Stax's past influences future musicians in Memphis
In this March 22, 2013 photo, guitarists Kordae Maples, from left, Christian Nelson and Dallas Dodson rehearse a song at Stax Music Academy in Memphis, Tenn. The Stax Music Academy is an after-school program where teenagers from some of Memphis’ poorest neighborhoods learn how to dance, sing and play instruments. The academy’s students play annual shows in Memphis and have toured to Washington, Italy and Australia, helping spread the soulful “Memphis Sound.” (AP Photos/Adrian Sainz)
MEMPHIS, Tenn. (AP) — One by one the teenage singers practice the opening lines to "Boogie Wonderland," a disco-funk hit from an era before they were born, as dancers work on hip-swinging moves that require perfect choreography.
In another room, young musicians play the same song over and over on guitar, piano and drums, trying to get in rhythm and in tune before the singers and dancers join them to rehearse for an outdoor concert. The music hits a fevered high as the singers and the band mesh to recreate a pop classic.
Scenes like this play out daily at the Stax Music Academy, an after-school program where teenagers from some of Memphis' poorest neighborhoods learn how to dance, sing and play instruments.
Stax Records, from which the academy gets its name, died long ago, yet its legacy is still inspiring young people in the Memphis neighborhood where it was born.
The academy is steps away from the Stax Museum of American Soul Music, built 10 years ago on the site of the old recording studio where Otis Redding, Booker T. and the MGs, Isaac Hayes, the Staple Singers and Sam & Dave created some of American popular music's most memorable songs.
In this Monday, April 29, 2013 photo, a plaque marks the spot of the former Stax Records music studio, which has been rebuilt into the Stax Museum of American Soul Music, in Memphis, Tenn. Next to the museum sits the Stax Music Academy. an after-school program where teenagers from some of Memphis’ poorest neighborhoods learn how to dance, sing and play instruments. The academy’s students play annual shows in Memphis and have toured to Washington, Italy and Australia, helping spread the soulful “Memphis Sound.” (AP Photos/Adrian Sainz)
The academy also is adjacent to the Soulsville Charter School, which sends most, if not all, of its graduates to college every year.
It's been a year of celebration for the 10th anniversary of the museum. On May 2, Stax Records founder Jim Stewart — known for his extreme privacy — visited the museum to meet and congratulate the Stax Music Academy students for their success.
"The music is still alive and that's what great about it," the 82-year-old Stewart told The Associated Press in an exclusive interview. "I'm very proud of what they have done. It's amazing to me."
During the event, academy singers performed for Stewart, who shook hands with the teens afterward.
Memphis is where W.C. Handy first put the blues on paper, where Lucie Campbell and Memphis Minnie became trailblazing female performers, where Elvis Presley, Johnny Cash and Jerry Lee Lewis teamed with Sun Records founder Sam Phillips to pioneer rock 'n' roll.
And it's where Stewart, a white fiddle player from rural southwest Tennessee, somehow attracted a unique, racially integrated cadre of top-shelf musicians and singers to create the soulful "Memphis Sound" at Stax Records in the 1960s.