The Stax Museum of American Soul Music, in Memphis, and the National Museum of African American Music, in Nashville, have now been added to the U.S. Civil Rights Trail. There are now 14 sites on the trail in Tennessee.
The U.S. Civil Rights Trail is a network of more than 120 sites — primarily in southern states — which were significant to the Civil Rights Movement of the 1950s and 1960s because they are places where activists dedicated to advancing social justice that challenged segregation.
Some of those locations are schools that represent the end of racial segregation in public education, and F.W. Woolworth lunch counters in Greensboro, North Carolina, and Nashville, Tennessee, where Black college students staged sit-ins as a form of nonviolent demonstrations. Of course, other sites include the birthplace and gravesite of Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. in Atlanta, as well as his first church in Montgomery, Alabama, and the church in Memphis where King gave his “I’ve Been to the Mountaintop” speech the night before he was assassinated.
“What happened in Tennessee changed the world, and through the power of music of the movement, visitors can learn about that legacy at world-class destinations like Stax and the National Museum of African American Music,” Mark Ezell, commissioner of the Tennessee Department of Tourist Development and secretary/treasurer of the U.S Civil Rights Trail Marketing Alliance, told TravelAwaits. “Visitors can walk in the footsteps of the brave men and women who stood up for equal rights.”
Stax Museum Of American Soul Music
The Stax Museum of American Soul Music is located on the former site of Stax Records in Memphis. From 1960 to 1974, the building which had been a movie theater but was converted into a recording studio produced hits for artists including Otis Redding, Isaac Hayes, Sam & Dave, Booker T. & the M.G.’s, Aretha Franklin, and the Staple Singers. In a testament to the artists’ talent, of the approximately 900 singles and 300 LPs recorded at Stax, 167 were among the top 100 songs on the pop charts and 243 were among the top 100 hits on the R&B charts.
While at the museum, visitors will see the so-called “hall of records,” with walls that are lined with floor-to-ceiling cases containing albums and singles released by Stax and its subsidiary labels from 1957 through 1975. There’s also an exact replica of the recording studio, Studio A, that even features a sloping floor left over from the building’s time as a movie theater. Visitors can also see Isaac Hayes’s 1972 gold-trimmed Cadillac Eldorado.
“More than just a label that recorded some of the most indelible, timeless music in history, Stax Records provided a company culture that was inclusive, where people of all races and genders worked together like family at a time of extreme racism and sexism in the United States, and particularly in Memphis and the South,” Jeff Kollath, Stax Museum executive director, told TravelAwaits.
You can learn more about the Stax Museum of American Soul Music, including details about visiting, here.
National Museum Of African American Music
The National Museum of African American Music (NMAMM) opened in Nashville on Martin Luther King Jr. Day, January 18, 2021, with a mission to “educate the world, preserve the legacy, and celebrate the central role African Americans play in creating the American soundtrack,” the museum explains.
“NMAAM is the only museum dedicated to preserving and celebrating the many music genres created, influenced, and inspired by African Americans,” NMAAM explains. “The museum’s expertly-curated collections share the story of the American soundtrack by integrating history and interactive technology to bring the musical heroes of the past into the present.”
While at the museum, visitors can explore 50 genres and subgenres of music. That includes everything from call-and-response spirituals and work songs from the 1600s to the heyday of jazz in the 1900s.
Its galleries include the “Rivers of Rhythm” the central focus of the museum, which shows the link between American history and American music. Other galleries include the “Crossroads” gallery chronicling the history and influence of the blues, the “Love Supreme” gallery that shows how African Indigenous musical traditions in New Orleans influenced the development of jazz, and the “One Nation Under A Groove” gallery that shows how rhythm and blues influenced the development of soul, funk, disco, house, techno, and hip-hop.
“From the covert messages embedded in ‘Wade in the Water’ to the stirring melodies of ‘What’s Going On,’ African American music has provided the soundtrack for Civil Rights Movements in the United States,” H. Beecher Hicks, president and CEO of the National Museum of African American Music, told TravelAwaits. “We are proud to continue our work in preserving and celebrating African Americans’ contributions and influence on the American Soundtrack.”
You can learn more about the NMAAM, including how to visit, here.
New This Month
The Stax Museum has also launched its second annual Virtual Black History Month Tour. The tour, which is free to teachers and students, does require registration.
You can learn more about the Virtual Black History Month Tour here.
“Our launch of the Virtual Black History Month Tour couldn’t be more in line with the announcement that the museum is now being added as an iconic location on the U.S. Civil Rights Trail,” Kollath said. “Both our new status on the U.S. Civil Rights Trail and the launch of our Virtual Black History Month tour reflect Stax’s rich history and how it still applies to current events.”
You can learn more about the U.S. Civil Rights Trail here.