The Stax Museum of American Soul Music is both an international tourist destination and a community museum that hosts more than 40 free programs each year. These offerings are targeted to local neighborhoods, the general public and young people.
The museum is located on the former site of Stax Records where, from 1960-1974, the tiny movie-theater-turned-recording-studio in South Memphis produced a string of hits that stir souls today. Jim Stewart and Estelle Axton, a brother and sister duo, purchased the old Capitol Theatre on McLemore Avenue to relocate their recording equipment. Unbeknown to them, they would soon be part of a worldwide sensation dubbed American soul music. Many of the artists and musicians who recorded at Stax were from surrounding neighborhoods, local churches and schools. In a time when racial tension was high, this studio never saw race but rather focused on producing its own unique sound that would be heard around the world.
With permanent exhibits such as the interior of a circa-1906 A.M.E. Mississippi Delta church and Isaac Hayes’ 1972 gold-trimmed Cadillac Eldorado, the museum tells the story of Stax Records and the role of American soul music in the Civil Rights Movement. Through other exhibits and thousands of fascinating artifacts, the Stax Museum highlights artists such as Otis Redding, the Staple Singers, Sam & Dave, Rufus and Carla Thomas, Johnnie Taylor, Al Green, Aretha Franklin, Ike & Tina Turner, Albert King, Booker T. & the M.G.’s, and hundreds of others. Their stories tell of Black and white artists working together to create music during an era of egregious segregation and heated racism in Memphis. Stax Records created a decidedly Black brand of Southern soul music at an integrated company during the height of the Civil Rights Movement, providing a powerful example of how music transcended the limits of the times and promoted understanding of the movement. “Soul Man,” written by creative duo Isaac Hayes and David Porter and recorded at Stax, soared into the popular music charts even as it expressed, at a difficult time, the pride of many Black Americans. The song appeared at a crucial moment in the civil rights struggle. While touring the museum, you will hear Stax hits including “(Sittin’ on) The Dock of the Bay” by Otis Redding, “Green Onions” by Booker T. & the M.G.’s, “Do the Funky Chicken” by Rufus Thomas and “Theme From Shaft” by Isaac Hayes. Of the approximately 900 singles and 300 LPs recorded at Stax, 167 were among the top 100 songs in the pop charts and 243 were among the top 100 hits in the R&B charts, with nine of them winning Grammys and “Theme From Shaft” winning an Academy Award for Best Original Song in 1972.