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Black History Month: Going inside the Stax Museum vault

Published: Feb. 17, 2022 at 6:48 PM CST
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MEMPHIS, Tenn. (WMC) - Stax Museum of American Soul Music in Memphis recently premiered its “Solid Gold Soul” display, which includes old costumes, records, and other memorabilia.

One of the highlights of the display of where Stax Records artist and writer Isaac Hayes did business.

“A lot of the larger performers and songwriters had their own offices,” said Stax Museum Executive Director Jeff Kollath.

Hayes’ office had red striped walls, red and white leather couches, a velvet chair that might have been better suited for a funky trip to the final frontier, and a 15-foot-wide custom-made desk.

“Other than Isaac Hayes’ car, this is probably the largest artifact we have,” said Kollath. “He had a two-room suite. Each had one room for business and one for writing and entertaining.”

Kollath said Hayes’ office desk was sold at an auction years ago and was only recently discovered at a vintage store in Nashville.

It’s now on display for the first time at the museum’s Solid Gold Soul Display with other items, like never-before-seen photos of Otis Redding’s only known performance in Memphis at the Mid-South Coliseum.

The photos were found on eBay.

Guitarist and Memphian Harold Beane donated the costume he wore when he played with George Clinton as part of the Funkadelic.

“So, everyone had a character in Funkadelic. So, Harold’s character was the Prisoner,” said Kollath.

Even more treasures are tucked away in an undisclosed location inside the museum’s vault.

Kollath gave us a tour of the never-before-seen items, like an amplifier and keyboard believed to have been used by musician Ray Charles. There’s also an expansive collection of albums – more than 35,000 records once owned by the late DJ and archivist, Bob Abrahamian.

His family donated his rich catalog of mostly Chicago “Sweet Soul” records.

Much of the collection inside the archives comes from local musicians. You can hear an electric keyboard or Hohner clavinet being played during Sam and Dave’s hit, “I Thank You.”

While Stax Records is all about the music, you can’t ignore the clothes. While many costumes in the archives are a nod to artists of the past, one black jacket belonging to William Bell speaks to the present.

Bell was the first solo male artist signed to the record label

“Mr. Bell, the last five years, there’s been this huge career rejuvenation. Grammy winner for the record he put out on Stax,” said Kollath.

It’s the same jacket he wore during a performance for former President Barack Obama in 2013. It now has a home at Stax, telling the story of one of the most profitable and impactful companies in Memphis history.

The Solid Gold Soul collection will be up through the end of February.

In March, they will be presenting “Love in the Club,” a collection of photographs from the 1970s club scene in Chicago.

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