Tune in Tonight: ‘Stax: Soulsville U.S.A.’ recalls a musical upstart

The four-part series “Stax: Soulsville U.S.A.” (9 p.m., and 10 p.m., HBO, TV-MA, concluding Tuesday) recalls a short-lived musical revolution.

Memphis is by no means a major metropolis. But the Tennessee city birthed two small recording studios that changed the sound of popular music and in many ways helped revolutionize American society. In the 1950s, Sun Records would witness the birth of what would become known as rock ‘n’ roll, discovering and signing artists including Elvis Presley, Johnny Cash, Carl Perkins and Jerry Lee Lewis.

Founded in 1957 by brother and sister Jim Stewart and Estelle Axton, the Stax studio would challenge the pop music establishment of the 1960s, marketing a rougher, more “country” brand of jazz, R&B, soul and funk than the polished Motown sound that Detroit producer Berry Gordy branded “the sound of young America.”

Stax stood out as unabashedly race-blind at a time when many Americans considered such attitudes dangerous. Booker T. and the MGs and the Bar-Kays, two popular ensembles that formed the de facto studio band, were notably integrated. Along with these artists, Stax would eventually launch stars including Otis Redding, Isaac Hayes and Sam & Dave, among others.

All this took place against the tumult of the civil rights movement and some of the most vicious suppression of its protests. As one of the few institutions in Memphis where Black and white talent could mingle freely, Stax artists and executives would frequent one of the only integrated places in town, the Lorraine Motel, which would become the infamous site of Dr. Martin Luther King Jr.’s assassination.

While tiny by industry standards, the Stax sound attracted much larger distributors, including Atlantic Records, overseen by the influential Ahmet Ertegun.

The 1970s would bring triumphant moments, including Isaac Hayes’ monumental appearance to accept the Oscar for his “Theme From Shaft.” A 1972 benefit concert attracted 100,000 to the Los Angeles Coliseum, an event captured in the 1974 documentary “Wattstax,” an inspiring blend of music and Black Power politics.

While Stax defied the assumptions of the music industry of the 1960s and the repression of the segregated South, it fell afoul of the corporate consolidation of the music industry in the 1970s, a time when music was turned into a commodity.

Nothing underscores this fact more emphatically than the fact that the Blues Brothers, an homage/parody act featuring John Belushi and Dan Aykroyd, would score a late ’70s hit with their version of the signature Atlantic/Stax single, “Soul Man” by Sam & Dave.

— A very different musical — or at least auditory — experience unfolds on “Independent Lens” (10 p.m., PBS, TV-14, check local listings) concluding its 25th season with the documentary “The Tuba Thieves.” While it begins with the theft of brass instruments from a Los Angeles high school, it asks viewers to contemplate the very nature of sound, listening and the relationship of the deaf community to a world filled with random noise.

In tonight’s season finales, both “MasterChef” (8 p.m., Fox, TV-PG) and “So You Think You Can Dance” (9 p.m., Fox, TV-PG) anoint new champions.


— The top five artists perform live on “The Voice” (8 p.m., NBC, TV-PG).

— “Antiques Roadshow” (9 p.m., PBS, TV-G, check local listings) appraises a “Star Wars” poster signed by Mark Hamill.

— A dead pilot’s wounds inspire UFO-related theories on “NCIS” (9 p.m., CBS, r, TV-14).

— Ditched at the altar, a woman finds love on a solo honeymoon in the 2024 romance “Falling in Love in Niagara” (9 p.m., Hallmark, TV-G).

— “CBS News: An Interview With the Pope” (10 p.m., CBS) continues a conversation begun on last night’s episode of “60 Minutes.”


An adventurer (Anthony Perkins) on the run becomes enchanted with Rima (Audrey Hepburn), a feral jungle girl, in the 1959 adaptation of “Green Mansions” (10 p.m., TCM, TV-PG), a novel from 1904 by William Henry Hudson. A critical and box-office flop produced by Hepburn’s then-husband, Mel Ferrer. The character of Rima the jungle girl would inspire a DC Comics line., so don’t rule out any new screen adaptations!


“The Price Is Right at Night” (8 p.m., CBS, TV-G) … “Jeopardy! Masters” (8 p.m., ABC, TV-PG) … “Celebrity Wheel of Fortune” (9 p.m., ABC, r, TV-PG) … “Weakest Link” (10 p.m., NBC, TV-PG) … “Press Your Luck” (10 p.m., ABC, r, TV-PG).


Sarah Paulson and Paul Scheer are booked on “The Late Show With Stephen Colbert” (11:35 p.m., CBS) … Jimmy Fallon welcomes Eddie Redmayne, Michael McDonald, Paul Reiser and Tems on “The Tonight Show” (11:35 p.m., NBC) … Taylor Tomlinson hosts BenDeLaCreme, Rory Scovel and Harvey Guillen on “After Midnight” (12:35 a.m., CBS).