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Jim Stewart, Co-Founder of Iconic Southern Soul Record Label Stax, Dies at 92

Photo Courtesy Stax Museum of American Soul Music
Jim Stewart, the co-founder of Memphis' music label Stax Records, which introduced Southern soul music to the masses and served as the launching pad for some of the genre's biggest stars, including Isaac Hayes and Otis Redding, is dead. 

The record executive and producer "died peacefully, surrounded by his family," on Monday, according to a statement released by the Stax Museum of American Soul Music. He was 92.

A native of Middleton, Tenn., Stewart moved to Memphis after graduating from high school in 1948. He eventually found work as a bank clerk, before being drafted and serving two years in the Army.

He resumed his job in the bank when he returned to Memphis, while also launching his music career as a part-time fiddle player for a local country music group named the Canyon Cowboys. By 1957, Stewart had started a label, Satellite Records, to distribute country and rockabilly music.

Following the success of "Cause I Love You," a hit by Memphis DJ Rufus Thomas and his 16-year-old daughter Carla, Stewart moved away from country music and began focusing on R&B.

He and his sister Estelle Axton, who mortgaged her home to help him buy recording equipment and co-founded the studio, used the first two letters of their last names to create a portmanteau and renamed the studio Stax, after finding out there was another Satellite Records following the label's initial success.

According to reporting by Bob Mehr of The Commercial Appeal, "for a decade and a half before being forced into involuntary bankruptcy in 1975, Stax cranked out some 800 singles and 300 albums, placing more than 167 hit songs in the Top 100 on the pop charts, and a staggering 243 hits in the Top 100 R&B charts, picking up eight GRAMMYs and an Academy Award (Isaac Hayes for "Theme from Shaft") along the way."

Mehr added, "Musically, the influence of Stax Records is still vivid today in R&B, soul, rock, pop, jazz, hip-hop, and gospel music. Stax songs have been covered by the likes of Aerosmith, Aretha Franklin, the Rolling Stones, the Black Crowes, Bruce Springsteen, David Bowie, Cher, and numerous other bands and artists."

Stewart was inducted into the Rock 'n' Roll Hall of Fame in 2002. 

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