Procedures for Teachers

Time Allotment: one class period

1. Many students may not have a clear understanding of the characteristics of soul music. Have them go to the Stax Museum of American Soul Music homepage at and listen to two to three minutes of the seven audio clips featured there. The clips are of songs by these Stax artists: Otis Redding, Isaac Hayes, the Staple Singers, Booker T. & the MG’s, Rufus and Carla Thomas, Johnnie Taylor, and Albert King.

2. Once the students finish listening to the clips, initiate a short discussion about the musical attributes that they heard. Specific attributes to focus on could include the song’s rhythm or beat, the various musical instruments, the type of lyrics, how the different songs made the students feel, and the students’ familiarity with the songs (many students will recognize some of the tunes). On the board or overhead, list the words and phrases that the students use to describe the music.

3. Provide the students with the following definition for soul music:

“Style of U.S. popular music sung and performed primarily by African American musicians, having its roots in gospel music and rhythm and blues. The term was first used in the 1960s to describe music that combined rhythm and blues, gospel, jazz, and rock music and that was characterized by intensity of feeling and earthiness. In its earliest stages, soul music was found most commonly in the South, but many of the young singers who were to popularize it migrated to cities in the North. The founding of Motown in Detroit, Mich., and Stax-Volt in Memphis, Tenn., did much to encourage the style.”


“Soul music has many definitions, but I like to think of it as a bridge — the common ground discovered between black and white cultures, expressed in music.”

— Robert Gordon, producer/director of RESPECT YOURSELF

Explain that because soul was a combination of many musical styles, it encompassed a wide variety of sounds, so songs that may sound very different can still be considered soul music.

4. So that students can gain a better understanding of the styles of music that came together to form what we describe as soul, distribute the What Is Soul? study guide and direct the students to the Stax River of Music Styles section of the Soul Learning Web site at Using the music and information presented in the Musical Styles and Stax Hits pages, teach the students about the various forms of music that influenced soul and gave Stax artists their particular sound.

(Note to teachers: Print out the What Is Soul? Study Guide Key and use it during the class discussion for this activity.)

5. Discuss the origins and characteristics of each type of music included in the Musical Styles page, then spend the rest of the discussion having the students share their impressions of the Stax Hits section. Ask them which songs they enjoyed most and least and why. Use this time to clarify any questions they have about each of the specific musical styles.

Time Allotment: two to three class periods

1. Introduce RESPECT YOURSELF: THE STAX RECORDS STORY by explaining to the students that they will be watching a program about how the people at Stax Records went about developing a new style of music and how African-American performers were able to achieve great success during a time when the country was torn by the civil rights movement and racial discrimination. Instruct them to view the program carefully and fill out the Viewing Guide completely, so they can participate in class discussion activities.

2. Distribute the Viewing Guide and have the students read the questions before they watch the program. Encourage them to provide specific examples from the program when answering the questions and support their ideas and answers. Watch RESPECT YOURSELF: THE STAX RECORDS STORY as a class. Pause the program as needed for brief discussions or to provide time for the students to answer the questions in the guide.

3. After the students have watched the entire program and completed the Viewing Guide, discuss each question in the guide.

Time Allotment: two class periods

1. Divide the students into pairs or small groups and have them create a multimedia presentation (such as a PowerPoint presentation) about a specific Stax artist. Encourage them to incorporate musical clips and pictures as well as research from Internet and library resources to tell the life story of the performer they’ve selected. They should also include biographical information, career highlights, and any special events or causes the artist was associated with throughout his or her career. Here is a list of some Stax artists and Web sites that the students can use to begin their research.

Otis Redding

Isaac Hayes

Rufus Thomas

The Rock and Roll Hall of Fame and Museum: Inductees: The Staple Singers

The Rock and Roll Hall of Fame and Museum: Inductees: Booker T. & the MG’s

The Rock and Roll Hall of Fame and Museum: Inductees: Wilson Pickett

Luther Ingram

Johnnie Taylor

The Rock and Roll Hall of Fame and Museum: Inductees: Sam & Dave

Within the presentation, the students should play a song clip from the artist and provide an analysis similar to what’s included on the Stax River of Music Styles ( page utilized earlier in the lesson. Presentations should not exceed five minutes in length.

2. When all the students have completed their multimedia projects, each presentation should be shown to the class.


1. Many of the songs initially recorded by Stax artists have been re-recorded by other performers and become big hits. Using information from the program, the Stax Museum of American Soul Music Web site, and other resources, work as a class to compile a list of popular Stax songs that have been re-made by other artists. Have the students work in small groups to collect different versions of these songs and then compare and contrast them. The students could illustrate the similarities and differences between the various versions using graphic organizers, such as Venn diagrams. They could then play the different versions for each other and use their graphic organizers to discuss how the songs evolved over time.

2. Encourage the students to learn more about the civil rights movement and how race relations at Stax were extremely unusual for the time. They can start by researching what life was like for blacks and whites in Memphis between 1955 and 1975. Use the research as a basis for class discussions about how the individuals at Stax Records became a family by focusing on the music. Discuss how the program’s title, RESPECT YOURSELF, connects to the theme of race and why the filmmakers may have chosen it.