Last week's overflow crowd at the Stax Museum of American Soul Music had good reason to be excited. On the 15th Anniversary of the museum's opening, Executive Director Jeff Kollath entered stage left wearing white gloves and carrying a baritone saxophone. He then placed it on a stand in the center of the stage. A key instrument of the Stax sound was home.
Over nearly 70 years, Floyd Newman has played this sax on countless records, including Stax hits by the Mar-Keys, Otis Redding, Booker T. & The MGs and many others. Mr. Newman didn’t pick up the baritone with the intention of playing on hit records. Originally it was simply a way to help pay tuition at what was then called Arkansas Agricultural, Mechanical & Normal College in Pine Bluff.
In 1949 Floyd Newman had a part time scholarship to AM&N. He told his father that if he switched from alto to baritone sax, he would get a full-year scholarship. His father visited two music stores in Memphis. No luck. He then went to three pawn shops, including one on Beale Street, where Floyd was called home to pick one out. His father paid $200.
Jeff Kollath says that it isn’t often that legendary Stax musicians donate memorabilia from their personal collections, as Mr. Newman has done. The museum has to compete with other collectors. Important items often just get lost over time. But the museum has had a long relationship with Mr. Newman, who has participated in many museum activities over the years. Donating his saxophone to the museum seemed like a perfect fit.
The road can be pretty unforgiving to musical instruments, which is why virtually all touring musicians bring a backup instrument when they travel. But through his college years, two years in the Army, and many years touring the world with the likes of B.B. King and others, Floyd Newman never had a second saxophone, or even a second mouthpiece. He says he didn’t need one, and that he always took care of his instrument so that it always worked well.
Mr. Newman’s 1918 Conn baritone sax is now part of the Stax Museum of American Soul Music’s permanent collection, and will be on display there beginning in a few weeks, when a proper display case is finished.