This article was written by Tim Sampson, Communications Director at Soulsville Foundation.
On August 20, 1972, Stax Records hosted the largest celebration of African American music, culture, and lifestyle in American history when it staged the Wattstax concert festival in the Los Angeles Coliseum.
More than 112,000 people paid $1 each to attend the all-day show, which was a fundraiser to help the Watts community heal in the wake of the rebellion that had destroyed much of the area in 1965.
Performers included Isaac Hayes, the Staple Singers, Rufus and Carla Thomas, Albert King, the Bar-Kays, Luther Ingram, the Rance Allen Group, and emcee Revered. Jesse Jackson.
Other performers, like Johnnie Taylor and the Emotions, performed in churches and nightclubs for the Wattstax documentary that opened at the Cannes Film Festival the following year.
This year marks the 50th anniversary of Wattstax!
In honor of the anniversary, Stax Music Academy (SMA) is performing a tribute concert as the Grand Finale to its Summer Music Experience on Saturday, June 25th, at 7:30 p.m. at Overton Park Shell.
While the SMA Grand Finale has been a signature event for two decades, drawing one of the largest crowds of the Shell concert series, it was postponed in 2020 and 2021 due to Covid.
When SMA shuttered in March 2020, it immediately transitioned to virtual learning and presented a hybrid Summer Music Experience in 2020 and 2021.
Now, The Summer Music Experience is also making a comeback. Returning to an in-person experience this year with safety cautions, students in the Summer Music Experience have been studying vocals, instrumentals, songwriting, production/audio engineering, music business, and more.
This summer’s students have studied the artists who performed at Wattstax, enjoyed a “Red Carpet Day” designed to make them feel like they’re attending the Grammy Awards, and partnered in a songwriting competition titled “Be The Band,” whose winner will receive free studio time at Ardent and more.
As a bonus to the concert, former Stax Records owner Al Bell, who planned the Wattstax concert and produced the documentary, will receive a Beale Street Brass Note before the students take the stage.