Teneia to Memphis for the very first time. (And actually got that aforementioned 13-year-old to stay through an entire show for the first time.) Barely three songs in and they had us doing a sing-along – which, as everyone here knows, is the ultimate test of trust for a Memphis audience. Their rapport was sweet and welcoming as they invited questions and interaction from the assembled. Despite spending the last two years touring the country in a travel trailer, their banter felt spontaneous, and even well-oiled songs allowed moments for them to surprise each other (like Ben cracking up when Teneia had us sing one more verse “for the Baby Jesus” – “Hey, it worked,” she shrugged).
After a set break, the duo gave us a glimpse of their upcoming record and the more electric turn their sound is taking on the album they’re currently recording at Malaco in Jackson, MS. Their new direction feels like an audio marriage of their two backgrounds, with Ben’s punk/rock influences merging with Teneia’s pop, folk, and R&B sensibilities. And frankly, it kicks ass. Teneia wailing on that gritty-fuzz electric guitar just makes you want to knock chairs over and shake something.
The rest of the set was a balance between the peppy, poppy groove of their albums’ title tracks, “Radioactive Lover” and “No Fakes,” interspersed with their self-described “flowing, introspective” pieces like “I Go Back.” We got an enormous surprise and treat when Teneia’s brother Timothy was persuaded to join in on harmonies on “Stand.” Teneia wrote the song for the documentary Prom Night in Mississippi, about the first integrated prom in Charleston, MS (in two. thousand. and. eight), and its message of conscious hope was punctuated by the deep connections between Ben, Teneia, and Timothy.
They closed the show with “Say You Do,” which is a heart-breaker on its own, but it was bookended by a sparse and haunting arrangement of “Amazing Grace,” showing that even in our darkest moments, salvation – through love, through mercy, through music – is still within reach.
Teneia and Ben live the message they’re spreading, and it’s a joy to hear them share it. It felt like they hugged the whole room, and I hope they felt Memphis embrace them right back.