Monday, February 23, 2009


This past weekend, Brian and I went to Memphis for a joint birthday and belated Valentine's Day celebration. When we were planning where to go, I wasn't too excited about visiting Memphis but because Brian was so excited about it, I agreed. It turned out to be a really great trip, save the fact that my recurring cold/sickness came back.

We visited two places where I had not heard of, Sun Studios and Stax Records. We also visited the National Civil Rights Museum.

It was an amazing adventure to be fortunate to be a part of history and learn the awesome stories of the great cloud of witnesses to these significant moments in history.

First, Sun Studios
This was the place where many famous singers recorded many famous songs. Names such as Johnny Cash and Elvis Presley, Jerry Lee Lewis, and Carl Turner. I noticed that when we were on the tour, the guide often mentioned many white artists and knew loads of facts about them but rarely mentioned the other artists of color who recorded there. Aside from that, I was still amazed by the fact that the studio is still used today as a place where current and up-and-coming artists can pay $100/hr for a 2 hr minimum chance to record their songs in this famous studio.

Second, the National Civil Rights Museum
Although I had heard of this, I had not visited this historic site of the assassination of Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. The museum was housed in the former Lorraine Hotel where Martin lived his last days. The museum was a very well done look at the African-American journey through history.

As familiar as this was to me, I still learned of the stories of how segregation trickled down to the minute of details where even in courtrooms, whites and blacks had to be sworn in on two seperate bibles, clearly marked for each race. I learned of a 14 year old Emmett Till, who visited MS from the state of IL who bragged to his black friends about his white friends back home and upon completing a dare, his fate was ultimately sealed when he was lynched and beaten.

Unfortunately, our time ran out at the museum so we didn't get to see the second part of the museum that explored MLK, Jr.'s death and assassination investigation.

The second night we were there, while my cold had hit hard, I ended up channel surfing and came across the movie "Taking Chance". It starred Kevin Bacon and I became intrigued by the plot of the film. While I missed the first part of the movie, I quickly learned that Bacon plays a marine who is accompanying a fallen soldier's body back to his home town in Wyoming for the funeral. In his journey, Bacon encounters a man who challenges Bacon's worthiness of being called a voluntary military escort. Bacon doesn't feel that he's worthy because he'd rather be home with his wife and kids. The man that Bacon encounters challenges him because he very strongly feels that Bacon was most definately worthy of his position because he was the witness to Chance's life. (the fallen marine) He said something to the effect of what is life worth living if we don't have witnesses to our lives.
This quote stuck with me as I reflected upon the events of the day and would impact me the next day as we visited Stax Records.

Third, Stax Records
I was unfamiliar with what Stax was and I assumed that it was just another recording studio that my husband would enjoy far more than I. Gladly, I was mistaken.

Stax Records was in a nutshell a famous studio where people such as Otis Redding, Booker T. and the MGs, Aretha Franklin, Issac Hayes, the Staple Singers and so many more got their start. Beyond that, it was an incredible testiment to the "oasis of racial sanity" that was transformational for so many during the 1950s and 1960s (and beyond). It was the one place where there could be interracial harmony when composing the music of the soul. Color was not segregated inside the studio. Heart and soul and passion thrived. Jim Stewart and Estelle Axton were the co-founders and laid the foundation of collaboration and grassroots inspiration that couldn't be found in the outside world at that time (due to the segregation and hatred).

I was humbled that I had never heard of this amazing place. I was awed by the gathering called Wattstax, a gathering of over 100,000 african-americans in the city of Watts in 1972, mere years after the infamous Woodstock. I wish I would have heard more about Wattstax instead of Woodstock when growing up.

Due to a series of events, the assassination of Dr. MLK Jr., the death of Otis Redding, some untimely and unfortunate business transactions, Stax lost the soul that claimed so many hearts. It never was the same. It closed in the 1970s and finally reopened as a historic site that it is today.

The story is amazing and enlivened the passion in me that is drawn to such grassroots, raw movements. I was proud to discover this amazing place and am honored to share the story of Soulville, USA.