Memphis/ Fun & Entertainment
AI Assisted Icon
Published on May 20, 2024
HBO's "Stax: Soulsville U.S.A." Revives the Legacy of Memphis' Iconic Record Label on the Global StageSource: Google Street View

The legendary Memphis music label Stax Records, known for revolutionizing the music scene with iconic soul hits, has come to life in the HBO documentary series "Stax: Soulsville U.S.A." As noted by FOX13 Memphis, the series premiered its first episode, titled "Cause I Love You," at 8 p.m. on Monday, May 20. The four-part chronicle dives deep into the history of the family-owned label that broke racial barriers and claimed a global stage for artists like Otis Redding and Isaac Hayes.

HBO's project sheds light on how Stax, which was established by Jim Stewart in 1957 alongside his sister Estelle Axton, became synonymous with the soul music movement by fostering an environment where creatives of all colors harmonized to the rhythm of change. Despite period of social unrest and racial tension, as detailed by FOX13 Memphis, Stax stood as an integrated beacon of artistic and cultural success, only to face a historical downfall due to repeated business hurdles and tragic losses.

The narrative spun by "Stax: Soulsville U.S.A." doesn't just recount a local tale; it's a broader American story of dreams built and then undermined. Reflecting on the company's color-blind ethos and the friction it caused with the white establishment, the Commercial Appeal highlighted how the documentary portrayed Stax's universal claims through its music as well as the systemic resistance that ultimately led to its demise. The series ambitiously positions Stax's fall as an echo of America's larger issues with race and equity, suggesting that the label's downfall was not strictly a business failure but also a reflection of societal betrayal.

Documentary director Jamila Wignot brings a dynamic approach to the series, blending archival performance footage with firsthand accounts from Stax's luminaries. Names like guitarist Steve Cropper and singer-songwriter Carla Thomas recount their experiences, painting a vivid picture of the label's heyday. According to the Billboard interview with Wignot, the documentary also acknowledges the "tenacious" spirit behind the music, marking not just a golden era for Stax but also celebrating its resilience in facing an industry that was stacked against it.

With the recent recognition for "Written In Their Soul: The Stax Songwriter Demos" at the 66th annual Grammy Awards, Stax's legacy continues to resonate, according to Billboard. The HBO series, which is a collaborated production with several major entertainment entities, reinforces the enduring influence of Stax Records. It commemorates its sound that, despite all odds, stands woven into the fabric of American music heritage.