In 2007 the sweet sounds of soul music will take center stage as “Memphis Celebrates 50 Years of Soul.” Long known as the “Home of the Blues” and the “Birthplace of Rock ‘n Roll,”Memphisis proud to once again bring its great soul heritage to the forefront. For 50 years, soul music, with its incredible energy and engaging sense of funk, has been an international sensation. It all began in a neighborhood that would gain the moniker “Soulsville,USA,” right in the heart of a city that is an international music mecca.
In celebration of Soul’s 50th Anniversary, the city that helped put soul on the map will play host to a year of sights, sounds, attractions and events inspired by one of the world’s most universally beloved styles of music.
This site is your guide to the action. Learn more about the history of soul and the genre’s key players. Find out about the exciting events and more about what the city ofMemphis has to offer.
We hope you’ll plan a trip to come see us and find your soul along the way. After all, soul was always meant to be experienced LIVE.
JUMP BACK IN TIME
They say the only difference between gospel and Memphis Soul is that instead of singing “Oh, Lord,” you sing “Oh, baby.” This small change in perspective speaks to the city’s unique distinction of being the home to so many different musical influences.
As the capital of the Mississippi Delta during the Great Migration, Memphis benefited from its geographic position, attracting singers and musicians from the cotton fields and juke joints of the rural South. From W.C. Handy to Bessie Smith, from the improvisational jug bands that filled the streets to the lone bluesmen moving in and out of the city, this confluence of culture laid the groundwork for one of popular music’s most distinct forms, Memphis Soul.
In this section, learn about the history of soul music and its most heralded artists and contributors, like Otis Redding, Al Green, Ann Peebles, Isaac Hayes, Al Bell and Willie Mitchell, through informative biographies, timelines and trivia games.
WHAT IS SOUL
Soul as a genre did not evolve until the late ’50s, when artists like Sam Cooke and Ray Charles began merging traditional gospel and R&B styles. As a result of this unique blend, soul emerged in the African-American neighborhoods of Chicago, Detroit, Philadelphiaand Memphis.
Though each city developed a distinctive style, Memphis musicians relied most heavily on gospel, a strong local influence that gave Memphis Soul its signature sound. Once quoted in a piece for CBS News, Isaac Hayes said, “In the North, there was Motown. They had a slick, polished sound…but when you go below the Mason-Dixon Line, down South, the soul is a raw, raw sound. It was ours.”
As music in Memphis moved from its early beginnings on Beale Street to its well-known success at Sun Studio, the interracial roots that shaped the core of the Memphis sound continued in a small nest of residential streets just south of Downtown. Known to the world as “Soulsville, USA,” this neighborhood gave birth to Memphis Soul.
At the center of Memphis Soul was Stax Records. Founded and co-owned by Jim Stewart and his sister, Estelle Axton, and eventually owned by Al Bell, the label gave the community an anchor, a beacon on which the local talent could focus. While Stax produced nearly every single singer, songwriter and musician in the area, including the house band largely responsible for the Stax sound, Booker T. and the MGs, the neighborhood’s claim to fame went beyond Stax artists to include Aretha Franklin; Maurice White of Earth, Wind & Fire; and Al Green, who recorded his biggest hits at nearby Royal Studio for the Hi Records label.
Led by one of Soulsville’s most significant producers, Willie Mitchell, Royal Studio became one of the most important studios inMemphis. With its own rhythm section (the Hodges Brothers and drummer Howard Grimes), the label supported a talented group of artists, producing everything from instrumentals by Bill Black’s Combo and Ace Cannon to the sensuous R&B of Ann Peebles and Al Green. A hit factory in its own right, Royal Studio and Hi Records added a depth to the local artistic roster that most cities could not touch. To this day, Royal Studio continues to record musicians of all kinds, as well as to reissue its inspirational catalog for future generations.
WHO’S GOT SOUL
The talent at Stax and other famedMemphislabels, such as Hi Records, would become some ofAmerica’s most revered and exciting artists. Otis Redding, Al Green, Booker T. & the MG’s, Sam & Dave, Rufus and Carla Thomas, the Staple Singers, Wilson Pickett and Isaac Hayes are just a few of the artists who, at least for a time, called Memphis home as they spread their music throughout the globe. For more in-depth information about the artists whose music and enthusiasm have touched our souls, please follow the link to our featured artist.