What do Ida B. Wells and Isaac Hayes have in common?
Yes, they both became famous in Memphis—Wells as an anti-lynching journalist and Hayes as the composer of Shaft and one of the biggest soul music stars in the world. They are both also featured in Soul of America: The Evolution of Soulsville, the 3rd Annual Black History Month free virtual presentation by the Stax Museum of American Soul Music and Stax Music Academy.
Soul of America: An Evolution of Soulsville will serve as a celebration for Stax Museum's 20th anniversary.
This year’s multimedia presentation consists of a series of music videos filmed by Stax Music Academy students for other young people, featuring 1960s classic soul and R&B hits made by Isaac Hayes, Otis Redding, The Bar-Kays, Rufus Thomas, Eddie Floyd, and Johnnie Taylor, to name just a few.
The virtual Black History Month presentation is an idea rooted in the COVID-19 pandemic of 2020—when the Stax Music Academy switched from its annual, live BHM performance to virtual content, made available globally.
Marketing the opportunity as a free, “virtual field trip” for young people as they hit up some of Memphis’ most historic locations: Beale Street, the Stax Museum, the National Civil Rights Museum, and Memphis’ most famous soul food restaurant— the Four Way—where luminaries such as Martin Luther King, Jr., Ike &Tina Turner, Gladys Knight, and Rev. Jesse Jackson used to dine.
The presentation garnered over 200,000 views from people across every state and numerous foreign countries in 2021 and 2022.
As usual, The 2023 virtual presentation of Soul of America: The Evolution of Soulsville,” is free of charge to anyone in the world.
Curated in special interest of students, educators, schools, school districts, and other youth organizations, the film is accompanied by student and teacher study guides, with one interactive lesson on the aforementioned Ida B. Wells.
In that lesson, students will study her history as a Black entrepreneur, free-speech editorialist, and anti-lynching advocate. Similar group discussions and activities about the history of Beale Street, Blaxploitation cinema, Photography and the Civil Rights Movement, the 1968 Sanitation Workers Strike that brought Dr. Martin Luther King to Memphis, and a composer named Joseph Bologne, whom the New York Times dubbed the “Black Mozart” are also available.
The virtual film and educational experience also focuses on youth efforts to revitalize the South Memphis neighborhood known as Soulsville USA, which includes the original site of Stax Records and is now where the Stax Museum and Stax Music Academy are located.
The 2023 Soul of America presentation and study guides are now available:
The Title Sponsor for the Souslville Foundation’s 2023 Black History Month presentation is Valero Benefit for Children. Other sponsors include International Paper, Newberry Tanks, Methodist Le Bonheur Healthcare, Adams Keegan, and Choose901.
If you haven’t seen Stax Museum’s new virtual film, THE MAGNETIC SOUTH: All Roads Lead to Soulsville and Stax Music Academy’s SOUL OF AMERICA: An Evolution Of Black Music, you’ve missed a fantastic performance by a wealth of talented teens.
Since December, students from Stax Music Academy have been preparing to take young people through an exploration of Black music during Black History Month. The students and staff at both Soulsville staples have brought TWO incredible experiences to classrooms and living rooms around the world:
- The Stax Museum Virtual Tour
- Stax Music Academy’s Black History Month Concert
Throughout each virtual program, they visit music’s past and present, checking in with greats like B.B. King, the Pointer Sisters, Ike & Tina Turner, Rufus Thomas, Duke Ellington, and pop music titans like Beyonce. These students are incredibly gifted, authentic, and you’ll see that Southern soul in every step.
Here at Choose901, we were lucky enough to interview one of the star Stax students, 17-year-old Sonya Grace Walker—an 11th grade student at The Soulsville Charter School.
Sway alongside Sonya as she sings lead on “River Deep Mountain High.” Her vocals were robust, soulful, and truly incredible. We got the chance to learn what the Black History Month Concert meant to her.
Tell us a little bit about the show and your part in it.
This is our 2nd virtual Black History Month show. We started preparing for it back in December and since then we’ve been coming throughout the weeks and on weekends to record backgrounds, leads, and filming videos for a wide variety of songs from current pop to Stax classics. I sing lead on “River Deep Mountain High” by Tina Turner and sing and/or dance in some group numbers.
How has the energy changed in Stax Music Academy while creating this show?
The energy in Stax has been a lot more intense. Since our preparations for this production were a lot different, it gave us as an academy a little fire and made us work a lot harder to pull everything together.
What does this show mean to you and the rest of the students at Stax Music Academy?
This show means a lot to us. For some of the students, this is their last year at Stax and it’s like their final big show before they graduate. For others, we’re happy to be able to do this and are extremely grateful to be given an outlet for us to put ourselves out there again. For me personally, this production shows a side of me that people don’t usually see and that’s extremely exciting.
What music icons are you most excited to represent in the show?
I’m most excited to represent Tina Turner and Beyonce. These ladies have been extremely influential in our culture and some of the statics and music choices they made we still use today.
What iconic locations did you film the show? Did you have a favorite?
We filmed at the Liberty Bowl, Crosstown Concourse, Mollie Fontaine’s, etc. My favorite location was probably the Liberty Bowl because anytime that I’ve been at the Liberty Bowl, I’ve always been in the stands so it was extremely dope to be able to be on the field.
How have the icons represented in the show inspired you in your life?
Tina Turner. Not just because of her influence on the music industry and her performance but also how she lived her life. As everyone knows, she was going through so much and still put her heart and soul into her music and that says and means a lot.
What is your day to day like at Stax Music Academy?
I get out of school at 3 on most days. I usually have a rehearsal for Choir in the Stax building. After I get out of that, I either do homework or hang out with some of the staff and/or friends. Then at 5:15, I go into either Street Corner or Rhythm Section class/rehearsal, and after I leave at 7.
What lessons have you learned being a part of the Academy? How has SMA provided you with an outlet?
I could go on and on about the many lessons that I’ve learned from Stax but the most important to me is to Always Give Your Best. Doing what we do, it is so easy to get tired, and sometimes it’s easy to want to give up when you think it’s not going right. You have to keep going! Keep that intensity and that high vigor. Stax is so special because they give us the performance outlet and allow us to show that intensity and vigor and excitement.
What would you want someone to take away from watching this show?
I just want people to know that music is so powerful! It doesn’t matter the genre, time period, or artist. Music truly means something. I hope people after watching this will fall more in love with music like myself.