The Commercial Appeal - Go Memphis
4 Stax Museum events to check out this month
The Stax Museum of American Soul Music has long been tied to the history of Memphis music and the Stax Records label. h “The label launched the careers of artists such as Otis Redding, Isaac Hayes, Booker T. & the M.G.’S and the Staple Singers, who not only recorded hit songs, but changed the landscape of American music and pop culture,” notes Jeff Kollath, Stax Museum executive director. “We’ve continued to share the Stax story with a new generation of learners through educational tours, concerts, community outreach, year-round free programming and engaging online experiences.” h But, Kollath is quick to add, the museum’s remit has always been broader, focusing on the history of soul in general and the contributions of other key soul cities. h This month, the museum ramps up its schedule of events and programming, putting a particular emphasis on the music and culture emanating from Chicago, highlighted by the new exhibit, “Love In the Club: Black Chicago Nightclub Photos by Michael Abramson 1974-1976.”
The current slate of Chicago-connected programming and exhibitions follows the museum’s 2021 acquisition of more than 35,000 records and related memorabilia from the estate of noted Chicago record collector, disc jockey and oral historian Bob Abrahamian, who died in 2014. The collection is comprised mainly of rare records by lesserknown artists from Chicago’s culturally rich South Side community from the 1960s and 1970s.
In total, some 35,000 45 RPM singles and LPS along with related materials — high school yearbooks, photographs, scrapbooks and other artifacts — were donated by Abrahamian’s family to the Stax Museum after several years of discussions with the organization. The Abrahamian collection had previously been on loan to Chicago’s Black Music Research Center at Columbia College until its closure in 2019.
The Stax Museum’s renewed focus on live events and programming this spring comes after two challenging pandemic-affected years.
Stax’s continuing efforts during this time were recently recognized by the Institute of Museum and Library Services. Earlier this month, the IMLS announced the Stax Museum of American Soul Music was among 30 finalists for the 2022 National Medal for Museum and Library Services. Stax Museum was the only institution in Tennessee to be selected.
The National Medal is the nation’s highest honor given to museums and libraries that demonstrate significant impact in their communities. For more than 25 years, the award has honored institutions that demonstrate excellence in service to their communities.
“So many museums, so many libraries have done such good work over the last two very difficult years,” IMLS Director Crosby Kemper said in a statement announcing the honor. “Their work is emblematic of the response of the library and museum worlds to simultaneously fulfilling their mission and serving their communities.”
National Medal winners will be announced in early June. Winning institutions will be honored during a virtual National Medal Ceremony later this summer.
In the meantime, here is the schedule
of events and exhibits for April at the Stax Museum.
Special exhibits at Stax Museum “Love in the Club: Black Chicago Nightclub Photos by Michael Abramson 1974-1976.” Open daily; free with general admission to the Stax Museum
Chicago’s South Side in the mid-1970s was marked by a far-out par
ty scene that brimmed over with style and free expression to the sounds of blues, disco, funk and soul. A photographer from New Jersey, Michael Abramson, became so infatuated with this slice of underground life that he took more than 5,000 photographs for his thesis while attending Chicago’s IIT Institute of Design.
The images were unobtrusive blackand-white images captured as Abramson himself became a welcomed part of the scene at legendary clubs like Pepper’s Hideout, the High Chaparral, the Patio Lounge, Showcase Lounge and Perv’s House, owned by Pervis Staples after his retirement from pioneering group the Staple Singers.
Now, 30 of these legendary photographs are on display at the Stax Museum of American Soul Music in an exhibit titled “Love in the Club.” The Stax gallery is set up to resemble a combination of Chicago’s legendary nightspots and Memphis’ own legendary R&B nightspot in that era, Club Paradise.
Abramson’s provocative photographs have been published so far in two major hardback books: “Light: On the South Side” by the Numero Group in 2009 and “Gotta Go Gotta Flow” by City Files Press in 2015. Both were multimedia releases, the first accompanied by two LPS of blues music likely playing in the clubs at the time that earned a Grammy nomination, and the second pairing his South Side images with slam poetry by the acclaimed writer Patricia Smith. The Stax Museum exhibit, based on “Gotta Go Gotta Flow,” will also feature some of Smith’s poems.
Abramson went on to become a commercial photographer and photojournalist who traveled the world and photographed many notables from Oprah to Steve Jobs before his death in 2011.
His South Side photographs have been compared to the work of the great Hungarian photographer Brassai, who captured the sensuous Parisian nightlife of the 1920s and ‘30s. Abramson’s photographs can be found in the
permanent collections of the Smithsonian, Art Institute of Chicago, Chicago History Museum, Milwaukee Art Museum, Madison Museum of Contemporary Art, Museum of Contemporary Photography in Chicago and California Museum of Photography.
“Love in the Club” will be on display through Nov. 11.
Live events at Stax Museum Soul Cinema: “Three the Hard Way” (1974) 7 p.m. April 18; free
The Stax Museum’s “Soul Cinema” series continues this month with a screening of the 1974 Blaxploitation classic, “Three the Hard Way.” Directed by “Shaft” filmmaker Gordon Parks Jr. and featuring a soundtrack by Chicago soul legend Curtis Mayfield, the film would become a touchstone for numerous later cinematic homages, including “I’m Gonna Git You Sucka” and “Undercover Brother.”
The story revolves around a secret, white, racist organization that plans to poison the water supplies of Detroit, Washington, D.C., and Los Angeles with a serum that exterminates those cities’ Black population. All looks lost until the karate-chopping trio of Jim Brown, Fred Williamson and Jim Kelly — powered by a soundtrack recorded by Mayfield the Impressions — decides to take them
Book Launch & Conversation with Wildsam, Robert Gordon, Zaire Love and Jesse Davis
5 p.m. April 21; this event is free but an Eventbrite RSVP is required for entry.
Founded in 2012, Wildsam is an American travel brand “built upon telling true stories of place.” The company, which has published a number of handsome pocket-sized field guides — seeking out the real, rooted and authentic across America — recently put out a volume on Memphis.
Wildsam will mark the release with an event at Stax Museum, with an evening celebrating the city’s stories and sounds. Author Robert Gordon, filmmaker Zaire Love and editor Jesse Davis will be in conversation with Wildsam editor Hannah Hayes about the ways Memphis music influences their work.
Central BBQ, Old Dominick and Wiseacre will be on hand with food and drink.
Live in Studio A: Obruni Dance Band
1 p.m. April 23; free
Memphis’ Obruni Dance Band plays funky dance music inspired by the highlife pop sounds of Ghana and West Africa. Just in time for Memphis in May — which is celebrating Ghana as its honored country this year — the group will perform mid-day at the Stax Museum on April 23.
The band will also be marking the release of a new highlife Ep/book project and will have copies available at the show.