Our History

Stax Music Academy began 1st June 2000 at Stafford Elementary School with 125 students and the Stax Music Academy building opened in July 2002. Since then SMA has served more than 4,000 students.

The first SMA Summer Soul Tour took place in 2006, with SMA students opening the festivities at the famed Porretta Soul Festival in Rufus Thomas Park in Porretta Terme, Italy. Subsequent Summer Soul Tours took students to perform at the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame in Cleveland, The Kennedy Center in Washington D.C. for a 4th July performance and in Melbourne, Sydney, and Canberra in Australia, where the students performed special concerts for the United States Ambassador.

Since 2008, every SMA high school senior has been accepted to a college or university, many on full-tuition scholarships.

In summer 2010, five SMA students were awarded scholarships to the Berklee College of Music’s Summer Performance Program.

To date, four SMA students have received full-tuition, four-year scholarships to Berklee College of Music.

SMA students study vocals, instrumentals, music writing, music theory, production plus all other aspects of creating ‘real’ music.

SMA students are the core of young people who will take the Memphis sound, particularly that of Stax Records, into the future for generations to come.

SMA students have visited, participated in workshops and/or performed with the likes of:

  • Dave Hollister (R&B singer)
  • Emanuel Ax and Yoko Nozaki (world renowned pianists)
  • Ben Cauley (founding member of the Bar-Kays)
  • Gary Goin (guitarist/songwriter/producer)
  • Augustin Hadelich (world renowned violinist)
  • Brandford Marsalis (world renowned saxophonist)
  • Smokie Norful (Grammy winning gospel singer)
  • Lester Snell (keyboardist, former bandleader, musical director and orchestra leader for Isaac Hayes)
  • Cyrus Chestnut (jazz pianist)
  • Wendy Moten (singer)
  • Candi Staton (singer)
  • N’dambi (singer) and numerous others

Each year SMA students interact with players from the Memphis Grizzlies (NBA team) when they host their annual fundraiser for the SMA, Staxtacular.

In 2009, SMA students opened for B.B. King at his annual B.B. King Homecoming Festival and Concert in his hometown of Indianola, Mississippi.

In 2010, SMA students were invited to perform at the national AARP convention in Orlando, Florida. Other entertainers included Gladys Knight, Los Lobos, Gloria Gaynor, Judy Collins and B.B. King.

On 10th September 2010, SMA students were chosen as the opening act for Stax legend Booker T. Jones at the Levitt Shell in Memphis.
In 2011, SMA students were invited by the Smithsonian Institute to play for their Smithsonian Folklife Festival for five days on the National Mall in Washington, D.C. That same year they performed at Lincoln Center in New York City.

In 2012, SMA students were invited to Berlin, Germany to perform for the grand opening of “Memphis Exhibition Berlin” and performed for United States Ambassador to Germany Philip D. Murphy in addition to media and other invited guests.
In 2014, SMA students were featured in the critically acclaimed documentary Take Me to the River and SMA Alumni students toured internationally to help promote the film.

In November 2015, SMA was invited to and performed for Democratic presidential candidate Hillary Clinton at a campaign rally.
In August 2016, SMA students performed in concert with legendary Nik West, dynamic bassist and vocalist who has played for artists such as Prince, Dave Stewart of the Eurythmics plus others.

In September 2016, SMA students performed in concert with Stax legend Booker T. Jones of Booker T. & the MGs. SMA students also performed at the grand opening of the Smithsonian’s National Museum of African American History and Culture for three days on the National Mall alongside Public Enemy, The Roots, Sweet Honey in the Rock and many other notable artists.

Stax Music Academy European Tour

Coming to an arena near you this Summer