Ithaca Blog

Wednesday, August 01, 2007

"Respect Yourself": Stax Records Documentary on PBS Tonight

The "Great Performances" series on public television tonight airs "Respect Yourself: The Stax Records Story." If you know the Stax story, you know how much you will enjoy its depiction. If you don't, you owe it to yourself to find out.

Stax Records was a homegrown label from Memphis in the 1960's with such stars as Otis Redding, Booker T. and the MGs, Sam and Dave, Isaac Hayes, the Staples Singers, and many others. It was a fledgling operation run by friends and colleagues who believed in their ability to produce good music and compete in that era's heady marketplace of radio, records, and performance.

Motown, its more famous, less funky counterpart in Detroit, eclipsed Stax with enormous success courting the young white audience. Stax never consciously courted any market, except the market for good, soulful music. While never disparaging commercial success, with Stax the mission was, first, the music.

The mission was also social. Stax operated out of a renovated, abandoned movie house in a racially mixed downtown area. Segregation was law at the time, but Stax ignored it. Blacks and whites worked together in every aspect of the business.

The triumphs were profound, though fleeting, with the death of Otis Redding, Stax's biggest star, in an airplane crash in 1967 at age 26 (he died before the release of his biggest hit, "(Sittin' On) the Dock of the Bay"), and a subsequent series of business downturns. But the artistic and social triumphs live on, as recounted in this important and exciting documentary.

Stephen Burke
for Ithaca Blog

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