On Aug. 20, 1972, something happened in Los Angeles that remains unmatched in American history. More than 112,000 African Americans gathered in the Los Angeles Memorial Coliseum for a seven-hour concert that became a cultural phenomena known as Wattstax, hosted by Stax Records.
Now, 40 years later, on August 20, the Stax Museum of American Soul Music is commemorating the event's 40th anniversary by presenting "Conversations With: Wattstax 40th Anniversary Discussion." The special panel discussion and Q&A session will feature some of the musical artists, behind-the-scene planners and audience members who were there on that day.
The event is open to the public and takes place from 6 p.m. to 8 p.m. Admission is $5 for Stax Museum members, $10 non-members and includes refreshments. Participants will include William Bell, members of The Temprees and the Soul Children, Stax Records publicity director and former Soulsville Foundation CEO Deanie Parker, Deborah Manning (who will sing "Lift Every Voice and Sing"), musical director Lester Snell, Lee Sain, Wattstax organizer and former Stax Records owner Al Bell. The panel will be moderated by Memphis radio personality Henry Nelson.
The date also marks what would have been the 70th birthday of the concert's star, Isaac Hayes, and that will be acknowledged.
Wattstax was an event of soul music and soul solidarity – a peaceful and vivid celebration of self-expression and self-respect, with a positive and empowering message for a community trying to rebuild itself after an era of a mass rebellion that took place in 1965. At the time, it was the second largest gathering of African-Americans in history, second only to the Dr. Martin Luther King Jr.-led March on Washington in 1963.
"This was one of the most significant cultural events of the 20th century," said Stax Museum spokesman Tim Sampson. "As far as we know, this panel discussion is one of the few, if not only, events in the country to commemorate this anniversary. The Stax Museum is proud to be able to mark this day in history."
Earlier this year in conjunction with the anniversary, the Stax Museum opened a special exhibit of large-format photographs and other memorabilia from the concert. It remains on display through April 15, 2013. The museum co-sponsored a screening of the documentary, "Wattstax: The Living Word" at the Memphis Brooks Museum of Art. And the Stax Music Academy's month-long Summer Music Experience focused on Wattstax, culminating in reenactment concerts in Memphis, Boston and Westport, Conn.
(For more information, contact Tim Sampson, 901-485-8735 or tim.sampson@ soulsvillefoundation.org, or visit www.staxmuseum.com.)