Stax Music Academy presents free virtual event “Stax Meets Motown” for Black History Month

“This year’s show is a lively comparison of Stax and Motown,” said Stax Music Academy Executive Director Isaac Daniel. “Think of it as the best of both worlds of music from the 1960s and 1970s.”

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Among soul music fans, few things are as emotionally charged as comparisons between Stax Records and Motown. And now the Soulsville Foundation’s 2024 Black History Month production commemorates both labels in its 2024 Black History Month original production: “Stax Meets Motown.”

The presentation is free to watch until Feb. 29, but you need to register on Eventbrite.

While some prefer the rawer, grittier sounds of Stax Records and some like the smooth, polished tunes of Motown, in the Soulsville Foundation’s “Stax Meets Motown” by the Stax Music Academy, a high school field trip from Detroit to Memphis to visit the Stax Museum of American Soul Music takes place. While the students are at the museum, they decide to visit the Stax Music Academy next door. Both are located at the original site of Stax Records, in the South Memphis community known as Soulsville USA.

When the tourist group of students enters the Stax Music Academy, the Stax students are singing their interpretations of all the standard Stax Records tunes they have learned.

The Detroit students aren’t easily impressed. While all remain civil, some jabs are thrown into the mix – arguments about which city’s sound is better. One thing leads to another and the groups begin their comparisons of Stax and Motown, Soulsville vs. Hitsville.

And the plot thickens. Love is felt, lost, and regained in this mashup of songs and sounds that embark glory days from Memphis and Detroit. But the overarching theme is a high school musical. Think Glee meets Grease meets Fame meets Hairspray, all with classic 1960s soul music.

Viewers will hear such familiar songs as hits recorded by Rufus Thomas, Otis Redding, Johnnie Taylor, Diana Ross & The Supremes, Stevie Wonder, the Jackson Five, Sam & Dave, Marvin Gaye and Tammi Turell, the Bar-Kays, and dozens of others in this tale of the distinct sounds of two cities.

“This year’s show is a lively comparison of Stax and Motown,” said Stax Music Academy Executive Director Isaac Daniel. “Think of it as the best of both worlds of music from the 1960s and 1970s.”

Current Stax Music Academy student Anaya Murray wrote the script for the Black History Month show. She is an accomplished filmmaker, writer, and director with a diverse range of experience in the film industry. As of 2023, Anaya has directed five short films, some of which have been featured in international and national film festivals. S

he also served as a director, screenwriter, and editor for her short film “Father’s Day,” which won the Indie Memphis Youth Film Fest Jury Award. Another notable projects are “By Design” and “Amorphous,” both sci-fi thriller films where Anaya directed, co-edited, and won the Indie Memphis Youth Film Fest “CrewUp Audience Choice Award.”

One of the show’s main stars is an 11th grade Stax Music Academy student named Rickey Fondren, who was recently interviewed by CNN about his acting role with the Tennessee Shakespeare Company and other acting jobs.

The 2024 Black History Month production is being filmed entirely at historic Booker T. Washington High School, which is on the edge of downtown Memphis and Soulsville USA. Founded in 1873 as the Clay Street School and later renamed Kortrecht High School in 1891, the school we have known since 1926 as Booker T. Washington was one of Memphis first high schools for African Americans. It serves grades 9-12.

The school gained national attention when U.S. President Barack Obama delivered the school’s 2011 commencement address as a reward for winning the 2011 Race to the Top Commencement Challenge on the basis of its inspiring turn-around story and voted the winner by the public. It’s motto: “We’re tops! We lead and others follow.”

Among its notable alumni are many Stax icons, including songwriting great David Porter and Earth Wind & Fire founder Maurice White, J. Blackfoot of The Soul Children, the original Bar-Kays, The Mad Lads, Booker T. Jones of Booker T. & the M.G.’s, Rufus Thomas, and William Bell.

Stax Meets Motown will be free to all viewers and will begin in February 2024. It is created by young people for other young people, highly entertaining, and comes with companion study guides that delve a little deeper into the Civil Rights Movement that was happening in the 1960s and 1970s. The study guides deal with everything from Black radio to race and the recording industry, fashion, and the Detroit Riots of 1967.

There are contributions in the study guide from Patricia Wilson Aden, President & CEO of the Greater Philadelphia Cultural Alliance; Jared Boyd, co-host of Beale Street Caravan and program director at WYXR radio; Scott Baretta, an instructor of sociology at the University of Mississippi and head consultant for the B.B. King Museum and Cultural Center; and musician and teaching artist Victor Sawyer.

It will be targeted to students, teachers, schools, youth groups, YMCAs, YWCAs, Boys & Girls clubs, and other organizations with a focus on groups that typically lack access to the arts.