Sunday, January 27, 2008


IRIS rehearses with Stax Music Academy students

By Christopher Blank

Saturday, January 26, 2008

The first four notes of Beethoven's Fifth Symphony are easily the most iconic in classical music.


"Fate knocking on the door," is how the composer described them.

Back in 2000, when conductor Michael Stern first knocked on the door of the Germantown Performing Arts Centre, he used the Symphony No. 5 as a calling card.

That musical phrase launched the IRIS Orchestra into existence with romantic fervor.

Eight years since, Stern's hand-picked chamber orchestra has recorded several critically acclaimed albums, commissioned new works of music and created a national reputation.

But in part because many of the musicians live outside the Memphis area, as does the conductor, the orchestra had not established roots in the community. Indeed, IRIS critics still call it a pickup band, even though some players have been with the group for years.

The Memphis Symphony Orchestra, by contrast, with its resident musicians and larger budget, has numerous outreach programs scattered throughout the city.

This year IRIS found a worthy cause. On Thursday night, 45 musicians went knocking on the door of the Stax Music Academy, an after-school music program for inner-city children.

One guess how the greeting went.


"Right now, we're just trying new things to see how we can be a better participant in the community," said David DePeters, the orchestra's operations manager. "We've had players come to Stax before, but this is the first time for the full orchestra."

Many of the musicians had just gotten off their planes when a

chartered bus brought them to Soulsville on McLemore in South Memphis.

First they heard students from the Stax Charter School perform old label classics -- "Dock of the Bay," "Mr. Big Stuff" and "Theme from Shaft" -- on the school's orchestral instruments they'd earned the right to play by learning skills that collected merit points.

After a break, the choir room was rearranged into an orchestra setting. Students from the Stax Music Academy filled in the empty chairs around the musicians, peering over shoulders at sheet music as Stern struck up the first rehearsal of the Fifth Symphony, which will be heard tonight at GPAC.

"The connection here is in the spirit of what we do," Stern said. "IRIS is a group of people who come from all across the country for the love of making music. These kids come from across the city with one goal in mind, to make music. We've got a lot in common. It's a good partnership."

Packed into a tight semi-circle, the orchestra launched into the music. Stern fussed over the opening notes. A maestro has to. They constitute the most important phrase in the whole score.


"Why was that not together? Because we're not breathing together. Let's do it again." Stern raised his baton.


Miracle McGhee, 16, sat beside the clarinet player, entranced. For five years, she has studied the instrument and learned to improvise in a jazz band and to transpose notes.

The clarinet gave the shy teenager the confidence to stand up in a crowded room and be heard.

This was different. This was more intense than jazz. As her eyes kept up with the notes on the page, she realized that classical music sounds harder than it looks.

She also heard a different set of dynamics. Within every note of the symphony, whether part of the whole or a solo passage, there were so many subtleties of tone and rhythm.

"These guys must be so dedicated to what they do," she said. "You can tell they eat, sleep and breathe their instruments."

Yet dedication is why she comes to the academy. At home, her application to the Berklee College of Music is ready to go. Classical music is the next step in her training.

IRIS musicians are happy to discuss career with students.

Many of the pros play with orchestras. Others, such as cellist Eric Stephenson, perform a variety of music. At home in New York City, Stephenson works in a trio that includes a funky "beatbox flute" player.

"Kids see that an orchestra takes teamwork," he said. "Hopefully they see that we're all individuals with our own styles and backgrounds, but we still get a sense of worth playing in an orchestra."

Trumpeter Darin Kelly, of Philadelphia, spent a few minutes with Delvin Tubbs, 17, a senior from Booker T. Washington High School, discussing the trumpet's range.

"The key is to listen, listen, listen," Kelly said. "Listen to as many things as you can. Figure out what the player is doing and how they do it."

Although the Stax Music Academy doesn't focus on classical music, the school's chancellor, Cary Booker, says that mingling with other players provides a valuable experience.

"It's hard to say if this is making them better musicians," he said. "But the core of our mission is developing well-rounded people. They have an opportunity to interact with great musicians and talk about their favorite interest. It doesn't matter that it's classical music. They just love music, period."

In the dining room, after Beethoven had been played to exhaustion and its troublesome spots dissected and reworked, Stern chatted with a group of students over pizza.

"I'm amazed at the questions they're asking me," he said. "I mean, they are noticing things about conducting that I usually hear from college students."

The musicians loaded onto the bus back to Germantown, and parents arrived for their kids. Stashed away in backpacks and instrument cases was a gift from IRIS -- a recording of the ensemble's first performance, at GPAC on Sept. 19, 2000.

Should the kids ever need to know how to make a musical entrance, they can just refer to the CD.


-- Christopher Blank: 529-2305

© 2008 Scripps Newspaper Group — Online

Tuesday, January 15, 2008


Stax Museum showcases powerful, emotional exhibit on soul legend Redding

By Bob Mehr

"Otis Redding -- From Macon to Memphis: An Exhibit from the Private Collection of Zelma Redding," opened quietly last month at The Stax Museum of American Soul Music.
Its launch was timed to commemorate the 40th anniversary of Redding's death, the result of a plane crash that claimed the life of the Georgia-born singer and Stax hitmaker, and nearly all the members of his backing band, The Bar-Kays, en route to a concert in Wisconsin in December 1967.

Unusually, there was no formal opening celebration for "From Macon to Memphis," and little attention was given to it amid the distractions of the holiday season. But the relative lack of fanfare surrounding it belies its status as a major historical exhibit -- one that's as powerful, emotional and evocative as the music of the man it celebrates.

"From Macon to Memphis" -- which will be on display at Stax's Studio A through April 30 -- is being hosted at Stax, in conjunction with the Georgia Music Hall of Fame and The Big "O" Youth Educational Dream Foundation, an arts and education organization founded by the Redding family last year.

The exhibit is somewhat misnamed, as it also includes a handful of pieces from the archive of music collector Bob Grady and several items from the Stax Museum itself. Still, the bulk of the items do come from Zelma Redding's trove of personal artifacts, many of which have never seen the light of day until now. Though it's not an incredibly large collection -- less than 100 pieces in all -- its impact is profound in several ways.

So much of what music fans hold dear about Redding has passed into the realm of myth: the
story of his unlikely discovery at Stax, arriving initially as the chauffeur of singer Johnny Jenkins; the sweat-soaked performances on the epochal Stax-Volt European tour; his embrace by the "love crowd" at the Monterey Pop Festival; and the bittersweet valediction of "(Sitting on) the Dock of the Bay." "From Macon to Memphis" certainly touches on all those triumphs, but it also adds a new depth and dimension to our understanding of Redding as a husband, father and friend.

Remarkably, it achieves this tricky task with an understated grace and a true economy of effort. The story is told in spare black-and-white photographs, documents, and brief personal correspondence -- the pieces exploring both the big tableau themes about Redding's art as well as the most trivial details of his life.

And without being overwrought, or playing up the mordant aspects of his death, "From Macon to Memphis" allows us to truly understand how Redding's tragic passing both defines and haunts our collective memory of him.

The first section of the exhibit is a brilliant burst: a mix of live and backstage photos, autographed records and show posters -- including one from a 1966 "homecoming" concert in Georgia. Taken together, they replicate the compressed feel of Redding's rise to fame, a thrilling five-year run that had him positioned, not just as the king of soul music, but an artist on the cusp of some kind of transcendent success at the end of his life.

Another aspect of the collection concerns the little-seen private Redding. The flip side of the dynamic entertainer was a reflective family man who preferred the solitude of the country to the buzz of the stage. Much of that is represented in the photos here, including shots of Redding enjoying the spoils of his success, a 300-acre farm he purchased outside of Macon. There's a real warmth in the images that find him playing the role of dedicated farmhand or frolicking poolside with his young sons, Otis III and Dexter.

Not all the photos are so happy, of course. There is an undeniably eerie quality to a pair of shots of Redding taken on his land sometime in early 1967, which find him hovering around an old Revolutionary War grave. In one, he leans up against a tombstone, smoking stoically; in another, he stands arms folded, gazing mysteriously at some unseen and, it seems, spectral presence. It's hard to view these photos and not feel a kind of chill -- perhaps that's part of the reason Redding's widow has kept the images private until now.

Though it would've been easy to skip over them, the final days of Redding's life are not given short shrift. A separate section is devoted to a series of items documenting his last trip to Memphis -- the starting point of a weekend tour that would prove fateful. They seem at first like unimportant pieces -- a car rental agreement, a hotel bill, aviation receipts -- but as you follow the paper trail, you almost feel a sense of dread. It's an emotion that's fueled, in part, because the artifacts are in such pristine condition; they look as if the ink has just dried. (Redding's widow kept the items in sealed plastic sheets for four decades).

The final portion of the exhibit, dealing with the aftermath of Redding's death, offers the saddest and most heart-rending moments. It includes a copy of Redding's death certificate, Zelma's handwritten logbook of condolence calls, and scores of telegrams from fellow soul music stars expressing their sympathy: The Temptations, Booker T. & the MGs, Patti LaBelle, The Staple Singers. Their words are moving, but often, it's the smallest, strangest details that stand out -- seeing a famous name like Nina Simone misspelled by an anonymous and unknowing Western Union clerk, for instance.

"From Macon to Memphis" concludes on a poignant note, focusing on the family Redding left behind. A shot of Zelma and her children gazing out on the family farm in 1970 is a sad echo of the image of Redding tending to his place a few years before.

The last piece in the collection, a family Christmas card, also from 1970, pictures the three Redding children alone. It's a rich color image taken against the wooded backdrop of the ranch. But there's something missing. There's a gaping empty space on the right side of the image, a place where their father might have stood.

Tremendous credit should be given to Stax curator Carol Drake for the subtle, but deliberate, way in which the exhibit flows from start to finish. But the strongest praise should be reserved for Zelma Redding herself, who understandably had a hard time parting with these pieces. To someone on the outside, the artifacts are just that. But for her they are talismans, or maybe just tangible pieces of the husband she lost and the legend whose legacy she's cared for unfailingly.
Her willingness to share these most private and personal possessions allows us to feel it all, too -- the happy memories of his life, the sharp pain of his death -- and to share a little bit more of a man we've all been loving too long to stop.

Exhibition review
"Otis Redding -- From Macon to Memphis: An Exhibit from the Private Collection of Zelma Redding" is on view at Stax Museum of American Soul Music, 926 E. McLemore Ave., through April 30.

Hours are 10 a.m.-5 p.m. Monday through Saturday; 1-5 p.m. Sunday. Admission is $10 for adults; $9 seniors 62 +, active military and students with valid ID; $7 children 9-12. Free to children 8 and younger and to museum members.

Call (901) 946-2535. Online:


Wednesday, January 9, 2008


Memphis author Ellen Prewitt called me one day in December with an idea. She volunteers here with an organization named Door of Hope, which is a daytime agency committed to forming friendships with and offering assistance to people living on the streets. Weekly, she shares her knowledge of and passion for writing by hosting writing workshops with Door of Hope guests.

When famed Memphis photographer Earnest Withers passed away last fall, Ellen had the guests write about him and his photographs. In the process, she learned that many of the guests had great memories of Stax Records and that many of them had lived in the neighborhood around Stax when it was in its heyday in the 1960s and '70s. So she wanted to bring them to see the Stax Museum. None of them had seen it yet.

She and staff member Roderick Baldwin brought several guests on a sunny day in December and we spent several hours touring the museum while the guests shared their memories of Stax Records. It was an incredible day for all of us. Not one to let a great opportunity slip by, Ellen shortly thereafter conducted her weekly writing workshop with those guests and had them write about their memories of Stax Records and their experience touring the museum.

Thanks so much to Ellen for doing this, and for all of her support and that of her husband Tom for the Stax Museum and Stax Music Academy. And here are the stories, in the writers' own words. We look forward to the guests visiting the museum again soon.

“My STAX Experience”
By Leroy “Jake” Scott

It was my first time back to STAX since it was re-opened again from the early days of the ‘60s and ‘70s.

We used to go to the back door and peep in on Isaac Hayes, David Porter, Bar-Kays, Otis Redding, the Dramatics, Temprees, Mad Lads, Rufus Thomas, Sam and Dave and many more great artists.

For some reason, my favorite artist was Isaac Hayes. He was such a dynamic individual. Bald head, long gold chains and a real deep voice with great lyrics.

I especially like the little movie they show at the start of the tour. It puts you in the mood of the original STAX movie house that was there before it turned into a recording studio.

I was knocked off my feet when I saw Isaac Hayes custom El Dorado trimmed in gold with the white mink carpet and the bar in the back, and the TV in the front. I remember when he used to drive it down the street, it was such a beautiful sight to see.

By Jockluss Thomas Payne

Taking a trip to STAX Museum filled me with a lot of nostalgia. During the heyday of STAX, I was about fifteen years old and I lived very close to STAX Records, about two blocks down the street. I was able to hang around the studio, run errands for the singers and musicians, and actually sit in on recording sessions.

What is most memorable about STAX Records is how it developed the talents of many aspiring performers who otherwise might not have become famous. STAX produced a distinctive, soulful, delta, gritty, form of rhythm and blues that became world famous and brought to Memphis a place on the world map as the home of soul. Plus the fact it was a bi-racial effort in a time of racial strife. STAX will always be remembered in that respect. It also must be remembered as a big business organization that propelled many of its performers to financial heights never before achieved in the blues delta circuits.

It would take a book to re-live all my experiences at STAX Records. But I will say that it gave a great deal of cultural, musical, and racial pride in that STAX was able to bring whites and blacks together and produce a world famous sound known as the “Memphis Sound,” my adopted home town.

By Roderick Baldwin

For a long time, I have always wanted to see and learn about the STAX history. Hearing about STAX through others made me very interested. I have heard a lot of the music, from Isaac Hayes, The Bar-Kays, Staple Singers, Memphis Horns, Sam and Dave. The music I was listening to was telling a story about life and its experience. The music touched my soul, it had sound all by itself. The emotion it brought out was a good feeling. The music told personal feelings and experience that I can experience. No color or stigmas was here; the joy that music can bring. How the STAX experience brought people together in music.

Going to STAX myself brought back the times of clothes, hair styles; a different style of music. Brought back child memory of peace and good will. All that different culture coming together, to share their life and love of music, and the messages it gives us.

The STAX experience is something we can build on to help people understand that through music we can change and bring people together.

Remembering Isaac Hayes from his sister and brother going to Manassas High – being across the street from Isaac Hayes’ grandmother. Seeing the Cadillac he drove when I was in my teens. In my life I have had the opportunity to meet Rufus Thomas and his children and Isaac Hayes – James Alexander and Larry Dodson of the Bar-Kays, some of the Mitchells - the pioneers of the STAX experience.

It was and still is an honor to have met and listen to their experience of the times we left behind – but through the STAX museum we can re-live the good times. And help touch and pass the hope and dreams of the pioneers of change and togetherness. Thank God for the STAX experience and the people who are still keeping it alive.

By Radio

I just want to say I enjoyed the ride there, and I enjoyed the people, the music, the sound. I will like to go again real soon. I just want to thank the people that invited us.

By William Lawrence Hogan, Jr.

On Fast Quick. I’m Your Boxer.

Janet Jackson needs to come to Memphis Tenn to born or help give us Letoya her sister report. Clock Period.


The heart of a soulman
Otis Redding's recording studio on display at Stax Museum
The Atlanta Journal-ConstitutionPublished on: 01/09/08

When Deanie Parker stepped into the Stax Museum of American Soul Music in south Memphis to view the Otis Redding exhibit for the first time, it was as if she'd seen a ghost.
The exhibit, "Otis Redding: From Macon to Memphis," is set inside the museum's replica of Stax Records' Studio A — reconstructed on the studio's original McLemore Avenue footprint, sloping floor and all — where Redding recorded such R&B classics as "Try a Little Tenderness" and "(Sittin' on) the Dock of the Bay." The latter was recorded just days before he died, in 1967, in a plane crash.

"I walked into the studio and looked up and it was almost as if Otis' spirit was right there," said Parker, who arrived at Stax in 1963 and stayed — as singer, composer, secretary, publicist — until the family-run record label went belly up in 1975.

"Once again, he's back in his space," added Parker, now a museum complex board member. "In Studio A, where he used to prance back and forth as he was recording and teaching the musicians the arrangements to the songs."

The Stax exhibit is a state-line-jumping continuation of a similar Redding exhibit that opened this fall and is still running in Macon, at the Georgia Music Hall of Fame. Both exhibits commemorate the 40th anniversary of the artist's death at age 26. Both are dominated by memorabilia provided by Redding's widow.

"When you walk into either exhibit, you'll know what Otis Redding was about and the legacy he left," said Zelma Redding, 65, and still living near Macon. "But everyone tells a different story. When you go to Stax, the story is more about their history. They've worked so hard to tell the story of that room. And it's a great part of the story."

The Stax exhibit centerpiece is a collection of rare photographs of Redding on the 300-acre ranch he purchased in the rolling hills of Middle Georgia, about 25 miles outside Macon. Taken two weeks before his death, they show an offstage Redding patting cows, baling hay, playing with his kids.

It also includes telegrams Zelma received after his death from fans, musicians (the Temptations, Nina Simone) and politicians, including one from Jimmy Carter sent later, when a bridge in
Macon was officially named for Redding.

Other artifacts: receipts from the hotel Redding stayed in with his pilot and crew just before his death, and a poster from what became known as "the concert that never was" — the Madison, Wis., show (with opening act Grim Reaper, later morphing into Cheap Trick) that Redding was headed to when his twin-engine Beechcraft dropped into icy Lake Monona, just outside Madison.

But more profound than any relic is the context of where the exhibit is housed. Stax Records was R&B's rawer, sweatier parallel universe to the smooth, hard-waxed sounds of Motown. With a name that combined brother-and-sister founders Jim Stewart (the "St") and Estelle Axton (the "ax"), Stax was run inside a converted movie house like an integrated soul family in the heart of the South. The lettering for years on the old movie marquee: Soulsville USA.
The label produced more than 400 hits on the pop and R&B charts before it filed for bankruptcy in 1975. Artists included Booker T. & the MGs, Rufus and Carla Thomas, Sam and Dave, the Staple Singers and Isaac Hayes.

But boss hog was Redding. Stax became what Zelma Redding calls "his second home," a place where "they produced and made all those hits but, first and foremost, it was the family of Stax Records. It was love first and hits second."

He arrived there from Macon in 1962 as the driver for Johnny Jenkins & the Pinetoppers, who came to record a single. With a half-hour of studio time left, Redding, who occasionally performed with the band and who'd begged all day for a chance to sing, was allowed to record a ballad he wrote called "These Arms of Mine." It wasn't long before he became the label's biggest star.

And it all came out of Studio A. The original Stax building was razed in 1989, but a replica was built on the same site four years ago as part of a Soulsville USA complex. The studio was re-created right down to the sloping movie house floor and random Billboard magazines littered around the furniture. "From Macon to Memphis" is the first exhibit hosted inside the space.

"His presence was a lot like Elvis Presley and Billy Graham — one of those guys who when he walks into a room, the room changes," recalled Wayne Jackson, a member of the Memphis Horns who backed Redding on many hits. "He was the same in the studio as he was on stage — he marched up and down that room, just like he marched up and down the stage, and he'd sing the horn parts to us and get in our face until we were frothing at the mouth. He could instill that kind of excitement.

"He knew in his heart he didn't have long to discharge all this genius," added Jackson, now 66 and living in Nashville. "And when I say genius, I mean touched by God. He walked into that studio knowing the song and everything in it — the rhythm section, the drums, the horn lines.
"He drove a wedge in the world of music, and all of us fell into it," Jackson said. "When he was killed, we dispersed. It was all over for Stax."

What little is left is now at the Stax Museum of American Soul Music until April 30.

"Otis Redding: From Macon to Memphis" is at Stax Museum of American Soul Music, 926 E. McLemore Ave., Memphis, through April 30. $10. 10 a.m.-4 p.m. Mondays-Saturdays; 1-4 p.m. Sundays., 901-946-2535.

Getting there
• Driving: Memphis is a seven-hour drive from Atlanta.
• Flying: Expect to pay about $250 round trip from Atlanta to Memphis.

Friday, January 4, 2008

Pau Gasol and STAXTACULAR '08!

You've heard the buzz. You've waited for months. At last, we are proud to announce:

STAXTACULAR returns on Friday, March 7, 2008!

The city's wildest "soul-shakin' throwdown," hosted this year by Brian and Danielle Cardinal, Pau Gasol, Rudy Gay and Mike Conley from the Memphis Grizzlies, is back, bigger and better than ever--and now YOU have the opportunity to buy tickets before they go onsale to the public!

Call 901-261-6385 now to purchase your tickets before they are available to the public. Tickets are $150 each, and as always, all the proceeds will benefit the life-changing music education programs of the Stax Music Academy.

Click here to learn more about the Stax Music Academy and click here for more information about STAXTACULAR '08!