From 1957 until 1975, Stax Records skyrocketed from a mom-and-pop record label started in a Memphis garage into an international powerhouse that created Southern Soul Music and The Memphis Sound. Stax launched the careers of soul music icons Otis Redding, Sam & Dave, Isaac Hayes, the Staple Singers, Wilson Pickett, Booker T. & the MGs, Rufus and Carla Thomas, Eddie Floyd, William Bell, Albert King, Johnnie Taylor, and numerous others that helped changed the world of music forever. In all, Stax placed 167 hit songs in the Top 100 in Pop, 243 hits in the Top 100 in R&B, and earned eight Grammy Awards and the first-ever Academy Award given to a Black artist for music for Isaac Hayes’ “Theme From Shaft” in 1972.
What set Stax Records apart were two things: Stax was a raw, emotional sound influenced by blues, gospel, country, doo wop, jazz, and other genres. Stax was also integrated, with Black and white musicians working together like a family, until it eventually became one of the largest Black-owned record labels in the world.
And yet, in 1975, Stax Records was forced into involuntary bankruptcy. The bank gave the building to a nearby church for $10, and, in 1989, the building had fallen into such a state of disrepair that the church demolished it, leaving only a barren lot with a single historical marker to alert visitors that this had once been the home of Stax Records.
In the late 1990s, a group of Memphis civic leaders and former Stax Records executives had a vision that one day a museum honoring Stax Records and a music academy for children in the economically challenged neighborhood would once again bring revitalization, music, and pride back to the Soulsville USA community. They formed a board of directors and, with $6 million in seed money from anonymous donors, set about raising the remaining $14 million needed. The Stax Music Academy began programming on June 1, 2000 at a nearby school until its permanent facility opened in 2002. The Stax Museum opened its doors on May 2, 2003. The Soulsville Charter School began in July 2005.
Today, the Soulsville Campus is comprised of four buildings on roughly seven acres: the Stax Museum, Stax Music Academy, The Soulsville Charter School classroom building, and the multipurpose building, which houses the Get in the Zone AutoZone Gymnasium.