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Soul Sanctuary

A Building Team re-creates the look and feel of the Memphis Sound in a museum and music academy dedicated to keeping soul alive.

June 01, 2004 |

In 1963, sixteen-year-old Deanie Parker became the second employee at Stax Records, the famed Memphis, Tenn., record shop and recording studio, and centerpiece of the unique Memphis Sound, where the likes of Otis Redding, Sam and Dave, Albert King, and the Staples Singers first recorded. What Sun Records was to rock 'n' roll, Stax was to R&B.

Today, Parker is president and CEO of Soulsville Inc., developer of the Stax Music Academy & Museum of American Soul Music, winner of a 2004 Building Team Merit Award. Her mission: to keep the flame of soul music burning in young hearts.

"It is an awesome feeling, to have been there from the beginning," she says. "The building of the museum and academy was a long-time dream of mine. It's a little bit eerie — a little spiritual."

After sibling owners Jim Stewart and Estelle Axton (the name "Stax" comes from their last names) went bankrupt in 1976, the original building was torn down to the slab, and along with it went the neighborhood. Years later, when Soulsville Inc. was formed its board went looking for an architect to create a physical entity that would bring back the glory years of soul and also have a positive impact on youth in the area.

Local architects Looney Ricks Kiss won the job after they "auditioned" for board chairman and project/development director Andy F. Cates and the rest of the board dressed as a soul group, singing and dancing their way through the bidding process.

"It was a riot, just hilarious," Parker recalls. "There was no question in our minds who was going to get the job. To have them join with us in the spirit of the project made the difference."

LRK began designing the campus in late 2001. Re-creating Studio A became the focus of the museum plan.

With little documentation of what the original building looked like, the architects had to rely on the few contemporary photographs that were available, as well as historical accounts and testimonials of musicians and local townspeople. LRK principal Frank Ricks says his designers were so hungry for details, they were counting bricks in old photographs.

The Building Team also had few musical artifacts to work with. Museum artifacts were being collected during the design process, forcing the team to manipulate their plans and displays often, even up to the final hours before opening.


Looney Ricks Kiss designed both the shell and the building’s interior, everything from painting the walls to the displays and their graphic design. The museum holds artifacts from musical icons Otis Redding, Johnny Taylor, Booker T and the MGs, Isaac Hayes, and the Staples Singers.

"We were trying to design a museum around ideas, but without exactly knowing what we would end up with," says Ricks. "We ultimately ended up taking down a small church from the delta and reassembling it inside the museum."

They did luck out on one occasion, getting their hands on Isaac Hayes's 1972 gold Cadillac Eldorado. (Shaft's Eldo!)

With this piecemeal information base, LRK designers were able to re-create Studio A's sloped theater floor, tiled and curtained walls, and sound and drum booths. They went with a circa-1968 look for the museum building's outer shell. Next door, the Building Team (which included local architect of record Self Tucker Architects; structural engineer Burr & Cole; and GC Flintco Construction) erected a two-story academy and outdoor amphitheatre, where neighborhood children could be taught leadership and educational skills through music. The academy opened in July 2002, the museum a year later.

"We like to work on projects that have a genuineness or authenticity to them," says Ricks, whose firm also designed the city's National Civil Rights Museum renovation (see BD&C, October 2003). When the museum first opened, one of the original Stax musicians told Ricks, "This is it! I can't believe it's really back."

But Ricks says the project had impact beyond the building's lot line. "We saw the neighborhood revitalization happen as we were working on Stax," said LRK's Ricks "The entire board of Stax will tell you, this is not about getting a building erected and running a museum, but about revitalizing a neighborhood and helping at-risk teens. The whole purpose of the project was about community, neighborhood, and revitalization."


The original Stax Record Co. was founded by sibling owners Jim Stewart and Estelle Axton. “Stax was always part of the community and the community was always a part of Stax,” says Frank Ricks.

Building Team Awards judge Sue Stewart, SVP of estimating at McCarthy Building Companies, St. Louis, agrees: "It's a project that touches our emotions and our cultural sense."

More than 40 years after she walked into the Stax record shop and studio, Deanie Parker still feels the beat of houseband Booker T and the MGs backing up the next big R&B sensation.

"I get tons of e-mails, feedback over the phone, and people always say, 'Wow! We had no idea that this would be as incredible as it is,'" she says.

Construction Costs

Pre-Construction/General Conditions $522,220
Sitework 582,700
Concrete 545,200
Steel 543,500
Masonry 416,000
Finishes 798,000
Mechanical 830,400
Thermal & Moisture Protection 343,500
Electrical 477,400
Doors & Glass 340,000
Specialties 113,600
Signage & Graphics 140,000
Elevator 39,600
Millwork 150,000
Museum Buildout 1,426,200
Exhibits Fabrication & Installation 2,800,000
Audio/Visual 500,000
TOTAL $10,568,320

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