Soul Music & the South – A Trip to the Stax Museum of American Soul Music

Growing up, music was a huge part of my life. If we weren’t traveling around singing and playing, we were sitting around with family and friends enjoying all the latest hits. There was a huge variety of music that we played and listened to such as gospel, soul, jazz, blues and classic rock.

The music that I remember having the biggest impact on my childhood particularly, was soul and blues. My grandmother and I would spend Saturday evenings sitting in her living room listening to the local radio station do a mix of soul and blues music all night long. I loved those times, hanging out with my grandmother listening to Johnnie Taylor, Bar-Kays and Otis Redding to name a few. Little did I know then that many of the artists that we listened to frequently and that my grandmother loved in particular were artists who were all in the STAX Records family.

Recently after learning that the STAX museum was in Memphis, Tennesse, I wanted to take the opportunity to get there and experience what I could of Soulsville, USA first-hand. I wanted to take in all the history I could about the independent record label that began as a somewhat community center for local musicians and eventually became more of a business. I couldn’t wait to see how what began as Satellite Records went on to become Stax; the place where so many artists and musicians wanted to record and be a part of something big!

There is such a rich history and vast amount of information within the Stax museum from its first studio to the opening of the Satellite Record Shop, on to the global impact of Stax Records. I love that the museum offers a short film before touring the place to give you an in-depth background on how it all started, who it started with, how it impacted and everyone it impacted. You get to see the impact Stax had on the community, the city and the nation.

Jim Stewart and his sister Estelle Axton took on great risks to push Stax forward and were pretty successful at it. Stax was making hit after hit with stars such as Rufus and Carla Thomas, Otis Redding, Isaac Hayes, and Sam and Dave to name a few. Stax’s studio was said to be filled with many who were just eager to make the music they loved so that they could put it out to share with the world.

I was not surprised to learn how important Stax was not only to the recording industry, but also to its home-base, Memphis. It was a place that gave many within the city an escape; a place to belong, and a place to dream of impacting the world. With so much prosperity on hand and so many blessings to count, it was said that Dr. Martin Luther King Jr.’s assassination and Memphis’ racial tension coming to a head forever altered Stax studios. After a distribution deal with Atlantic Records had gone bad and losing much of its catalog and many of their artists; Stax found success again with new leadership and a new music catalog for the masses.

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I could go on and on about the history of Stax Records itself, but you will fare better by visiting the museum yourself. It offers you the opportunity to see a vast collection of original items that made Stax the powerhouse that it was. Studio equipment, performance outfits, original vinyl records, eight-track tapes, recording and management contracts, and even Isaac Hayes’ gold-plated Cadillac don’t cover a fourth of the gems you get to see up close.

Thank goodness in 2003 the music gods were looking out for the story and spirit of Stax Records, for it was then that the Stax Museum of American Soul Music was founded, which is the first and only museum dedicated to telling the story of soul music. The Soulsville Foundation is the parent company for the Stax Museum, the Stax Music Academy and the Soulsville Charter School. Community leaders, former Stax employees and others formed the Soulsville Foundation to revitalize the area around the location of Stax as well as to mentor, provide music-focused educational opportunities and open the museum to tell the Stax story.

If you love music, if you are a musician or artist, or you just love history and a good story; I encourage you to plan your visit to the Stax Museum. Visit STAX to get more great history and the complete story on Stax Records and plan your visit to the museum today!


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© 2017 C. Huey for Dirty South Club | D$C