HBO Original Documentary Series Stax: Soulsville U.S.A. Debuts May 20

The HBO Original four-part documentary series STAX: SOULSVILLE U.S.A., an official selection of the 2024 SXSW Film & TV Festival and winner of the TV Premiere Audience Award, is produced and directed by filmmaker Jamila Wignot. The series, a production of Laylow Pictures and White Horse Pictures in association with Concord Originals, Polygram Entertainment, and Warner Music Entertainment, debuts MONDAY, MAY 20 (9:00-10:00 p.m. ET/PT) on HBO with two episodes airing back-to-back, followed by the final two episodes airing back-to-back on Tuesday, May 21 at the same time. All four episodes of the series will be available to stream on Max on May 20.

By 1973, Stax Records was one of the recording industry’s most influential producers of soul music, breaking acts such as Otis Redding, Isaac Hayes, Booker T. & the M.G.’s, Sam & Dave, and many more. In just under two decades, the scrappy outsider had grown from a modest family-owned record store and studio in Memphis, TN to a trailblazing global music label. STAX: SOULSVILLE U.S.A. chronicles the audacious group of individuals who dared to make music on their own terms, smashing racial barriers and defining an era and leaving an enduring musical legacy in their wake. Driven by a striking collection of restored and remastered archival performance footage and intimate interviews with key players in the label’s remarkable history, STAX: SOULSVILLE U.S.A. details the unlikely origin story of Stax Records and pays tribute to its complex music library and the legendary artists that emerged from the iconic studio.

Founded in 1957 by Jim Stewart and co-owned with his sister, Estelle Axton, the company drew upon a mix of young, local talent – musicians, songwriters, and producers – who would create the unforgettable Stax sound. Against the backdrop of the American south of the ‘50s, ‘60s, and ‘70s, white and Black artists worked together, defying segregation, and producing hits such as “(Sittin’ On) the Dock of the Bay,” “Soul Man,” “Green Onions,” and the Oscar-winning “Theme from Shaft.” At the peak of its success, Stax artists commemorated the Watts Rebellion by playing to over 100,000 African Americans at the 1972 benefit concert Wattstax. During an era of major social turbulence, systemic inequity, and racial tensions, Stax, an integrated company, saw stunning artistic and cultural success, and managed to rebound from repeated business setbacks and tragic losses before the studio ultimately dissolved after fifteen pioneering years.

  • Featured Participants: A wealth of music and archival footage is complemented by insight from: Stax founder Jim Stewart and co-owner Estelle Axton; the legendary Otis Redding and Isaac Hayes, Stax producer and artist; Al Bell, Stax’s former president, owner, and director of promotions; Deanie Parker, Stax’s director of publicity; David Porter, musician and Stax songwriter; Booker T. Jones, Booker T. & The M.G.’s musician and band leader; Booker T. & the M.G.’s guitarist, Steve Cropper; Rufus Thomas, artist and Memphis DJ; Carla Thomas, Stax singer and songwriter; Sam Moore, singer; Bar-Kays bassist, James Alexander; musician and Bar-Kays drummer, Willie Hall; Howard Robertson, Stax publicist; Terry Manning, Stax engineer; Bettye Crutcher, Stax songwriter; Bobby Manuel, Stax guitarist; Wattstax cinematographers Larry Clark and Roderick Young; Bruce Talamon, photographer; James Douglas, marketing and promotions for Stax; and Rob Bowman, historian and author of “Soulsville, U.S.A.”
  • Episode Descriptions

CHAPTER ONE “Cause I Love You”

Debut date: MONDAY, MAY 20 (9:00-10:00 p.m. ET/PT)

With humble beginnings in Memphis, TN in the late 1950s, Stax Records quickly becomes one of the most influential record labels on the Black music scene, breaking out iconic artists including Sam & Dave, Booker T. & the MG’s, and Otis Redding. With growing popularity in the Black market, Stax executives and musicians were determined to transcend racial divides and bring their music into the American mainstream.


Debut date: MONDAY, MAY 20 (10:00-11:00 p.m. ET/PT)

Stax Records finally breaks through to the white market, with their crossover hit “Soul Man” and Otis Redding’s performance at the Monterey Pop Festival. But Redding’s untimely death, the assassination of Dr. Martin Luther King Jr., legal obstacles, and ongoing racial tensions in Memphis reveal cracks in the surface at the company.

CHAPTER THREE “Respect Yourself”

Debut date: TUESDAY, MAY 21 (9:00-10:00 p.m. ET/PT)

After the tragic death of Otis Redding and the Atlantic Records merger that left Stax in the dust, Stax promotions director Al Bell steps up to save the company, releasing hit records such as “Soul Limbo” and “Who’s Making Love?.” Stax puts their efforts behind Isaac Hayes, who receives GRAMMY and Oscar awards for his work composing the music and theme song for the 1971 box office smash hit “Shaft.”

CHAPTER FOUR “Nothing Takes The Place Of You”

Debut date: TUESDAY, MAY 21 (10:00-11:00 p.m. ET/PT)

By the 1970s, Stax is in its prime and decides to give back to the Black community in Los Angeles, CA by putting on the Wattstax benefit concert in 1972 and recording the event as a documentary. However, not long after, money troubles plague the company when their bank goes under and drags Stax down with them, forcing the company to shutter its doors.