Soul music is not the sound I most associate with Memphis. That city is home to the Blues and Elvis. But here I was with a spinning disco ball lighting up a polished wooden floor.
“Show us your moves,” the museum sign invited as music from another era of my life pulsed through my spirit.
Looking over my shoulder to guarantee that no one else was around, that no one was watching, I giggled and slid out onto the floor. Aided by a larger than life monitor replaying 1970s-era episodes of “Soul Train,” I did what I had done so many times before. I made a fool of myself on the dance floor.
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Visiting the STAX Museum of American Soul Music
It was as much fun as it was when I was a teenager, but this time it came with an understanding that only time can bring. I was exploring the Stax Museum of American Soul Music in the middle of Soulsville U.S.A. This neighborhood in Memphis, Tenn that brought the world Isaac Hayes, Otis Redding, Aretha Franklin and Booker T. & the MG’s, among others.
It is a neighborhood that defied racial barriers in a time when those barriers were as electrified as any place in the country. In the late 50s and much of the 60s, black and white musicians came together simply because of their shared love of music.
That I was a white woman dancing to music that was too often labeled as “African American music” would have pleased the people who experienced the early days of the Stax Records.
The museum starts out with a visit to church, a Southern Baptist Church. That’s where nearly every great musician will tell you they first felt the call of music. And then we move through recording studios and countless numbers of albums that were recorded here.
Those who came through these doors and made a name for themselves shaped the world I grew up in. They shaped the music industry of today and tomorrow.
There’s a ridiculously fun rotating exhibit on the gold-plated Cadillac that had been Isaac Hayes’, the first African American to win an Academy Award for Best Original Song. Yep, the theme from “Shaft” was recorded right here in Memphis.
The Day Soul Music and America Changed
Music historians say that if Martin Luther King had been killed in any other city, STAX would still be making music as they did since 1959. But that’s not how the fates of time took this city and this unique musical community.
Today, music still flows through the streets of Soulsville as the home of the STAX Music Academy and the Soulsville Charter School. Some day, these kids are going to do exactly what their predecessors did for American soul music.
When in Memphis, eat some barbeque, watch the Peabody Ducks, stroll down Beale Street and enjoy Graceland. But to fully appreciate the city and really understand the musical soul of Memphis, you have to cross to the other side of the tracks, literally, to the STAX Museum of American Soul Music.
Are you interested in American Blues Music?
If so, just head up I-55 from Memphis to check out the National Blues Museum in St. Louis.