Our History

Stax Music Academy began June 1, 2000 at Stafford Elementary School with 125 students. 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 and engage in cultural exchanges at the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame in Cleveland, The Kennedy Center in Washington D.C. for a July 4th performance, and in Melbourne, Sydney, and Canberra Australia, where the students performed special concerts for the United States Ambassador to Australia, among other venues.

Students have performed for Oprah Winfrey, Isaac Hayes, Mavis Staples, Bono of U2, Stevie Wonder, Bill Clinton, and other celebrities and dignitaries.

Since 2008, every SMA high school senior has been accepted to a college or university, many on full-tuition scholarships. College and universities include Brown University, University of Memphis, University of Tennessee, Berklee College of Music, Southwest Tennessee Community College, Murray State University, University of Indiana, Rhodes College, Spellman College, and Harvard University.

SMA students study vocals, instrumentals, music writing, music theory, production, and most 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 with, participated in workshops with, and/or performed with the likes of Dave Hollister (R&B singer, formerly with BLACKstreet), 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), Mavis Staples, Mable John, John Legend, Bootsie Collins,  Lalah Hathaway, George Clinton, Steve Miller, William Bell, the Hi Rhythm Section, Bobby Rush, Otis Clay, Marcus Miller, Branford Marsalis, and B.B. King.

Highlights Over the Years


Two SMA students were selected to sing backup for Faith Hill during the 2008 Freedom Awards Dinner and Ceremony hosted by the National Civil Rights Museum.


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


  • SMA students were invited to perform at the national AARP convention in Orlando, Florida. Other entertainers include Gladys Knight, Los Lobos, Gloria Gaynor, Judy Collins, and BB King.
  • SMA students were chosen as the opening act for Stax legend Booker T. Jones at the Levitt Shell in Memphis.


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.


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.


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.


SMA was invited to and performed for Democratic presidential candidate Hillary Clinton at a campaign rally.


  • 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, and others.
  • SMA students performed in concert with Stax legend Booker T. Jones of Booker T. & the MGs.
  • SMA students 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.


A group of SMA students embarked on a European tour to celebrate the 50th anniversary of the historic 1967 Stax/Volt European Tour. Students played to packed houses and rave reviews in Manchester, London, Hitchin, Sage Gateshead, and Milton Keynes, England, as well as Bordeaux and Cahors France, playing alongside Mavis Staples in the Cahors Blues Festival, the oldest Blues Festival in Europe.


  • SMA students performed many public concerts in Memphis, including and internationally-covered performance during the MLK 50 commemoration at the National Civil Rights Museum.
  • Alumni performed at a Kohl’s annual employee meeting in Nashville, which resulted in a $50,000 donation from the company.
  • Students also performed for the Soulsville USA Festival, Make A Wish Foundation concert for Service Master,
  • SMA students performed an Aretha Franklin tribute at her Memphis birth home on the day of her funeral.


SMA students performed two Black History Month concerts at University of Memphis for Black History Month and to celebrate Memphis’ 2019 Bicentennial.