Like anybody, I would like to live – a long life; longevity has its place. But I’m not concerned about that now. I just want to do God’s will. And He’s allowed me to go up to the mountain. And I’ve looked over. And I’ve seen the Promised Land. I may not get there with you. But I want you to know tonight, that we, as a people, will get to the Promised Land.
– Dr. Martin Luther King Jr., April 3, 1968
[D]r. Martin Luther King was born on January 15, 1929 and slain at the Lorraine Motel in Memphis, Tennessee on April 4, 1968.
Now, The National Civil Rights Museum complex of museums is built around the Lorraine Motel. However, in the mid-1960s the Lorraine Motel was a favorite hangout for a variety of soul musicians and artists.
The Lorraine’s proprietor, an African-American named Walter Bailey, bought the motel in 1945. Bailey was a lover of music and named the hotel after the jazz tune “Sweet Lorraine.”
The song was recorded by a number of musicians, including Nat King Cole. The singer was one of the artists who stayed at the upscale establishment, which catered to whites and blacks during harsh segregation in the South.
|Eddie Floyd wrote his hit single “Knock on Wood” for Stax Records at the Lorraine Motel.|
|The Lorraine Motel in Memphis is where great songs were written. It’s also where MLK was killed.|
The music business in Memphis played an important role in shaping the sounds American’s listened to in the early 1950s and beyond, thanks in part, to Sam Phillip’s Sun Records. The label was home to black artists like Ike Turner and Little Milton, as well as white acts like Elvis Presley and Roy Orbison, to name a few.
Jim Stewart and his sister Estelle Axton decided to start Stax Records (STewart/AXton) because they were inspired by Phillip’s success with Sun Records. The first manifestation of Stax Records delivered hits from artists like Rufus Thomas, his daughter Carla, Booker T. & The M.G.’s, Otis Redding, The Mad Lads and Sam & Dave.
Stax ultimately became independent after an infamous, botched recording deal with Atlantic Records gave the major the ownership to all of Stax’s master recordings.
Stax struck out on its own and started rebuilding the business and issuing music, under the direction of new African-American co-owner Al Bell.
As the Stax sound continued to grow in popularity throughout the world, the Lorraine Motel welcomed musicians like Wilson Pickett, Sam and Dave, Mable John, Janis Joplin and numerous songwriters and singers at the motel.
According to Rob Bowman’s Soulsville U.S.A., the musicians at Stax would regularly leave the studio and drink at the Lorraine, because Stax’s studio did not have air conditioning.
The motel had a bar and a pool and provided a relaxed atmosphere in the racially charged climate in Memphis at the time.
Eddie Floyd and Steve Cropper were relaxed enough to write songs like “Things Get Better” and the classic song “Knock On Wood,” at the Lorraine Motel.
Then, in April of, 1968, race relations in the United States would be changed permanently.
Dr. King arrived in town to support Memphis City Sanitation workers, who had been on strike over their working conditions. He stayed at the Lorraine on April 3, 1968, the night he gave his famous “Mountain Top” speech.
|Dr. King was standing on this balcony when some idiot, or idiots, shot and killed him.|
Tragically, the next day, on April 4, 1968, a sniper’s bullet cut Dr. King down as he stood on the balcony in front of Room 306 of the Lorraine Motel. The convicted assassin was James Earl Ray, who denied the allegations until his death.
Stax musician/songwriter/producer/singer Isaac Hayes was on his way to the Lorraine when he discovered out that Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. was assassinated.
“It affected me for a whole year,” Isaac Hayes said. “I could not create properly. I was so bitter and so angry. I thought, what can I do? Well, I can’t do nothing about it so let me become successful and powerful enough where I can have a voice to make a difference. So I went back to work and started writing again.”
Despite the obvious shock and trauma, Booker T. Jones of The M.G.’s offered up a deeper explanation into why the shooting had such a profound impact upon Isaac Hayes and the rest of the staff at Stax.
“It wasn’t that it just happened in Memphis,” Booker T. said in Respect Yourself. “He was shot at the Lorraine Motel and the Lorraine Motel was where we had our meeting on Monday morning. We used their dining room for our meeting hall…it was an institution to us. And so it couldn’t have been any closer had he been shot at 926 McLemore (Stax’s business address).”
The following month, in May of 1968, Stax was sold to Gulf & Western corporation.