Arts Leadership Award, 2015 Governor’s Arts Award
Started in 2003, the Stax Museum of American Soul Music has again brought soul music and the Memphis Sound to the forefront of American culture and restored the legacy of legendary recording studio Stax Records. During its remarkable 15 year run, the label scored more than 167 songs on the Top 100 pop charts and an astonishing 243 hits on the Top 100 R&B charts. Stax Records was the hit maker responsible for launching the careers of many iconic singers, including Otis Redding, Isaac Hayes, Booker T. & the M.G.’s, Sam & Dave, Albert King and the Staple Singers.
Today, the Stax Museum preserves and promotes the rich history and culture of Stax Records and American soul music. But even more so, the museum upholds the value of soul music for the past and present and uses music as a catalyst today to revitalize a neighborhood, improve education and transform lives. What started as a museum and foundation to now includes a thriving academic college preparatory school and music academy.
Established on the corner of McLemore Avenue and College Street in Memphis, Stax Records’ commitment to social good has always been a part of the message of Stax Records. A forward-thinking company in the midst of segregation, Stax Records was a culture changer—becoming one of the first establishments to integrate its workplace, invest in African American businesses and neighborhoods and expand into multimedia production. By the 1970s, following the boom and bust of the recording business and changing musical tastes, Stax was forced into involuntary bankruptcy, but its influence among newer generations of musical artists never waned.
It took until 2003 for a group of concerned Memphis citizens to reclaim the abandoned Stax Records lot and memorialize the space with the building of a museum on the original site. The project revived the Memphis tourism industry and brought global attention to American soul music. Time magazine named the Stax Museum “the most authentic American experience in Tennessee” in 2008 and National Geographic called Memphis one of the “Best of 2013” Top 20 Cities to Visit in the World, largely due to Stax.
Currently, the Soulsville Foundation provides monetary support and leadership for the Stax Museum and its affiliate organizations. The foundation launched Stax Music Academy in 2000 to provide area youth the opportunity to develop their music capabilities, gain performance opportunities and carry the torch of soul music to the next generation. In addition, the foundation started The Soulsville Charter School in 2005 to “prepare students for success in college and life in an academically rigorous, music-rich environment.” Both affiliates have successfully reached the South Memphis community and made measureable impacts. The public charter school currently serves 625 students in grades 6-12 and boasts a 100% college acceptance rate for all its graduating classes.
Today, thanks to the Stax Museum, Soulsville youth are developing their academic and musical potential, a community is being revitalized and a legacy is being honored. Visitors from around the world are being exposed to the gritty sounds of soul music, and gaining knowledge of the rich history and talent behind the songs. Without a doubt, Stax Museum has advanced the value of a Memphis-born music tradition to Tennessee and beyond.