Memphis Music As a Way of Life

When Jim Stewart and Estelle Axton founded Stax Records (then known as Satellite) in 1960, they moved into a dying movie theater on the south side of Memphis. At that time it was their cheapest option and the theater’s location in a neighborhood with a growing population of poor African Americans was not a factor in their decision making. But by choosing this setting for Stax, Stewart and Axton had planted the seed for something much larger than they had envisioned. Much of the original talent at Stax consisted of local artists drawn from the wells of talent at Booker T. Washington, Manassas and other high schools in the south Memphis neighborhood. Eventually, curious white musicians from outside the neighborhood began to journey inward towards Stax and discovered a wealth of musical opportunities there. The old theater on McLemore became a refuge where musical people of all races could listen to, enjoy, create, and record some of the greatest American popular music of the twentieth century.

I have always been fascinated by the story of Memphis music and particularly the Stax story. I was delighted, therefore, when I was chosen to participate in this years Crossroads music team. As we explore the rich history of musical Memphis, I can see  how clearly music was tied to the events of the Civil Rights Movement and how it served, at Stax in particular, as a bridge between blacks and white in the otherwise segregated South. Even in the midst of the greatest struggles, music thrived. While Dr. King was marching down Beale Street, Isaac Hayes and David Porter were writing some of the finest tunes of their generation just a few miles away. Memphis throughout its history has been influenced by a musical culture, and for its citizens music has become not just a part of their lives but the entire focus of their existence. It is the lifeblood of the community and a healing balm during times of trouble. This is why I am excited for the opportunity to document the relationship between Memphis and its musical past, since perhaps no other Memphis story can be told without first explaining how music played a role in the narrative.

Published in: on June 24, 2011 at 10:40 am  Comments Off on Memphis Music As a Way of Life  
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