Wattstax was a historic event of soul music and soul solidarity featuring Stax
Records’ legendary roster of artists. This seven-hour concert, hailed as the “Afro-
American answer to Woodstock,” was held at the Los Angeles Memorial Coliseum in
1972 in response to the Watts riots in LA. It was a peaceful, astounding, and vivid
celebration of self-expression and self-respect and allowed viewers to glimpse the
musical brilliance of the Staple Singers, Rufus Thomas, Kim Weston, Johnnie Taylor,
the Bar-Kays, Isaac Hayes, and Albert King.
The students of Stax Music Academy, a Berklee City Music Network site, celebrated
the 40th anniversary of Wattstax and the upcoming 20th anniversary of Berklee City
Music in a special live performance at the Berklee Performance Center on July 17th.
Grammy Award-winning artist Kirk Whalum also performed with the students,
bringing a blend of blues, gospel, funk, and soul to New England.
The Stax Music Academy is a unique learning center in Memphis that inspires
young people and enhances their academic, cognitive, performance, and leadership
skills by utilizing music with a strong focus on the rich legacy and tradition of Stax
Records. Founded in 2000 with 125 young people, it has helped changed the lives of
thousands of children since. Former Summer Soul Tour performances have included
Lincoln Center in New York City, Smithsonian Folklife Festival and Kennedy Center
in Washington, D. C, and tours of Italy and Australia.
For more background, a powerful documentary, “Wattstax” (1973) by Mel Stuart
focuses on the 1972 Wattstax music festival and the African American community of
Watts in Los Angeles, California.
BPC Photo Credit: Jandro Cisneros