Stax museum director amps up offerings with Hayes, Manning tributes
Coming into his job as director of the Stax Museum of American Soul Music, Jeff Kollath had a sense of just how deep and powerful was the story of Soulsville. But after eight months heading the museum, Kollath has an even deeper appreciation — not just for the history, but also for the legacy that continues at Stax.
“There’s always going to be something inherently interesting about the music and that core Stax story, but there’s so much more than that,” says Kollath. “Really, Stax is about a message of empowerment and opportunity. Being here on the campus for the last eight months, I see that every day with The Soulsville Charter School and the Stax Music Academy. To see the manifestation of that legacy still continuing today, it’s really great. It’s what drives a lot of us here on campus.”
Kollath, 38, came to Stax last summer, having spent eight years working as curator of programs and exhibitions for the Wisconsin Veterans Museum in Madison. He also worked as director of museum experience at the Milwaukee County Historical Society.
Most recently, he served as the public humanities manager for the Center for Humanities at the University of Wisconsin in Madison. Beyond his curatorial experience, Kollath has a background in African-american and soul music history. He holds a bachelor’s degree in history and a master’s in public history, for which he wrote a thesis called “Soul City: Indianapolis’ African-american Community and Soul Music, 1967-1974.”
Kollath has spent his first months on the job getting to know Soulsville as a community and Memphis as a city.
“The main thing is getting familiar with people in town, and really trying to develop collaborative relationships with as many like-minded organizations i n Memphis, and outside of Memphis, as possible,” says Kollath, who is working to strengthen the museum’s ties to venues like the Levitt Shell and organizations like the Tennessee Arts Commission, and has begun working with record stores like Shangri-la and Goner. “It’s important to have relationships with record stores for a lot of reasons. The main one is that it further affirms how much we value music. Not just music of the past but current music, too.”
Ultimately, Kollath says, “What I’ve found is there is a real hunger for the Stax story and how it can be extrapolated in a variety of ways.” He has begun to program along those lines.
This week, in partnership with Indie Memphis, the Stax Museum announced its first “Soul Cinema” series. The spring screenings, held at the museum, will focus on the films of Isaac Hayes. It kicks off Feb. 29 with Hayes’ 1974 blaxploitation classic “Truck Turner.” That same year’s “Three Tough Guys,” (costarring Fred “The Hammer” Williamson) shows March 28. The programming culminates with “Shaft,” featuring Hayes’ Oscar-winning music, on April 25.
“They’re films that capture a certain era in American and African-american cinema,” Kollath says. “And interestingly, Stax was a company that had planned on going fully into the The Stax Museum’s “Soul Cinema” monthly filmseries kicks off on Feb. 29 with the Isaac Hayes feature “Truck Turner.”
movie business — and if things had gone differently with the company’s history, they might have,” says Kollath. “For us, the music in these films in particular shows the breadth and depth of Isaac as a writer and composer.”
The music from the films also highlights Hayes’ work with members of the Memphis Symphony Orchestra, who added strings to many of his most notable works. On April 27, the relationship among Hayes, Stax and the MSO will be part of a live performance and panel at Stax’s Studio A, featuring music from symphony players,
including veteran violinist Ann Sperbeck, and members of Hayes’ band.
Kollath has more in store for the spring. Next month, Stax will shift the focus to one of the key behind-the-scenes figures in Memphis music: engineer, producer, player and photographer Terry Manning.
On March 12, an exhibit of Manning’s music photographs will open at the museum (it will be on display through June 30). Manning will also perform with the Stax Music Academy on March 15 (part of a series of appearances that month to promote his new record).
The photo exhibit is the first long-term show of Manning’s photos. A former freelance photographer for Britain’s New Musical Express magazine in addition to his studio work with Stax and Ardent, Manning’s images capture some of the giants of Memphis and ’60s music.
“There are some really amazing images,” says Kollath. “There’s Terry’s shot of Steve Cropper mixing ‘Dock of the Bay,’ a day after Redding’s passing. Photos of Tom Dowd and Dusty Springfield recording ‘Dusty in Memphis.’ Candid shots of Booker T. and various other Stax and Ardent stars. It’s a rich collection of images.”
Stax’s concert programming will continue in April, with the return of the “Live in Studio A” series, which will feature day and evening shows from Nick Black, Southern Avenue and the SMA Alumni Band, through the summer.
For the fall, Kollath has secured another retrospective exhibit, called “Motown in Black and White,” a collection of images and ephemera from label employee and archivist, the late Al Abrams. Abrams also worked with Stax in the mid-’60s, and the exhibit mixes and juxtaposes Motown material with various Stax pieces from his collection.
The museum is already eyeing programing for 2017. Next year will mark several key events in the label’s history: the 60th anniversary of the founding of Stax’s precursor, Satellite Records; the 50th anniversary of the 1967 Stax/ Volt European tour; and the 50 years since the death of Otis Redding.