Track Stax from the White House to Soulsville, USA
Yes! Memphis is in the house!
Did you hear Michelle Obama say those words on April 9? If not, stream the Memphis Soul Workshop she hosted in the State Dining Room of the White House here. Middle and high school students from across the country were invited to attend and ask questions of a panel that included musicians connected to Memphis soul – Sam Moore, Mavis Staples and Justin Timberlake among them.
The workshop was a prelude to the evening’s entertainment, “In Performance at the White House: Memphis Soul,” during which Moore resurrected “Soul Man” and Staples graveled through “I’ll Take You There” like soul royalty. Timberlake and Steve Cropper collaborated on “(Sittin’ on) the Dock of the Bay,” William Bell smoothed over “You Don’t Miss Your Water” and Eddie Floyd punched out “Knock on Wood.” By the end of the evening, Cropper had also contributed to an Alabama Shakes rendition of “Born Under a Bad Sign” and Memphis-influenced artists from Ben Harper to Cyndi Lauper and Queen Latifah joined in on “In the Midnight Hour.” Harmonizing it all was the production’s musical director, Booker T. Jones.
The connection, of course, is Memphis soul, fostered in so many ways by Stax Records in Memphis’ Soulsville neighborhood. It’s where names including Bell, Floyd, Moore and Staples grounded their legacies; where Cropper and Jones (along with the late Duck Dunn and Al Jackson, Jr.) bucked segregation to make music as transcendent today as it was in the 1960s – indeed, where the sounds cut so deep a groove, no one from Timberlake to the Shakes to the President of the United States (an unabashed Al Green fan) can shake it.
No hard feelings if you didn’t get the White House invitation. Watch the streams I provided above; then hot-foot it to Memphis. Any time is a good time to visit the Stax Museum of American Soul Music (located on the original site of Stax Records), but this year, and particularly this month and next, are really good: As the 10th anniversary of the museum’s opening, 2013 has been declared the “Year of the Stax Museum,” with May 2 marking “Stax Museum Day” statewide.
Get here in time for the weekend (Sat., April 27, 11 a.m.-7 p.m.) to experience Stax to the Max, the museum’s annual street festival. We loved last year’s event (think continuous live music on two outdoor stages, food trucks, arts groups, children’s activities and vendors), but this year promises some biggies, including hometown boys The Astors performing together for the first time in 40 years, a set by William Bell and The Temprees and a finale by the Stax Music Academy, an after-school and summer music program for middle and high school students focused on performance and the Stax legacy. Admission to the festival is free and museum admission is just $2 between noon and 5 p.m. The music goes on for hours, so bring a lawn chair (though no coolers are allowed).
p.s. I’m preparing to meet a group of European journalists who are in town to experience Stax to the Max – check back here next week for their perspectives, festival photos and tips for celebrating Stax Museum Day. Until then, tell us how Memphis soul has influenced you in the comments section below!