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Get ready for some golden soul in 2007
The Commercial Appeal
, Wednesday, September 27, 2006
By Michael Lollar
Memphisí celebration of its music heritage moves from rock and roll in 2004 to soul in 2007 with an international marketing and public relations campaign to be called "Memphis Celebrates 50 Years of Soul."
The Memphis Convention & Visitors Bureau (CVB) turned to some of the cityís best known music legends -- along with Apollo 11 astronaut Buzz Aldrin -- to help announce its campaign at the Stax Museum of American Soul Music on McLemore in South Memphis.
Aldrin, in town for a Salvation Army fund-raising event, was invited to a press conference staged by the CVB to honor the soul legacy of Stax Records and Royal Studio. Royal is the primary studio of Hi Records and its legendary producer Willie Mitchell.
Stax artists Isaac Hayes, David Porter and William Bell and former Stax president Al Bell were among those on hand to lend their voices to the campaign kickoff. "I think itís wonderful," said William Bell. "The music is still viable all over the world. In places where people speak very little English, the music still translates."
"To see the convention and visitors bureau embrace this says to me the city is finally supporting soul music," said Al Bell, who was head of Stax when the company was forced into bankruptcy and had to shut its doors in 1975 and 1976.
The 50th anniversary campaign is premised on 1957 as the year soul took root in Memphis, although most historical accounts of Stax place its origins no earlier than 1958. "Itís just like the 50th anniversary of rock and roll. The dates can be sometimes a controversial moving target," Kane said.
Stax founder Jim Stewart, who was unable to attend the press conference because of illness, taped a couple of country songs in 1957, shopping them to Sun Records among others, before forming his own label, Satellite. The name had to be changed when Stewart learned a California company already owned the Satellite name. His sister, Estelle Axton, mortgaged her home to act as financier for her brother, and they combined the first two letters of their last names to come up with the name "STAX" in 1960.
Al Bell, who joined Stax in 1965, did not get a chance to speak during the press conference, but brought a prepared statement about Stewart. In it, he said he talked to Stewart by phone, urging him to attend the press conference as the real "godfather of soul . . . You laid the foundation that has caused Memphis soul music to be appreciated globally and to become an everlasting influence on so many artists."
Among highlights Kane cited of the Stax era: Release of 800 singles and 300 albums between 1960 and 1975; Stax was the 12th largest African-American-owned business in the country in 1972; Isaac Hayes became the first black American to win the Oscar for best original song; Elvis recorded at Stax; the careers of Hayes, Otis Redding the Staple Singers and other legends were launched at the company.
Al Bell said that when Stewart declined to attend for health reasons, he apologized, adding: "We had a pretty good run."
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