The Stax Museum organizes events and exhibitions on Chicago soul and R&B

The Stax Museum of American Soul Music has a long history of Memphis music history and the Stax Records label.

“The label launched the careers of artists such as Otis Redding, Isaac Hayes, Booker T. & the MG’s and the Staple Singers, who not only recorded hit songs, but changed the landscape of music and music. American pop culture,” said Jeff Kollath, Executive Director of the Stax Museum. “We continued to share the Stax story with a new generation of learners through educational tours, concerts, community outreach, free year-round programs, and engaging online experiences.”

But, Kollath hastens to add, the museum’s mission has always been broader, focusing on soul history in general and contributions from other key soul cities.

This month, the museum is ramping up its schedule of events and programming, with a particular focus on music and culture emanating from Chicago, highlighted by the new exhibit, “Love In the Club: Black Chicago Nightclub Photos by Michael Abramson 1974-1976”. ”

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"Love in the Club: 1970s Photos by Michael Abramson" will be exhibited at the Stax Museum until November.

The current list of Chicago-related programs and exhibits follows the museum’s 2021 acquisition of more than 35,000 records and related memorabilia from the estate of famed Chicago record collector, disc jockey, and oral historian Bob Abrahamian, who died in 2014. The collection consists primarily of rare records by lesser-known artists from Chicago’s culturally rich South Side community of the 1960s and 1970s.

A total of some 35,000 singles and 45 rpm LPs along with related material – high school yearbooks, photographs, albums 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 loaned 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 difficult years impacted by the pandemic.

Stax’s continued efforts during this time were recently recognized by the Institute of Museum and Library Services. Earlier this month, IMLS announced that the Stax Museum of American Soul Music was among 30 finalists for the 2022 National Medal for Museum and Library Services. The Stax Museum was the only Tennessee institution 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 recognized institutions that demonstrate excellence in service to their communities.

“So many museums, so many libraries have done such a great job over the past 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 fulfill their mission and serve their communities.”

National medal winners will be announced in early June. Winning institutions will be honored at a virtual National Medal Ceremony later this summer.

In the meantime, here is the program of events and exhibitions for the month of April at the Stax Museum.

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"Love in the Club: 1970s Photos by Michael Abramson" will be exhibited at the Stax Museum until November.

Special exhibitions at the Stax Museum

“Love in the Club: Black Chicago Nightclub Photos by Michael Abramson 1974-1976.”

Open every day; free with general admission to the Stax Museum

Chicago’s South Side in the mid-1970s was marked by a faraway party scene that oozed style and self-expression to the sounds of blues, disco, funk and soul. A New Jersey photographer, Michael Abramson, became so enamored with this slice of underground life that he took over 5,000 photographs for his thesis while attending the IIT Institute of Design in Chicago.

The footage was low-key black and white footage captured as Abramson himself became a welcome part of the scene at legendary clubs like Pepper’s Hideout, the High Chaparral, the Patio Lounge, Showcase Lounge and Pervis-owned Perv’s House Staples after retiring from the pioneering band the Staple Singers.

Today, 30 of those legendary photographs are on display at the Stax Museum of American Soul Music in an exhibit called “Love in the Club.” The Stax Gallery is designed to look like a combination of Chicago’s legendary nightclubs and Memphis’ legendary R&B nightclub at that time, Club Paradise.

Abramson’s provocative photographs have so far appeared in two major hardcover books: “Light: On the South Side” by Numero Group in 2009 and “Gotta Go Gotta Flow” by City Files Press in 2015. Both were multimedia versions, the first accompanied by two blues records probably playing in clubs at the time which earned him a Grammy nomination, and the second pairing his South Side imagery with the slam poetry of acclaimed writer Patricia Smith. The Stax Museum exhibit, based on “Gotta Go Gotta Flow,” will also feature some of Smith’s poems.

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Abramson became a commercial photographer and photojournalist who traveled the world and photographed many notables from Oprah to Steve Jobs before his death in 2011.

His photographs of the south side have been compared to the work of the great Hungarian photographer Brassai, who captured the sultry Parisian nightlife of the 1920s and 1930s. Abramson’s photographs are in the permanent collections of the Smithsonian, the Art Institute of Chicago, the Chicago History Museum, the Milwaukee Art Museum, the Madison Museum of Contemporary Art, the Museum of Contemporary Photography Chicago and the California Museum of Photography.

“Love in the Club” will be on display until November 11.

Stax Museum Live Events

Book Discussion and Signing with Author Aaron Cohen

7 p.m. April 14; free

Aaron Cohen, soul specialist in Chicago, talks about his book, "To go up" at the Stax Museum on April 14.

Windy City soul and R&B expert Aaron Cohen comes to Stax’s Studio A for a discussion about his recent book, “Move on Up: Chicago Soul Music and Cultural Power.”

Covering essential artists like Curtis Mayfield, the Chi-Lites, Chaka Khan and the Dells, Cohen examines Chicago’s place in soul history, but digs deeper, finding the role of music as marker and source. of black empowerment. Even as Chicago’s black middle class faced deep segregation, the city’s local record labels produced rising stars singing songs of progress and freedom, songs that became the voice of inspiration and of change in the black community.

Cohen, who teaches humanities at Chicago’s City Colleges and writes for numerous publications including the Chicago Tribune and DownBeat, previously released “Amazing Grace” (Bloomsbury), analyzing Aretha Franklin’s classic soul-gospel album, born in Memphis.

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A National Endowment for the Humanities Public Scholar and two-time recipient of the Deems Taylor Award for Outstanding Music Writing from the American Society of Composers, Authors and Publishers, Cohen will discuss “Move on Up,” answer audience questions and sign copies afterwards. .

After the Stax Museum event, Cohen will perform a series of tunes at Eight & Sand, the on-site bar at Central Station, 545 S. Main, beginning at 9 p.m.

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 many 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, DC, and Los Angeles with a serum that exterminates the black population of those cities. All seems lost until the karate trio of Jim Brown, Fred Williamson and Jim Kelly – powered by a soundtrack recorded by Mayfield the Impressions – decide to take them out.

Book launch and 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 to attend. Go here.

Founded in 2012, Wildsam is an American travel brand “built by telling real stories of places”. The company, which has published a number of beautiful pocket field guides — looking for the real, grounded, and authentic across America — recently released a volume on Memphis.

Filmmaker Zaire Love will be among guests discussing Memphis at the Wildsam book launch at the Stax Museum on April 21.

Wildsam will mark the release with an event at the Stax Museum, featuring an evening celebrating the stories and sounds of the city. Writer Robert Gordon, filmmaker Zaire Love and editor Jesse Davis will discuss with Wildsam editor Hannah Hayes how Memphis music influences their work.

Central BBQ, Old Dominick and Wiseacre will be on hand with food and drink.

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The Obruni Dance Band performs a daytime show at the Stax Museum on April 23.

Live in Studio A: Obruni Dance Band

1 p.m. on April 23; free

The Obruni dance group from Memphis plays funky dance music inspired by the highlife pop sounds of Ghana and West Africa. Just in time for Memphis in May – which celebrates Ghana as its honored country this year – the band will perform at noon at the Stax Museum on April 23.

The band will also mark the release of a new highlife EP/book project and will have copies available during the show.

Stax Museum of American Soul Music

Or: 926 E. McLemore Ave.

Hours: 10am-5pm Tuesday to Sunday

Tickets: $13 for adults; $12 for seniors 62 and older, active military, and students with ID; $10 for children (9 to 12 years old); free for museum members and children 8 and under


Julia P. Cluff