Jim Stewart, founder of the iconic Memphis label Stax Records, has died aged 92.
The company, originally known as Satellite, was founded by Stewart in 1952 and co-owned by his sister, Estelle Axton. Their current name – a combination of the first two letters of the brothers’ last names – was introduced in 1961.
Stax Records is “synonymous with southern soul music” and has launched the careers of artists such as Otis Redding, Rufus and Carla Thomas, Sam and Dave, Booker T. & the MGs and many others, according to its official website.
A statement posted yesterday (December 5) on Stax Records’ official Twitter account said Stewart “passed away peacefully” “surrounded by his family”. The company was “very saddened” by the news.
“While his influence on soul music cannot be measured, the ‘Memphis sound’ he cultivated in the 1960s and ’70s as a visionary record executive and producer can still be heard and felt in music today,” the Stax statement continues.
“With Stewart’s guidance, Stax launched the careers of such legendary artists as Otis Redding, Isaac Hayes, Carla Thomas, Sam & Dave, The Staple Singers and many others. Our hearts go out to his family and friends.”
Michele Smith, vice president of brand legacy and wealth management for Craft Recordings and Stax Records (via Billboard): “Today we’ve lost an important piece of American music history.”
Smith added that Stewart’s legacy “will live on through the Stax Records label he founded, and the artists, musicians and fans around the world who love Stax music.”
“I don’t know if he ever realized what a huge impact he had on soul music around the world, and we will miss him greatly. Our deepest condolences to his friends and family, especially his children and grandchildren ,” he said.
Jim Stewart was born in Middletown, Tennessee, in 1930 and later moved to Memphis. He served in the army for two years before starting a career in the music industry.
His family has asked for donations to the Stax Music Academy, whose goal is to “encourage young people and improve their academic, cognitive, performance and leadership abilities.”
As The Guardian notes, Stax Records was based in segregated Tennessee. The record company was rare in that it had a mixed-race workforce and tried to elevate its black employees to the same level as its whites.