Jim Stewart Obituary, Death – Jim Stewart, co-founder of Stax Records in Memphis, died on Monday at the age of 92. According to a statement released by the Stax Museum of American Soul Music, he died “peacefully, surrounded by his family.” In 2002, Stewart was inducted into the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame, which stated that “as producer, engineer, businessman, and mentor, Jim Stewart was at the center of it all.” Stewart’s generous spirit and willingness to open doors, particularly for young Black musicians, changed the lives of those who knew and worked with him at Stax. “Without Jim doing and being who he was, Stax Records would not have existed, and soul music would not have been what it was,” said David Porter, a Stax Hall of Fame songwriter.
“Jim will be remembered for giving me and so many others the opportunity to do what we did.” No matter how talented we were, our music would not have existed if Jim had not been willing to open the door to his studio, record label, and heart. Jim was a true pioneer, and we’ve lost a true inspiration.” The mild-mannered Stewart, a banker by trade, was an unlikely convert to R&B and soul music, but he would go on to found a racially mixed record label in the heart of the 1960s segregated South, influencing some of the most influential works in American music.
Deanie Parker, a longtime Stax publicist and later Soulsville Foundation president, recalled, “In 1962, Mr. Stewart was the unpretentious soft-spoken diminutive white guy I met with a Brylcreem lathered hair part and dark fat-rim glasses.” “He gave us opportunities that most Black Americans did not have, and we gave him an indelible Memphis Sound that we created ‘together’ at Stax Records.” “The best part of our friendly city is the music made in the heart of South Memphis.” “Memphis music is timeless, authentic art that teaches and touches your soul,” Parker continued, “just like the iconic [sounds] recorded on Jim Stewart’s record label from 1957 to 1975.”
Stewart was born on July 29, 1930, in Middleton, Tennessee, a rural community 70 miles east of Memphis, into a musical family that included his sisters, father, and uncle, all of whom were gospel musicians. Stewart learned to play the fiddle as a child after being inspired by Western swing bandleader Bob Wills. “At heart, I’m a hillbilly.” “I grew up listening to the Grand Ole Opry,” Stewart said at the Stax Museum in a rare public appearance in 2018. Stewart graduated from high school and moved to Memphis, where he worked as a stock clerk before joining the military and playing fiddle in the special services. After earning a business degree from Memphis State University, he began working in the bond department at First National Bank. Stewart spent his weekends studying law and playing fiddle in a band called Canyon Cowboys.
Stewart has kept a low profile over the last two decades, occasionally visiting the Stax Museum of American Soul Music, which opened in 2003 on the site of the original studio. Stewart was particularly proud of the work of the Stax Music Academy, which nurtured the talents of young Memphis musicians in the same way that the label had done decades before. Stewart did return to the Stax Museum for a legacy celebration in 2018, where his original fiddle was donated to the museum’s permanent collection. A microphone was passed around the room during that event to allow Stax alumni in attendance to introduce themselves. Carla Thomas, the Queen of Stax, spoke with Stewart. “You’re a jewel in any crown that anyone says Stax Records wears,” Thomas explained. “I am completely smitten by you.”
Al Bell delivered the evening’s benediction, summarizing the affection for Stewart and his role in history. “We all became a part of your dreams and visions, Jim Stewart,” a sobbing Bell said. “Our lives would not have been the same if you hadn’t come along at the right time.” “Thank you very much, and God bless you.” Stewart appeared moved by the outpouring of love from so many old friends after the ceremony. “I’m speechless,” Stewart said softly, overcome by the outpouring of love. Stewart’s three children, Lori Stewart, Shannon Stewart, and Jeff Stewart, as well as two grandchildren, Alyssa Luibel and Jennifer Stewart, survive him. A memorial service will be held. In lieu of flowers, the family requests that memorial contributions be made to Stax Music Academy.