To commemorate its 15th anniversary, the Stax Museum of American Soul Music will celebrate on May 3 with all-day free museum admission and entertainment from 6 p.m. to 8:30 pm.
The museum, which is located at the corner of College St. and McLemore Ave. – at the original site of Stax Records – will serve food and drinks and feature live music in Studio A by Memphis soul favorites The Bo-Keys with singers Percy and Spencer Wiggins.
Before the music begins, though, the Stax Museum will hold a special program in which early Stax legend Floyd Newman will donate his saxophone to the permanent collection, a saxophone his father bought him in the late 1940s at a pawn shop on Beale Street, which was used and turned 100 years old this year.
Newman, who was the first member invited to be in B.B. King’s first band and one of only two still living, got his start at the famed Plantation Inn Nightclub in West Memphis along with legends such as Ben Branch, Gene “Bowlegs” Miller, jazz greats Phineas and Calvin Newborn, Willie Mitchell, and a young man he hired by the name of Isaac Hayes. It was Hayes’ first paid gig as a professional musician and it was Newman who brought Hayes to Stax Records in 1962 to play sessions, ultimately leading a path to a career as one of the most successful recordings artists in history.
During the days of playing at the Plantation Inn and at Stax, Newman was on the Mar-Keys’ hit “Last Night” when it was still Satellite Records. When the song sold a million copies and got national airplay, Stax founder Jim Stewart and his sister and label partner Estelle Axton learned there was already a Satellite Records in California and formed the portmanteau “Stax” using the first two letters of their last names.
In those days, Newman was also getting his degree at Rust College in Holly Springs, Miss. – which meant playing the Planation Inn, doing sessions at Stax, attending classes in college, and sleeping an hour or two a night in between.
The work paid off. Newman not only enjoyed a lifetime career as a Memphis City Schools band instructor and guidance counselor at Humes and Northside High School, but also enjoyed a lifetime of making great music until his retirement several years ago.
The saxophone Newman is donating May 3rd has also led a colorful life. Newman has played this particular sax with The Mar-Keys, Otis Redding, Booker T. & the MGs, Eddie Floyd, Arthur Conley, Isaac Hayes, Elvis Presley, Aretha Franklin, Frank Sinatra, Barbra Streisand, Wilson Pickett, Etta James, Stephen Stills, B.B. King, and a host of other artists who are a who’s who of music history.
According to Soulsville Foundation spokesman Tim Sampson, “For Floyd to donate his 100-year-old saxophone he’s been playing most of his life is a very important event for the Stax Museum. He is an integral part of our story and was an integral part of the music made here.”
Sampson says the May 3 evening ceremony surrounding the donation, during which Memphis Mayor Jim Strickland’s office will issue a special proclamation, will also serve as a call to collect even more Stax Records memorabilia.
“We hope this will encourage others to look around and see what they might still have and consider helping us build our collection with more artifacts that played a part in the entire, phenomenal Stax story.”
From the time of the 1989 demolition of the original building until the Ewarton Foundation (now the Soulsville Foundation) began construction on the Stax Museum in 2001, the site had remained an empty lot. A lone historical marker noted that it had been the home of the Memphis record label where now iconic stars defied odds by working in an integrated company in then-segregated Memphis to create some of the world’s most indelible music.