Date of Award
Master of Arts
Brian D. Behnken
Scholarship of the civil rights movement developed academically constructed categories, creating binary understandings of the movement that did not capture the true nuance and complexity of specific circumstances. Music offers a lens through which to view the movement holistically, breaking down the essentialist binary interpretations through postmodern analysis of lyrics and music in its historical context. This work applies that approach to the music of Stax Records in the context of the civil rights movement in Memphis, Tennessee.
Much of the scholarship of the civil rights movement tended to establish four essentialist understandings, a method binary of integrationism versus nationalism, a gender binary of masculinity versus feminism, a theological binary of sacred versus secular activism, and a federalism binary of national versus state power. Stax Records created a decidedly black brand of Southern soul music at an integrated company during the height of the civil rights movement in Memphis and across the United States, providing a powerful example of the limits of either/or understandings of the movement. The artists and producers at Stax, alongside the civil rights leaders and grassroots activists in Memphis, demonstrated the complex nature of the movement in Memphis, which belied clearly defined categories of understanding.
This work begins with an overview of civil rights, Memphis, and soul music scholarship to establish understanding of the binaries which will be challenged, followed by chapters on each of the four essentialist binaries. The subsequent chapters discuss aspects of the Memphis civil rights movement and Stax Records history that challenge each binary, followed by musical analysis of selected recordings to demonstrate how Stax provided both a reflection of an impetus toward social and political change.
Danielson, Jason, "The role of soul: Stax Records and the civil rights movement in Memphis, Tennessee" (2015). Graduate Theses and Dissertations. 14687.