Looking for something to do to make your day a bit more soulful? The Stax Museum is the much-needed refresher on the city’s rich musical history. Full of good music and five interesting exhibits, the museum is a Memphis must-see.
If you don’t leave the Stax Museum feeling a bit more soulful or humming the tunes of some of the city’s musical greats, you probably didn’t fully experience what the museum has to offer (Otis Redding’s Try a Little Tenderness is still replaying in my head). Though I was familiar with Memphis’ rich musical history, the refresher was much needed and Stax didn’t disappoint. It’s one of those Bluff City gems that you have to visit more than once.
Stax Records, the Memphis-based record company was founded in the 50’s and grew to notoriety in the late 60’s, producing artists like Otis Redding, Carla Thomas, and Isaac Hayes. The museum is essentially a replica of the original studio, built on the same site on McLemore Avenue. Stax Studios was demolished in 1989 and the museum was founded years later in 2003.
For those who haven’t been, the visit starts off with a 20-minute video highlighting the history of the record company. Initially, I scoffed at the idea of sitting to watch a mini-documentary for longer than 10 minutes; but I was pleasantly surprised at the interesting content and didn’t want it to end. After the video, you’re free to roam the museum on a self-guided tour. Records and other memorabilia of musical greats like Sam Cooke, Ray Charles, and Ike and Tina Turner line the walls.
There are at least five different exhibits in the museum. Humble Beginnings (one of my favorites) showcased a modest southern church, which had the most influence on soul music. Then there is the Express Yourself exhibit with a replicated Soul Train dance floor equipped with a large screen playing episodes of the monumental dance show in the background. If you’re into flashy things, you’ll love the Super Fly exhibit that highlights Isaac Hayes’ custom Cadillac Eldorado, featuring plush fur and other over-the-top features. At each exhibit, you’ll be able to hear an eclectic mix of soul music from a variety of artists.
While you probably won’t devote a large chunk of your day at the museum due to its modest size, you will spend minutes at each exhibit combing through the extensive information and listening to some really good music. I was there approximately an hour and a half and it was certainly worth the visit.