BBC Radio 2 broadcast: 5th September 2016
Beverley Knight tells the story of the fall and the rise and the fall of the legendary Memphis soul label.
In December 1967 the legendary soul singer Otis Redding was killed in a plane accident, depriving the musical world of one of its great singers, and costing his record label, Stax, their leading light, both artistically and commercially.
A matter of weeks later, the company also discovered that - due to a catastrophic business error - they no longer owned the rights to their back catalogue. The label that brought us Otis, Booker T & The MGs, Sam & Dave, Wilson Pickett, Eddie Floyd, Rufus & Carla Thomas and many , many more was on its knees with no prospect of survival ahead.
But within three years, Stax was one of the most successful African American companies in the world, boasting an entirely new roster of stars like Isaac Hayes, the Staple Singers and William Bell and expanding into concert promotion, film production, Broadway musicals and the world of rock music. They released 30 albums and 28 singles in a three month period, and rebuilt from the ground up.
Their 1972 Wattstax festival in Los Angeles boasted the largest bill of soul artists ever assembled performing to the biggest audience of African Americans ever seen paying the lowest admission fee in history thanks to an innovative use of sponsors. And that was before the multi-album, multi-platinum record releases from the show hit the shops, and the huge grossing feature documentary hit the cinemas. And then Isaac Hayes won an Oscar for "Shaft".
But at the same time there were other forces at play. Stax - always an informally integrated company in the deep South of the Civil Rights movement - was hit hard by the assassination of Martin Luther King in Memphis in April 1968 and struggled to adjust to a new & intimidating era of prejudice and violence.
In 1974, an ambitious expansion into mainstream rock music came badly undone for the company, and amidst accusations of racism and fraudulent financial chicanery involving millions of dollars, Stax was wound up in January 1976.
40 years after its doors shut for the last time, the Stax alumni come together to tell the story of this great label with all its ups & downs, the triumphs and the disasters.
The Staple Singers - I'll Take You There [Stax]
Isaac Hayes - By The Time I Get To Phoenix [Stax]
Isaac Hayes - Theme From "Shaft" [Connoisseur Collection]
The Staple Singers - Respect Yourself [Stax]
Big Star - Back Of A Car [Ardent]
The Stax Music Academy Band - I Can't Turn You Loose
William Bell - This Is Where I Live [Decca/Concord]