One of the top things to do in Memphis, Tennessee – tour Stax Museum of American Soul Music. You’ll start your tour in a turn-of-the-century (1900s) gospel church and then travel through time as you experience the evolution of American soul music. This recording studio known for its Memphis Sound turned out musical legends and hit songs from Otis Redding, the Mar-Keys, Booker T. and the MGs, Rufus Thomas, Isaac Hayes, and more.
While I received a complimentary ticket courtesy of Memphis Travel to visit and review Stax Museum of American Soul Music, opinions are always my own. I highly recommend this tour as one of the best music history museums in Memphis and the world. And I’m not alone. USA Today readers named Stax Museum of American Music as one of the best pop culture museums in 2021 (Readers’ Choice Travel Awards).
See my related post: Top Things to do in Memphis, Tennessee: A Three-Day Itinerary.
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Top things to do in Memphis, Tennessee: Stax Museum of American Soul Music
Before my visit to Memphis, I hadn’t heard of Stax Museum. But this iconic recording studio that began in a movie theater definitely produced familiar hit songs and recording artists. You may have heard of the classic Soul Man – first recorded by Sam Moore and David Prater and written by Isaac Hayes and David Porter.
And then there’s Sitting on the Dock of the Bay by Otis Redding. He actually recorded this song just a couple of weeks before he died in a plane crash. Redding’s legacy lives on at the Stax Museum of American Soul Museum in Memphis.
As does many other American soul musical legends.
Located on the original site of the Stax Records recording studio in Memphis, this museum features more than 2,000 pieces of memorabilia related not only to their recording artists, but other American soul legends as well. Here you’ll witness interactive exhibits, films, costumes, instruments, vintage equipment, vinyl record collections and more.
Made possible by the Soulsville Foundation, this organization also oversees the Stax Music Academy and the Soulsville Charter School on the same campus as the studio.
What you need to know before you go: Stax Museum of American Soul Music
Founded in 2003, the Stax Museum of American Soul Music is the first and only museum dedicated to the history of America’s soul music – with a focus on Stax Records and the Memphis Sound. The Stax Music Academy serves primarily at-risk youth with mentoring experiences, music education programs, and performance opportunities. The Soulsville Charter School, a tuition-free public charter school, serves more than 600 students in grades 6-12 in a music-rich educational environment.
Here are a few things to know before you visit Stax Museum of American Soul Music in Memphis, Tenn.
When is Stax Museum of American Soul Music open? What are their hours?
Stax Museum of American Soul Music is open for tours Tuesday through Sunday, 10 a.m. to 5 p.m. The museum is closed on Mondays, Easter Sunday, Thanksgiving Day, and Christmas Day.
How much are tickets to Stax Museum of American Soul Music? What’s the cost of admission to Stax Museum?
Check the Stax Museum of American Soul Music website for the most updated ticket prices. Currently (as of this published date), ticket prices range from $10 to $13 (children 8 and under and members are free).
How long is the Stax Museum of American Soul Music tour? How much time should I allow to visit Stax Museum?
As the tours of Stax Museum are self-guided, you can tour as long or as brief as you like. I recommend allowing at least 90 minutes to check out all the cool music memorabilia and exhibits at Stax Museum.
Pictured: Rufus Thomas exhibit. Ready to get your grove on? Start playing The Dog or Do the Funky Chicken Rufas Thomas – such classic songs that’ll have you dancing in your seat or on your feet.
Are face masks required at Stax Museum of American Soul Music?
Currently (as of this publication date), face masks are required inside the Stax Museum of American Soul Music. You’ll find creative and clever social-distancing signs throughout the museum.
What’s the address of Stax Museum of American Soul Music? Where is Stax Museum of American Soul Music located? Is there free parking?
Stax Museum of American Soul Music is located in the iconic neighborhood known as Soulsville. The address is 926 E. McLemore Ave.., Memphis, TN 38106. The campus also includes the Stax Music Academy and The Soulsville Charter School. You will find ample free parking behind the Stax Museum of American Soul Music.
Can you take photos inside Stax Museum of American Soul Music?
Yes, you may take photos inside Stax Museum (no flash photography allowed). Pictured: A real 1906 church from the Mississippi Delta. Reassembled, it reflects the roots of Southern gospel music.
Does Stax Museum of American Soul Music have a restaurant?
No, the Stax Museum of American Soul Music does not have a restaurant. However, you can purchase beverages in their gift shop.
Does Stax Museum of American Soul Music have restrooms?
Yes, the Stax Museum of American Soul Music has restrooms available for guests.
Does Stax Museum of American Soul Music have a gift shop? Can I purchase Stax Museum of American Soul Music souvenirs online?
Yes, Stax Museum of American Soul Music in Memphis has a gift shop. You can find lots of music memorabilia such as vinyl records, apparel, magnets, bottles, and more.
Take a virtual tour of Stax Museum of American Soul Music
Fun fact: Popular in the 70s especially, 8-track tapes started phasing out in the early 1980s as this stereo was sidelined by cassette tapes. Interestingly, cassette tapes were invented before 8-track tapes.
Did you know this about Stax Museum of American Soul Music?
Stax Museum’s first single was Cause I Love You by Rufus and Carla Thomas, which came out in 1960. That same year, Stax signed a deal with national distributor Atlantic Records.
While that relationship launched and maintained the success of Stax for several years, it ended badly when Atlantic Records was sold to Warner Bros. in 1967. Due to a clause in the original contract with Atlantic, Atlantic (Warner Bros.) was entitled to all rights, titles, interest, and reproductions of Stax’s recordings between 1960 and 1967. Stax no longer owned any of its original recordings from that period.
Stax Recording Studio got its name from the first two letters of the recording studio’s founders’ last names: Jim STewart and his sister, Estelle AXton. She mortgaged her house a couple of times to finance equipment and their move to a former movie theater – (the current site of the Stax Museum of American Soul Music in Memphis.
Fun Fact about Stax Museum of American Soul Music
When cash flow was tight in 1960, Axton opened up a record store in the former theater’s concession stand area. This also provided some marketing intelligence as they learned what people listened to the most.
Fun fact about Stax Museum of American Soul Music
Otis Redding, one of Stax Recording Studio’s mega stars, just showed up one day. He was the chauffeur/roadie for another recording artist. When that session didn’t go well, they allowed Redding to sing. He became their biggest star.
Stax Museum fun fact
Reeling from losing their recordings to Atlantic Records/Warner Bros., Al Bell became vice president. He didn’t waste any time. During what’s known as the Soul Explosion, he led Stax back when the studio recorded 30 singles and 27 albums in eight months.
Funky fun fact about Stax Museum
It’s well known that business disruption creates innovation. And that’s what happened when Al Bell asked one of the recording studio’s long-time songwriter and studio musician to produce an album. Giving him total artistic freedom, Issac Hayes recorded Hot Buttered Soul – which went on to sell 3 million copies that same year (1969). That album only includes four singles (each of them more than five minutes). Listen to Hyperbolicsyllabicsesquedalymistic for a taste of this soulful album.
A couple of years later, Isaac Hayes won an Oscar, two Grammy awards and an NAACP Image Award for his soundtrack album for the movie, Shaft (the original in 1971). The album was recorded at Stax Recording Studio.
After the success of Shaft, Hayes negotiated a new contract, which included this set of wheels. This $26,000 1972 peacock-blue, gold-plated Cadillac featured a refrigerated bar, shag carpeting, a TV, 24-carat gold windshield wipers and hubcaps.
Another fun fact about Stax Museum
The movie theater-turned-recording studio had a noticeable slanted floor. This defect actually became part of Stax studio’s signature mark as it deadened the sound.
Why I recommend Stax Museum of American Soul Music to my friends and family
My husband and son are audiophiles and huge music history buffs. The entire time during my tour I was wishing they were with me as I knew they would love visiting the Stax Museum of American Soul Music.
And you can participate. The Express Yourself Dance Floor (yes, people were dancing…I had to wait to get this shot) encourages you to shake your bootie as vintage clips from Soul Train plays on a loop.
Soul Train aired nationally for 35 years (1971-2006) and showcased the best R&B, soul and funk artists. I remember watching it on Saturday mornings.