In 1957, Jim Stewart founded Satellite Records in Brunswick, Tennessee. With a loan and the support from his sister Estelle Axton, the duo relocated Satellite Records to Memphis in 1959, setting up shop in an old movie theater at 926 E. McLemore Avenue. From this partnership, Stax Records emerged and so did its name—combining the first two letters of Stewart and Axton. The establishment of this new company marked the beginning of a transformative journey in soul music.

In Memphis, Stax Records quickly became a beacon of musical diversity, blending emerging rhythm and blues styles into a branded “Memphis Sound” of soul music that would evolve to captivate global audiences. With input from luminaries like Rufus Thomas, his daughter Carla Thomas, and crooner William Bell etching an early impression on the label, Stax earned a reputation as a haven for local talent. Soon, instrumental ensemble Booker T. & the M.G.’s provided a backbeat for the label’s roster of artists, serving as the de facto studio band and hitmakers in their own right. Also charged with helping to define the label’s signature R&B sound, star songwriters David Porter and Isaac Hayes scribed lyrics tailored to the Stax performers. On loan from distributor Atlantic Records, the livewire vocal duo Sam & Dave paired with Hayes and Porter with hits like “Soul Man” and “Hold On, I’m Coming,” solidifying Stax’s place as a powerhouse of rhythm & blues music.

The label’s roster expanded to include talents like Eddie Floyd, whose anthem “Knock on Wood” became a cornerstone of Stax’s repertoire. Otis Redding, perhaps the label’s most treasured star, left an everlasting legacy with his evocative and emotive vocal performances on tunes like “These Arms of Mine” and “(Sittin’ On) The Dock of the Bay.” Tragically, Redding’s life, along with those of four teenage members of the Bar-Kays, was cut short in a fatal plane crash in 1967, leaving a void in the music world that could never be filled.

Following the loss of Redding and the dissolution of its partnership with Atlantic Records, Stax Records was forced to evolve. Under the leadership of Al Bell, the label orchestrated a “Soul Explosion” in 1969, flooding the market with nearly 30 albums to revitalize the Stax brand. Isaac Hayes emerged as a central figure in this musical renaissance, transitioning from staff songwriter to Stax’s marquee performing artist thanks to the breakout success of his album “Hot Buttered Soul.” Before long, he’d reach newer heights with the Oscar®-winning “Theme from Shaft,” earning him a spot as an international household name.

In this era of renewed creativity, Stax broadened its reach to become a launching pad for revered groups from outside Memphis, such as the Staple Singers, the Dramatics, and the Emotions, as well as solo acts like Johnnie Taylor and Albert King. The label’s diversification went beyond geography and into various genres, solidifying its status as a formidable marketing juggernaut.

Among its endeavors was the historic Wattstax concert and film in 1972, epitomizing Stax’s commitment to celebrating African American culture through music. Despite its luminous achievements, Stax faced mounting challenges in the 1970s, including financial woes and legal disputes.

In 1973, Stax Records faced financial strain after its intended expansion effort was complicated by racial tensions and economic pressures in Memphis. Despite efforts to sustain operations, Stax succumbed to these challenges, culminating in involuntary bankruptcy in 1975.

In June 1977, Fantasy Records purchased the Stax Record Company’s masters out of bankruptcy. Soon, they’d resuscitate the Stax brand, along with Volt and other associated subsidiaries, to release new recordings and previously unreleased material.

Concord, which acquired the legendary Memphis label as part of its 2004 purchase of Fantasy Records, has since honored Stax’s unique legacy, releasing definitive collections, rare performances, unreleased tracks, and more in deluxe collectors’ packages. Additionally, Concord proudly supports and works closely with the Soulsville Foundation to preserve and honor the legacy of Stax Records and the Memphis Sound.

Today, at 926 E. McLemore in Memphis, Tennessee, the Soulsville Foundation occupies a multimillion-dollar campus that includes the Stax Museum of American Soul Music, Stax Music Academy, and the Soulsville Charter School. The Soulsville Foundation’s two youth programs serve the inner-city youth who are carrying the unique legacy of Stax Records into the future for generations to come.

Stax Records is critical to American music history as one of the most popular soul music record labels of all time. In 15 years, Stax placed more than 167 hit songs in the Top 100 on the pop charts and a staggering 243 hits in the Top 100 R&B charts. It launched the careers of legendary artists such as Otis Redding, Sam & Dave, Rufus & Carla Thomas, Booker T. & the M.G.’s, among numerous others.

The Stax Records façade on the home page is a photo of the Stax Museum of American Soul Music in Memphis, TN.

Learn more about the history of Stax at the Stax Museum Of American Soul Music.


926 E. McLemore Ave
Memphis, TN 38106



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