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 provided high quality music education and youth development to thousands of students. Here is a brief history of our accomplishments and milestones to date:


2000 – Stax Music Academy’s inaugural year of programming includes such instructors as Stax legends Rufus and Carla Thomas. Its first graduation was held at nearby HBCU LeMoyne-Owen College and its first Summer Music Camp Grand Finale was held with Watoto De Afrika at University of Memphis.

2002 – On July 24, 2002, the ribbon was cut during the grand opening ceremonies for the newly constructed Stax Music Academy, even before the opening of the Stax Museum (opened in May 2003) because the need for positive youth programming in Soulsville USA was more urgent than even the need for the Stax Museum.

2004 – Stax Music Academy hosts its Summer Music Camp Grand Finale concert at Memphis’ Orpheum Theater with special guest Mavis Staples of Stax Records icons the Staple Singers

2006 – Stax Music Academy embarks on its first-ever Summer Soul Tour Presented by FedEx, opening the festivities at the prestigious Porretta Soul Festival in Porretta Terme, Italy and toured the country with visits to Rome, Florence, and other cities. It is the first international trip for the academy.

2007 – Stax Music Academy embarks on its first domestic Summer Soul Tour Presented by FedEx performing at Cleveland’s Rock and Roll Hall of Fame, Kennedy Center in Washington, D.C., and other venues in Pittsburg and Philadelphia.

2008 – Stax Music Academy Summer Soul Tour Presented by FedEx takes students on a concert and cultural tour of Australia with stops in Melbourne, the capital city of Canberra, and Sydney. Students perform public and private concerts, engage in workshops with Aboriginal students and patients at Royal Children’s Hospitals, perform for consulate general and staff, and are treated to tea at the embassy residence of then United States Ambassador to Australia The Honorable Robert McCallum.

  • All Stax Music Academy seniors are accepted to college, which happens every year from to then to present.

2009 – Stax Music Academy students open for B.B. King at his annual King Homecoming Festival in his hometown of Indianola, Mississippi.

2010 – Stax Music Academy students perform at the national AARP convention in Orlando with Stax legend William Bell and at Disneyworld. Other AARP entertainers include Gladys Knight, B.B. King, Gloria Gaynor, Los Lobos, and Judy Collins.

2011 – In January, Stax Music Academy students are featured artists at the nationally televised 19th Annual Trumpet Awards in Atlanta, GA.

  • In June, Stax Music Academy perform for five days to a collective audience over 1 million people at the Smithsonian Folklife Festival on the National Mall in Washington, D.C. during the festival’s first ever salute to R&B music.
  • Students perform at Lincoln Center in New York City as part of their Summer Soul Tour.
  • Stax Music Academy is featured for the first time on NBC Today show, the most-watched news program in the world, in a segment with former First Daughter Jenna Bush Hager.

2012 –Stax Music Academy performs two concerts in Berlin, Germany during the opening of “Memphis Exhibition Berlin” and perform for then-United States Ambassador The Honorable Philip D. Murphy, his wife Tammy Snyder Murphy, staff, media, and the general public.

  • Summer Soul Tour includes performances at Berklee College of Music in Boston and Levitt Pavilion in Westport, Connecticut with special guests GRAMMY© Award winning artist Kirk Whalum and Vaneese Thomas, daughter of legendary Rufus Thomas.

2013 – Stax Music Academy embarks on Summer Soul Tour featuring blues performances at Morgan Freeman’s Ground Zero Blues Club in Clarksdale, Mississippi. B.B. King’s Club Ebony in Indianola, Mississippi, and a concert in conjunction with the Tipatina Foundation in New Orleans at famed Tipitina’s Nightclub.

2013 – Stax Music Academy forms its first alumni band as a way to keep its former students in the ‘Stax Music Academy family,’ provide them with paid summer employment, further hone their musical performance skills, and offer tourists and locals alike a unique music experience, with summer performances in the Stax Museum of American Soul Music and B.B King’s Blues Club on Beale Street. Band is formed each year after through present and is one of the most sought-after acts in Memphis.

2016 – Stax Music Academy is invited to perform on the National Mall in Washington, D.C. for three days at the grand opening festival of the Smithsonian’s National Museum of African American History and Culture. SMA is again featured on NBC’s Today show to millions of viewers, as well as in print and video in USA Today.

  • 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.

2017 – Stax Music Academy embarks on a concert tour through the UK and France, performing all Stax music to celebrate the 50th anniversary of the 1967 Stax/Volt European Tour with shows in Cahors and Bordeaux, France, and Hitchin, Manchester, London, Milton Keynes, and Gateshead/Newcastle, England. Tour includes live performances on the BBC, major European and American press articles, and garners more than 400 million traditional media and social media impressions. Shares festival stages with Stax icons Mavis Staples, William Bell, and others.

2018 – Soulsville Foundation (which oversees Stax Music Academy, Stax Museum of American Soul Music, and The Soulsville Charter School) elects its first Stax Music Academy graduate to its board of directors, Kirby Dockery. Dockery – now a songwriter for Jay Z’s Roc Nation with credits on hits by the likes of Paul McCartney, Kanye West, Rihanna, and Demi Lovato – establishes Stax Music Academy “Songbird” scholarship for students who create new, original music.

  • 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 and Make A Wish Foundation concert for Service Master.
  • SMA students performed an Aretha Franklin tribute at her Memphis birth home in Memphis on the day of her funeral.

2019 – Justin Timberlake visits Stax Music Academy for two days in August for a songwriting workshop in the new songwriting lab he has helped install and students perform a concert for him and a team of collaborators, including songwriter/producer Timbaland. Timberlake and Levi’s Music Project to make major partnership announcement October 15, 2019.

  • Kameron Whalum (former SMA student and now Bruno Mars and the Hooligans’ trombonist and backup singer) joined SMA as Artist-in-Residence.
  • SMA students and alumni performed in the Memphis in May bicentennial Celebrate Memphis event
  • SMA engages in film workshops and intensives with Tom Shayadac (Brian Banks, Ace Ventura), Billie Worley (Memphis Heat, The Witness, The Invaders), Kevin brooks (Bonfire, Last Day)
  • SMA student screened short film on SMA Summer Experience  at Indie Memphis Youth Film Fest
  • SMA welcomed five students from Austin, TX to 2019 Summer Music Experience
  • SMA staff Pat Mitchell Worley (Executive director), Melody Barham (Student Services) and Kameron Whlaum (Artist-in-Residence) featured at Berklee College of Music’s prestigious 5 week program

2000 – 2019 – Stax Music Academy students participate in workshops and performances with a wide variety of GRAMMY©-winning artists, former Stax Records artists, and other music industry professionals including Huey Lewis, Steve Miller, George Clinton, Lalah Hathaway, Steve Cropper, Booker T. Jones, the Bar-Kays, R&B violinist Damien Escobar, Steve Jordon, Bootsy Collins, John Legend, cast of Motown the Musical, cast of MEMPHIS the musical, Marcus Miller, Charles Lloyd, Branford Marsalis, PJ Morton, Kanye West, The Roots, former First Lady Laura Bush, BBC television/radio host and Squeeze founder Jools Holland, British soul sensation Beverly Knight, Elvis Costello, Candi Staton, George Duke, members of Janet Jackson’s band, former Stax Records owner Al Bell, Stax Records founder Jim Stewart, and numerous others.

2020 – Pandemic shutters SMA in March. Students are immediate changed over to virtual learning with online lessons, rehearsals, mental wellness, check ins, practice sessions, and more.

2021 – Justin Timberlake returns to Soulsville to film a video to be shown during the Biden-Harris Inauguration and records “Better Days” with Ant Clemmons using SMA students as a gospel choir. Films in and outside of the Stax Museum.

2021 – SMA and Stax Museum film their first-ever free, virtual Black History Month films, which are viewed by more than 150,000 people.

2022 – Stax Museum kicks off its 20th Anniversary celebration by having triplets Sam, Chris, and Jamaal Franklin perform in a (not so) secret concert in Studio A as the rhythm section for legendary Booker T. Jones.

2023 – SMA students perform in July at Lincoln Center with Booker T. Jones.