While in Memphis for the Folklorists in the South retreat we visited the amazing Stax Museum and heard a little bit about working behind the scenes at the museum from Levon Williams, curator of collections. The visit to Stax was inspiring, and an excellent example of the power of music to work toward change. So this week’s Friday Video is a trailer from PBS’s 2007 Great Performances presentation, Respect Yourself: The Stax Records Story.
Stax was amazing for many reasons, especially its integrated approach to music in the same town where sanitation workers were paid less-than-human wages, leading to the Sanitation Worker’s Strike which was linked to MLK’s Poor People’s Campaign. In addition to the genre-altering and community-building music, they also produced documentaries like the Wattstax concert and documentary in Los Angeles, a film, according to PBS POV, that “captures a heady moment in mid-1970s, “black-is-beautiful” African-American culture, when Los Angeles’s black community came together just seven years after the Watts riots to celebrate its survival and a renewed hope in its future.” To enable everyone a chance to attend, tickets were sold for only a dollar each. On many levels Stax was a movement a gave birth to a new form of music, soul music, a raw and transcendent blend of gospel, blues, country, and jazz.
Here’s what PBS says about Stax and this film:
The legacy of Stax Records is a unique one that spans more than half a century. Stax Records is critical in American music history as it’s one of the most popular soul music record labels of all time – second only to Motown in sales and influence, but first in gritty, raw, stripped-down soul music. In 15 years, Stax placed more than 167 hit songs in the Top 100 on the pop charts, and a staggering 243 hits in the Top 100 R&B charts. It launched the careers of such legendary artists as Otis Redding, Isaac Hayes,Sam & Dave, Rufus & Carla Thomas, Booker T, & theMGs, and numerous others. Among the many artists who recorded on the various Stax Records labels were the Staple Singers, Luther Ingram, Wilson Pickett, Albert King, Big Star, Jesse Jackson, Bill Cosby, Richard Pryor, the Rance Allen Group, and Moms Mabley.
But Stax Records was more than just a label. It was a culture. While segregation was fervently supported in the South during Stax’s formative years in the 1960s, Stax was one of the most successfully integrated companies in the country – from top management and administration to its artists. With more than 200 employees, it was the fifth-largest African-American owned business in the United States during its time.
Teachers should take note that this film comes with a lesson plan including assignments that help students to both identify genres of music and the role Stax played in the community. Check out the lesson plans by clicking here.
For more information on the film and viewing options click here.