As it approaches its 20th anniversary, the Stax Museum of American Soul Music is gearing up to celebrate.
On Wednesday, the South Memphis music institution was the site of a media event detailing plans to commemorate the museum’s anniversary throughout 2023 with a variety of concerts, programs and outreach efforts, including a number of free events open to the public.
The coming year looks set to be Stax’s biggest celebration since the label’s 50th anniversary in 2007. Cable network HBO has already announced plans to air a multi-part Stax documentary in 2023, exploring the history and legacy of the company.
Held inside Stax’s famed Studio A, Wednesday’s anniversary launch featured a performance by Stax/Booker T. and MG legend Booker T. Jones, as well as a rhythm section made up of former students of the Stax Music Academy and Soulsville Charter School.
Jones — who is inscribed in the Memphis Music Hall of Fame for the second time Thursday as a producer — was interviewed live by WYXR DJ Jared “Jay B.” Boyd on the 60th anniversary of MG’s iconic 1962 hit, “Green Onions.”
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Pat Mitchell Worley, newly appointed president and CEO of the Soulsville Foundation, also announced the formation of a group of special Stax Ambassadors for 2023, who will “advise the museum, attend events, conduct interviews and raise awareness. to the Stax legacy during the year”.
Ambassadors include Stax Records executive and owner Al Bell, MG guitarist and producer Steve Cropper, songwriter David Porter, singer William Bell, former Bar-Kays singer Larry Dodson, founder and Bar-Kays bassist James Alexander, hitmaker Eddie Floyd, guitarist/producer Bobby Manuel, and arranger and session musician Lester Snell.
Bell was one of the few living Stax luminaries not in attendance at the museum on Wednesday, as he was in Nashville to accept a lifetime achievement award at the Americana Music Conference. In a statement, he said: “Stax has resulted in the successful career development of our artists and it has allowed us to accomplish some remarkable things within the label. It’s a very complicated story filled with the kinds of ups and downs downs that come with being a predominantly black record company trying to thrive in the music industry of the 1960s and 1970s.”
Opened in May 2003 to honor the history of the label and that of soul music in general, the Stax Museum is part of the Soulsville Foundation, which also operates the Stax Music Academy and Soulsville Charter School.
To celebrate two decades in business, the museum will offer a year of free field trips to students in Shelby County schools to “bring more young people into the history of Stax Records.” The organization will also send a Stax Soul Mobile Pop-Up vehicle carrying Stax music, merchandise, contests, parties and more around the country and to events like Austin’s SXSW conference, festival and Americana Music Conference in Nashville and the Essence Festival in New Orleans.
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“We want to celebrate not only the past 20 years, but we also look forward to the next 20 years of the museum and what we can accomplish by continuing to interpret Stax history,” said Stax Museum Executive Director Jeff Kollath.
A monthly program of concerts, talks and screenings at the Stax Museum throughout 2023 will be of particular interest to locals. This will also include a series of “Live In Studio A” concerts in July featuring performances by nationally touring artists (artists to be announced early next year). Additionally, the museum will host a “Night Train”-themed gala on April 23, which will serve as a historical walk through the history of black music, “reminiscent of when people traveled by train.”
“Celebrating the 20th anniversary in 2023 will be a big milestone for the Stax family,” said Mitchell Worley. “We are extremely proud to continue the legacy of Stax with an exciting year-long calendar of events intended to celebrate the past, present and future of the Stax Museum.”
Stax Museum Anniversary Celebration
Here are some other Stax Museum anniversary events planned for 2023. More programming plans are expected to be announced early next year.
Grand reopening of the Stax Museum’s newly renovated lobby and gift shop.
A virtual Black History Month 2023 film premiere from the Stax Museum and Stax Music Academy celebrating the 20th anniversary.
Screening of films for the 50th anniversary of the documentary “Wattstax”, nominated for the Golden Globe Awards in 1973, chronicling the famous Los Angeles concert of 1972 organized by Stax Records.
Conference and dedication for “Black Country Music: Listening for Revolutions” with the author Francesca Royster.
A spoken word event where multi-generational spoken word artists will discuss and perform pieces on Stax and Soulsville.
A birthday party to mark the official 20th anniversary of the Stax Museum.
A live Black Music Month panel discussion where current Memphis artists and industry leaders will talk about the future of Memphis music: labels, studios, audiences, venues, consumers and more .
“Written in their Soul: The Stax Songwriters Demos”, a program celebrating Stax Records songwriting stars such as Sir Mack Rice, Bettye Crutcher, Homer Banks, Henderson Thigpen, and featuring previously unreleased songs by Eddie Floyd, the Staple Singers and William Bell.
“Wax & Wine” will be a one-of-a-kind event in Memphis, pairing wines selected by a local sommelier with appetizers and a soundtrack featuring rare soul recordings from the Stax Museum’s Bob Abrahamian Collection. This is a paid event, with a limited number of places.
‘The Whole Damn World Is Going Crazy’ – a celebration of songwriter John Gary Williams of the Mad Lads, plus a screening of the 2016 film ‘The Invaders’ about 1960s Black Power youth band at Memphis of which Williams was a member, as well as a preview of John Hubbell’s upcoming film about Williams’ life.
“Soldiers for the Lord: The Gospel Impulse in Memphis and Beyond” offers an overview of black gospel music recorded at Stax, along with gospel artists and producers from Memphis and beyond, discussing and performing the genre’s future classics.
“Southwest of Memphis: A Celebration of Chicano Soul” will coincide with Hispanic Heritage Month, as the Stax Museum examines the Chicano Soul movement.
“Back to School”: From Professor WT McDaniel to Jimmie Lunceford, teachers who taught the basics of blues and jazz improvisation were the true inspiration behind the sound of Memphis music. Music teachers today discuss teaching a new generation of Memphis musicians.
A second “Wax and Wine” event, where wine tastings are paired with aperitifs and an evening of listening with the Stax Museum’s Bob Abrahamian Collection. This is a paid event, with a limited number of places.
“In the Christmas Spirit” is the Stax Museum’s annual party with food, cocktails, live music from Booker T. & the MG’s cover band The MD’s, and more.