Stax Soul Museum In The Works

Shrine to Memphis R&B scene planned for old site of label that fostered Otis Redding, Isaac Hayes.

A museum dedicated to soul music has been proposed for the original Memphis, Tenn., site of Stax Records — the famed '60s and '70s indie soul label that fostered the careers of Otis Redding and Isaac Hayes, among others.

Memphis officials and representatives of the Ewarton Museum and Lemoyne-Owen College have scheduled a Tuesday morning press conference to announce plans for the museum, to be called the Stax Museum of American Soul Music. It would be in a neighborhood that was once the hub of a flourishing soul scene but has long since deteriorated.

"We in the hood, and they tore the buildings down," said Willie Mitchell who, with soul singer Al Green, wrote and arranged a string of hit singles in the 1970s. "[The museum's] gonna make kids be proud of themselves. It's going to be good for [the neighborhood]."

The property proposed for the museum is a part of the Lemoyne-Owen campus.

Stax Records, which went bankrupt in 1977, fostered the careers of Booker T. and the MG's, as well as Redding, Hayes, the Dramatics, Albert King, the Staple Singers and others. Redding's "(Sitting On) The Dock of the Bay" (RealAudio excerpt), Hayes' "Theme From Shaft" (RealAudio excerpt) and Booker T. and the MG's' "Green Onions" (RealAudio excerpt) are among the classic sides that were first issued on Stax.

The museum project has the blessing of Fantasy Records, the Oakland, Calif.-based label that owns the Stax trademark, according to Fantasy executive Bill Belmont.

"We wanted to be sure that what they did was in keeping with the [way the] label was perceived ... it's an enormously emotional issue," Belmont said.

He added that part of Stax's legacy was its integrated roster. Booker T. and the MG's served as the label's house band, playing on many of its releases. Booker T. Jones, the bandleader, was black. Steve Cropper, guitarist and frequent songwriter, was white.

"It was the first contemporary record organization that was truly integrated at a time when this wasn't necessarily popular," Belmont said. "These were bands that were touring groups of white kids and black kids."

Belmont did not know the timetable for construction or what the exhibits might feature. Representatives of the Ewarton Museum and Memphis Mayor Willie Herenton could not be reached for comment.

Mitchell, former vice president of the defunct Hi Records label, was reached at his Royal Studios in Memphis on Monday. He said he was thrilled that the city's young people might have a chance to learn more about local musical history.

"That's great, man," he said. "That's really great."