The Stax Museum of American Soul Music staged a grand 20th-anniversary celebration with the unveiling of new renovations and a special presentation to the “Stateswoman of Stax.”
Deanie Parker was honored with a brass note, which will be added to the “Walk of Fame” on Beale Street.
The former singer and songwriter and Stax executive is credited with facilitating operations of Stax Recording Studio in its heyday.
Parker’s skilled management of marketing, promotions, merchandising, public relations, and other back-office administrations brought her international fame.
To some, Parker was the face of Stax Records.
“You know what I was thinking as they were presenting the brass note?” Parker laughed. “I was saying in my mind, ‘Why in the world am I sitting here?’”
She laughed again.
“But seriously, it was gratifying to be honored in this way,” said Parker. “I was humbled… Never did I want to be out front in the spotlight.
“That’s really why I stopped singing. I always felt my place was behind the scenes, making sure the show out front goes smoothly. When a concert or event was a success, my satisfaction came from knowing I had done my job.”
Parker appreciated the lavish praise she has enjoyed over the years for her work at Stax in the 1970s.
But Jim Stewart and Al Bell are to be commended, she says, for their unwavering support of her role in Stax’s success.
“Jim Stewart (Stax co-founder) and Al Bell (noted Stax producer, songwriter, and executive) gave me an expense account, in case I needed to fly off to Chicago or Los Angeles for an event. I was working as well as learning.
“All my work was from on-the-job training. But I could never have accomplished what I did without the kind of support I was always afforded.”
Parker reflected on that time in 1975 when the music stopped on the corner of McLemore Avenue and College Street.
“When it became clear that Stax wasn’t going to make it, I put away my street clothes,” said Parker. “I got me a Memphis State sweatshirt, a couple pairs of jeans, and I went full-time a whole year to complete my degree.
“All the time I was working at Stax, I was a student at Memphis State (now the University of Memphis). I knew practical experience wouldn’t be enough. Advertising agencies would want a potential employee to have a degree.”
Now looking back over the decades from those heady, glory days at Stax, Parker laments those years when “music was music.”
“In the studio, there were real horns and guitars,” said Parker. “The instruments were played live by talented musicians. Singers were singing their songs. You can tell the Stax sound anywhere.
“Now, there are synthesizers and auto-tuning used in studio sessions. There is something very precious about the authenticity of the process back then that we must never forget. Stax music stirred the soul.”
Parker’s title at Stax Records was Director of Publicity and Artist Relations.
To ensure that the legacy of Stax Soul lives on beyond the studio’s closing, Parker established the Soulsville Foundation in 2003. She secured funding from national and international sources to make sure Stax would live on.
“I envisioned young people understanding the uniquely created sound of Stax Records,” said Parker. “I really appreciate being honored with the brass note. It is humbling to be remembered in this way.
“But we want to pour into our young people the love for Stax soul music, to analyze it, to study the process. We must pour what we have into the next generation.”
As the first president and CEO of Soulsville Foundation, Parker worked with investors to build the Stax Museum of American Soul Music, the Stax Music Academy, and The Soulsville Charter School.
Parker talked about sensing the end of Stax in 1970.
“It was the beginning of the end, and the best record releases were behind us,” said Parker. “We had experienced the assassinations of the Kennedys and Dr. King. It was too much for us, too much for America…”
This is the period when Parker wrote, “Who Took the Merry Out of Christmas” for the Staple Singers.
“It was time to evolve,” said Parker. “I love what we have here today. The museum celebrates our past, the academy preserves the tradition of creating music, and the promise of Stax will live on.
“May 2 was a glorious day. Here’s to the next 20 years.”