STAX: Preserving and Telling the Story of Soul Music

By Monique Gooch

MEMPHIS, TN — The modern STAX Museum of American Soul Music was founded in 2003 and is one of a handful of museums dedicated to telling the story of soul music.

Stax Recording Studio formally known as Satellite Records was founded in the late 1950s by Jim Stewart, a banker who also played the fiddle and his sister, Estelle Axton. He became a producer despite his lack of experience or knowledge about the record industry. The first record by Satellite Records was a country song called, “Blue Roses”. The company was later renamed Stax in 1960, a combination of the first two letters of Stewart’s and Axton’s last names.

Through the years artists such as Otis Redding, Carla Thomas, Rufus Thomas and more signed on, recording hit after hit. In 1967 many of the artists went on their first European Tour. The artists believed that in Europe skin color didn’t matter.

When Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. was assassinated at the Lorraine Motel in 1968, the citizens of Memphis rioted and damaged several buildings but Stax’s building was not touched.

Stax faced another issue leading up to their closure in 1974. In 1972, the distribution deal with CBS collapsed. Even though the label had songs, they were unable to sell records and eventually fell deeply into debt.

The studio sat vacant until 1981. A historical marker was dedicated in June of 1991, but the lot where Stax once stood remained empty. In 2004, Concord Records revived the Stax label, releasing new records by Stax stars and reissued some of the label’s classics.

Now the museum lives on McLemore Avenue. After entering the museum, visitors watch a 10-minute film that details the history of STAX. The tour starts after the film, and runs between 30 minutes to an hour. Patrons start the museum tour in the birthplace of soul music – the church.

The museum opens in a real circa-1906 Mississippi Delta church that has been carefully reassembled inside of the building. Patrons are then allowed to view the museum at their own pace. Each section focuses on the different eras soul music ranging from Ike and Tina Turner to Sam Cooke to Isaac Hayes and more! There is even a Soul Train area where patrons can dance.

Some of the most interesting artifacts found in the museum include a records wall to Booker T. Jones’ Hammond organ used to record, “Green Onions” to Isaac Hayes’ Academy Award for Best original Song for 1971’s “Theme from Shaft”.

As you continue touring the museum, you come across Isaac Hayes’ blue and gold custom made Cadillac. The car cost $26,000 and has a mini bar, and a TV inside. In addition, the car has a 24 karat gold exterior trim with white fur carpeting inside. Hayes bought the car after getting his Stax Records contract in 1972. Patrons may take pictures but cannot get inside or touch the vehicle. The last section of the tour ends at the bookstore. Tourist can purchase anything from T-shirts, CDs, and vinyl records.

The museum is open Tuesday through Sunday from 10 am to 5pm. For more information about the Soul Museum please visit: https://staxmuseum.com/.