Jim Stewart, the founder of iconic Memphis label Stax Records, has died at the age of 92.
The company, originally known as Satellite, was founded in 1952 by Stewart and co-owned with his sister, Estelle Axton. Its current name – a combination of the first two letters of the siblings’ surnames – was introduced in 1961.
Stax Records is “synonymous with Southern soul music” and launched the careers of artists including Otis Redding, Rufus and Carla Thomas, Sam and Dave, Booker T. & the MGs and more, per its official website.
A statement issued on the official Stax Records Twitter account yesterday (December 5) said that Stewart “passed away peacefully” while “surrounded by his family”. The company said that it was “deeply saddened” by the news.
“While his impact on soul music is immeasurable, the ‘Memphis Sound’ he fostered throughout the 1960s and 70s as a savvy record executive and visionary producer can still be heard and felt in the music of today,” the Stax statement continued.
“With Stewart’s guidance, Stax launched the careers of legendary artists like Otis Redding, Isaac Hayes, Carla Thomas, Sam & Dave, The Staple Singers, and many others. Our hearts are with his family and friends.”
Michele Smith, vice president of estate and legacy brand management at Craft Recordings and Stax Records, said (via Billboard): “Today we lost an important piece of American music history.”
Smith added that Stewart’s legacy “will live on through the Stax Records label that he founded, and the artists, musicians, and fans worldwide that love Stax music”.
“I’m not sure if he ever realised the immense impact that he had on soul music across the globe, and he will be sorely missed. Our condolences go out to his friends and family, especially his children and grandchildren,” she continued.
Jim Stewart was born in Middletown, Tennessee in 1930 and later relocated to Memphis. He served in the armed forces for two years before embarking on a career in the music industry.
His family have requested that donations be made to the Stax Music Academy, which aims to “inspire young people and enhances their academic, cognitive, performance, and leadership skills”.
As The Guardian notes, Stax Records was based in segregation-era Tennessee. The label was a rarity in that it had a mixed-race workforce, and sought to uplift its Black employees as much as its white staff members.