Stax's Jim Stewart honored with Trustees Award at special Grammy ceremony

Just two months after his passing, Stax Records co-founder Jim Stewart was honored with a Grammy award Saturday in Los Angeles.

Stewart, who died Dec. 5 at the age of 92, was among those celebrated as part of The Recording Academy's Special Merit Awards Ceremony, which honored the Lifetime Achievement Award, Trustees Award and Technical Grammy Award winners.

Stax co-founder Jim Stewart's family -- son Jeff Stewart, granddaughter Jennifer Stewart, and daughters Shannon Stewart and Lori Stewart -- flanked by Recording Academy CEO Harvey Mason Jr. and Recording Academy chair Tammy Hurt at the Special Merit Awards ceremony in Los Angeles during which Jim Stewart was honored with a Trustees Award, a career honor for non-performers.

Presented during an event held at the Wilshire Ebell Theatre, Stewart was recognized with a Trustees Award, a career honor for non-performers.

A banker by trade and a country fiddler in his spare time, the Brunswick, Tennessee-based Stewart launched Stax (originally called Satellite Records) in 1957. After moving his garage studio to South Memphis and the former Capitol Theatre in 1959, Stewart would become a convert to R&B and soul music. He would go on to develop a unique, racially mixed record company in the heart of the segregated South of the 1960s, and helped shape some of the most influential works in American music.

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Stewart is the third Stax label visionary to garner a Special Merit Grammy. Estelle Axton, his sister and Stax Records co-founder, was similarly honored in 2007, while Stewart’s later partner and eventual Stax owner Al Bell was given the Trustees Award in 2011. Stewart was also inducted into the Rock 'n’ Roll Hall of Fame in 2002, and was part of the inaugural class of the Memphis Music Hall of Fame in 2012, along with Axton.

Members of Stewart’s family — including his son Jeff Stewart, daughters Lori and Shannon Stewart, and granddaughter Jennifer Stewart — were on hand to accept the Grammy award.

Stewart’s contributions to music were recognized as part of a video presentation during the ceremony, which hailed his “momentous role in establishing the sound of Memphis, the sound of soul music, and the soundtrack of the 1960s.”

“We are honored to be here today for my father,” said Lori Stewart, who spoke of her father's musical dream, which began when he was a small boy in rural West Tennessee and ultimately came to fruition decades later when Stewart moved the Stax studio into South Memphis.

“People started coming from around the corner, across the street and across town,” Lori Stewart said. “Someone said that when Jim Stewart moved into that theater, a flower garden started to grow composed of many different colors.

“Dad had an open door policy that helped create a utopian environment that made Stax more like a family than a business,” she added. “Behind those doors, was a diverse and integrated group of artists finding common ground and mutual respect coming together to create the sound that became uniquely Stax… music still heard around the world and that will continue to have an influence on many generations to come. Music that was given life because of the dream of a young boy.”

Stewart’s granddaughter Jennifer Stewart called him, “a man before his time. Not only was he an innovator in music… he was also an advocate for equal rights and opportunities for everyone.”

“He didn’t care where you came from, what color your skin was or gender,” Jennifer Stewart said. “If you had any kind of talent he wanted you to be a part of this family. He taught the most powerful lesson I could learn: We should all try a little more tenderness.”

Stax co-founder Jim Stewart speaks while being interviewed by Deanie Parker during a ceremony where Stewart donated his fiddle to the Stax Museum of American Soul Music in Memphis on July 25, 2018.
Stax co-founder Jim Stewart speaks while being interviewed by Deanie Parker during a ceremony where Stewart donated his fiddle to the Stax Museum of American Soul Music in Memphis on July 25, 2018.

Stewart’s eldest, son Jeff Stewart, thanked longtime family friend and Stax executive Deanie Parker and Recording Academy Memphis chapter head Jon Hornyak for their help in making the Grammy recognition possible.

“My dad would be honored and humbled by this award,” Jeff Stewart said. “But one of the things he would say is this doesn’t go just to me, it goes to all the people that were part of Stax for those decades: the artists, producers, writers and engineers who all came together and created... that magic.”

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In addition to Trustees Award recipients in Stewart, Axton and Bell, Stax Records stars Otis Redding, Isaac Hayes, Sam & Dave, Booker T. and the MGs, the Staple Singers and veteran Stax session players The Memphis Horns have all previously received Lifetime Achievement Grammys.

Other Memphis music icons including B.B. King, Jerry Lee Lewis, Johnny Cash and Al Green have also been recognized with Lifetime Achievement Grammys. Sun Records founder Sam Phillips and Hi Records head Willie Mitchell are previous Trustees Award recipients.

Stewart was part of an illustrious class of Special Merit Award winners on Saturday. Others who were recognized with Lifetime Achievement Grammys included grunge titans Nirvana, vocalist Bobby McFerrin, blues great Ma Rainey, Chic founder/guitarist/producer Nile Rodgers, rap pioneer Slick Rick "The Ruler," Motown legends The Supremes and rockers Ann Wilson and Nancy Wilson of Heart.

Famed rock photographer Henry Diltz and jazz musician/educator Ellis Marsalis joined Stewart among the Trustees Award honorees, while the Technical Grammy Awards went to the Audio Engineering Society and Auto-Tune inventor Dr. Andy Hildebrand.

The Special Merit Awards are part of the 65th annual Grammy award celebrations, which will culminate with the Premiere Ceremony and live Grammy telecast on CBS on Sunday.

This article originally appeared on Memphis Commercial Appeal: Grammys 2023: Stax's Jim Stewart honored with Trustees Award