Stax Museum of American Soul Music Celebrates its 20th Anniversary!

Memphis is long considered to be one of the soul music capitals of the U.S., putting names like Otis Redding, Rufus Thomas, and Isaac Hayes on the map. Synonymous with the golden age of Memphis soul music is of course Stax Records, the label and eponymous studio that pioneered the genre in the ’60s and ’70s. The famous label and studio were founded by Jim Stewart and his sister, Estelle Axton, in 1960, and throughout their time, launched the careers of countless soul icons and produced hundreds of chart-topping hits.

Photo by The Traveling Child

Over 25 years after the studio’s demise, the Stax Museum of American Soul Music was founded in 2003 to commemorate the studio/label and tell the story of American soul music. Fast forward to 2023, as Stax celebrates its 20th anniversary with a host of concerts, programming and Soul Mobile activations throughout the entire year. Keep reading to learn more about the legend of Stax Records and the many exciting events you won’t want to miss.

Photo by Alex Shansky

What’s a Soul Mobile?

In honor of its 20th anniversary, the Stax Museum of American Soul Music is taking its Soul Mobile on the road. The Soul Mobile was designed by Memphis artist Toonky Worship and public artist Anthony Lee. It will travel in conjunction with Memphis’ internationally broadcast Beale Street Caravan, bringing soul DJs spinning vinyl, traveling exhibits and exclusive merchandise (designed by Memphis artist Mia Saine) to music fests, record shops and more throughout 2023. Catch the Soul Mobile when it comes through your town:

Photo courtesy Stax Museum

  • June 8, 2023: Seasick Records (Birmingham, AL)
  • June 10, 2023: Triple C Brewery (Charlotte, NC)
  • June 17, 2023: National Blues Museum (St. Louis, MO)
  • June 24, 2023: Stax Music Academy Summer Music Experience Finale at Overton Park Shell (Memphis, TN)
  • June 29 – July 3, 2023: Essence Fest (New Orleans, LA)
  • September 1, 2023: Shangri-La Records (Memphis, TN),
  • September 18 – 22, 2023: Americana Fest (Nashville, TN)
  • September 28 – 30, 2023: A3C (Atlanta, GA)
  • November 24, 2023: Black Friday Bash at Soul & Spirits (Memphis, TN)

Schedule is subject to change.

Photo courtesy Stax Museum

The Stax Backstory

One of the most influential record companies of its era, Stax Records was housed in a movie theater-turned-shoestring studio. The number of artists who came out of that studio in the mere 15 years it was up and running is nothing short of astounding. The music produced there notably surpassed the racial tensions dividing so much of the country then, too — Stax, ahead of its time in so many ways, was integrated from the beginning.

Though the original studio was torn down in 1989 after the company’s bankruptcy, a group of former employees, philanthropists, and local leaders came together about a decade later to form the Soulsville Foundation, an effort to revitalize the neighborhood where Stax once thrived. To tell the Stax story and create educational opportunities for neighborhood kids, the foundation created the Stax Museum, an exact replica of the studio on the original site, along with a music academy. “We didn’t know back in the day that our contributions to music, pop culture, and the Civil Rights Movement would have a lasting effect,” former Stax Records owner Al Bell says. “It’s humbling and amazing.”

Photo by Kristin Luna

Celebration Time

In honor of the 20th anniversary, Stax is not only celebrating Memphis music all year long, but they’ve put together a special group of ambassadors to attend events, conduct interviews, and raise awareness of Stax’s vast history and impressive legacy throughout the year. Among the ambassadors are Al Bell, Steve Cropper, famed Stax artist David Porter — the legendary songwriter will be speaking live on July 21 about his days composing at Stax and his subsequent career — and Stax icon William Bell (no relation to Al), in addition to others. “We were like one big family back then,” William Bell says, “and now that is happening all over again.”

Photo by Alex Shansky

Mark Your Calendar

With so many events happening this year, the city of Memphis is abuzz with excitement (and you should be, too!). On June 23rd from 6-8pm at the Stax Museum, celebrate the release of “Written In Their Soul: The Stax Songwriter Demos”, which will feature a panel of original Stax songwriters and 140 never released Stax tunes. In September, prepare to dance during “Soldiers for the Lord,” a celebration of the Black gospel music recorded at Stax replete with performances and discussions. And save room in your end-of-year schedule to attend “In the Christmas Spirit,” the annual holiday bash with live music by the MD’s, Memphis’ very own Booker T. & the MG’s tribute band.

Photo by Alex Shansky

Even if you can’t make it to one of Stax’s anniversary events, the museum offers a one-of-a-kind visitor experience year round. Permanent exhibits at the Stax Museum celebrating the achievements of African American artists include an authentic church built in the Mississippi Delta in 1906 and reconstructed as an exhibit exploring the Black gospel roots of soul music; a “Soul Train” dance floor; a recreation of the famed recording studio; a hall of records with 300 albums and 900 singles on display; and Isaac Hayes’ 1972 gold-trimmed, fur-lined Cadillac Eldorado that spins in a circle and is complete with refrigerator and television.

Photo by Raphael Tenschert

Join the Stax team in celebrating Memphis music, the legend of Stax Records, and the future of soul music all year long.