The story of Stax Records is one that although in comparison to its biggest rival, Motown Records, is relatively unknown and is one of the most extraordinary in the history of American Soul. A racially integrated business from top to bottom in a heavily segregated city, at Stax Records black met white, country met gospel, and local talent met global acclaim. Stax founder and country fiddler Jim Stewart had originally envisioned a country and rockabilly label, but after a string of unsuccessful 45’s he took a chance on local R& B singer Rufus Thomas and his teenage daughter Carla. When their hit single “Cause I Love You” earned Stewart a reputation for operating from the heart of the black Memphis sound he never looked back, and the commanding but simply rendered recordings issued from 1960-1968 formed the unmistakable “Stax Sound”.

at Stax Records black met white, country met gospel, and local talent met global acclaim

One of the most significant of the company’s unique characteristics was its location in the old South Memphis Capitol Theater. Its architecture was typical for a movie theater but peculiar for a recording studio, and the sloping floors and angled walls made for the resonant acoustics that gave Stax recordings their live feel. In the lobby of the theater Estelle Axton, Stewart’s sister and co-owner, installed Satellite Records, where she would play their latest releases for anyone who wanted to hear them. The record store had a loyal following in the bustling black South Memphis neighborhood, and a substantial percentage of Stax songwriters, artists, and session musicians were neighborhood residents drawn in through the store, some of whom actually worked at Satellite Records. Community-oriented and committed to the music, Stax Records in the 1960’s gave power to the performance, turning the heavily fraught racial tensions between white and black Southerners into a fruitful collaboration which changed the face of Soul music.