Maybe it was all the '50s and '60s songs she sang in the Charleston Youth Company. Maybe it was her mother’s Memphis, Tenn., roots. Could be it was the Elvis poster on her bedroom wall in her West Ashley home as a teenager. Who knew all those background components would allow Margaret Anne Florence to land a lead role in a TV series that celebrates the birth of rock 'n' roll.
The series, "Sun Records," which airs at 10 p.m. Thursdays on CMT, is in the middle of its first season.
Florence plays the role of Marion Keisker, an assistant to Sun Records founder Sam Phillips (Chad Michael Murray). Florence researched Keisker and actually visited some of her friends to learn that she was strong-willed with an acute sense for business. Keisker was trying to find her footing as a modern woman in the 1950s. Oh yeah, as the story goes, this business woman also found herself having an affair with her boss.
Along the way, as Sun Records tries to establish itself as a company that wants to capture a different sound for people to listen to on the radio, the texture and the times put music and its place in our culture on a collision course. This is the backdrop to the TV series, and to Florence’s biggest acting role.
Impatient or persistent?
Florence was allowed to dream big. While at Ashley Hall in Charleston, her coaches constantly allowed her to leave sports games and practices to attend rehearsals. She learned ballet from Robert Ivey and took voice instruction from Nancy Steadman. Chuck Long directed her stage performances with the Charleston Youth Company.
In a moment of self-reflection, Florence admits to being “slightly impatient, but really just more persistent.” Her late dad, Terry, a champion golfer, taught her to keep pushing and to never quit. As an actor, that’s been a valuable quality.
Now married and a mother to a 4-month-old son named Quinton (her father’s first name), she feels all the hard work has paid off. She visits Charleston often to see her mom, Hope, who still teaches math at the College of Charleston.
“I want people in Charleston to know I’m grateful,” she says.
She’s also thankful the TV series is receiving good reviews and is hopeful of another season. As a performer, Florence adds, “any job you can continue is a good job.”
Don’t be cruel
Much of the show was shot on location in Memphis. The civil rights movement was at its infancy. We see some very uncomfortable realities of those days. There are attitudes about how we treated each other that are painful parts of our past, as well as relevant reminders to our present.
There’s a lot of smoke, too, from the ever-present cigarette. Nobody then knew how unhealthy it was, just that it looked cool, and was habitual.
At its core, though, the TV series is about this rockabilly sound that was begging to bust out of its blue suede shoes. As the character Sam Phillips says, “The way I see it, music ain’t got no color.”
We see Jerry Lee Lewis unleash his wild spirit on the piano and a solemn Johnny Cash looking to leave a domineering father. We meet B.B. King and Ike Turner, all eventual recording artists at the same label.
Elvis eventually wanders into the studio, and it is Florence’s character who helps discover the mannerly singer who wants to make a record as a present for his mother.
Florence is hoping she’ll be walking in Memphis for a second season.
“There’s so much more to tell,” she says, “especially regarding Johnny Cash and Roy Orbison.”
In the meantime, look for her in the remaining episodes of "Sun Records." She admits that there “was quite a lot of maintenance for women dressing in the '50s, but they also took so much pride in their appearance.”
It’s very clear, whether in this role or the next, Margaret Anne Florence is wearing her Charleston roots with all due glamour and glory.
Reach Warren Peper at firstname.lastname@example.org.