Last updated
Wattstax poster 1973.jpg
Theatrical poster
Directed by Mel Stuart
Produced byLarry Shaw
Mel Stuart
Starring The Staple Singers
Richard Pryor
Carla Thomas
Rufus Thomas
Luther Ingram
Kim Weston
Johnnie Taylor
The Bar-Kays
Isaac Hayes
Albert King
Ted Lange
Cinematography John A. Alonzo
Distributed by Columbia Pictures
Release date
  • February 4, 1973 (1973-02-04)
Running time
103 minutes
CountryUnited States
Box office$1,560,000 (rentals) [1]

Wattstax was a benefit concert organized by Stax Records to commemorate the seventh anniversary of the 1965 riots in the African-American community of Watts, Los Angeles. [2] The concert took place at the Los Angeles Memorial Coliseum on August 20, 1972. The concert's performers included all of Stax's prominent artists at the time. The genres of the songs performed included soul, gospel, R&B, blues, funk, and jazz. Months after the festival, Stax released a double LP of the concert's highlights titled Wattstax: The Living Word. The concert was filmed by David L. Wolper's film crew and was made into the 1973 film titled, Wattstax. The film was directed by Mel Stuart and nominated for a Golden Globe award for Best Documentary Film in 1974.

Stax Records is an American record label, originally based in Memphis, Tennessee. Founded in 1957 as Satellite Records, the label changed its name to Stax Records in 1961. It was influential in the creation of Southern soul and Memphis soul music. Stax also released gospel, funk, and blues recordings. Renowned for its output of blues music, the label was founded by two siblings and business partners, Jim Stewart and his sister Estelle Axton. It featured several popular ethnically integrated bands and a racially integrated team of staff and artists unprecedented in that time of racial strife and tension in Memphis and the South.

Watts riots 1965 riots in Los Angeles, United States

The Watts riots, sometimes referred to as the Watts Rebellion, took place in the Watts neighborhood of Los Angeles from August 11 to 16, 1965.

Watts, Los Angeles Neighborhood of Los Angeles in California, United States

Watts is a neighborhood in southern Los Angeles, California. It is located within the South Los Angeles region, bordering the cities of Lynwood and South Gate to the east and southeast, respectively, and the unincorporated community of Willowbrook to the south.




Stax Record's West Coast Director, Forrest Hamilton, came up with the whole concert idea. Being in L.A. during the Watts Riots, Hamilton later became aware of the yearly Watts Summer Festival that commemorated the broken community of Watts, California. Hamilton contacted Stax Records and told them about having a benefit-concert for the 7th Watts Summer Festival. At first, Stax was not so sure on putting together a small concert, with big stars, for a small community such as Watts. Tommy Jacquette, the founder of the Watts Summer Festival, was contacted about the festival idea. With Jacquette being supportive, the concert idea was slowly developing into something big. Al Bell, who was very involved planning the concert, decided that if the festival was going to be as big as he imagines, the festival cannot just be held at a small park in Watts. It had to be held in somewhere big—like the Los Angeles Memorial Coliseum. A team of several Stax directors, including Jacquette, contacted the L.A. Coliseum to schedule a meeting. When the meeting took place, the managers at the Coliseum were not so convinced that "a small record company from Memphis can fill up the whole stadium". This was an expensive risk the Stax team was taking.

Tommy Jacquette was a community activist best known as the executive director of the Watts Summer Festival.

Al Bell is an American record producer, songwriter, and record executive. He is best known as having been an executive and co-owner of Stax Records, based in Memphis, Tennessee, during the latter half of the label's 19-year existence.

Los Angeles Memorial Coliseum Stadium in Los Angeles, California, USA

The Los Angeles Memorial Coliseum is an American outdoor sports stadium located in the Exposition Park neighborhood of Los Angeles, California, United States. Conceived as a hallmark of civic pride, the Coliseum was commissioned in 1921 as a memorial to L.A. veterans of World War I. Completed in 1923, it will be the first stadium to have hosted the Summer Olympics three times: 1932, 1984, and 2028. It was declared a National Historic Landmark on July 27, 1984, the day before the opening ceremony of the 1984 Summer Olympics.


Stax picked a date, which was Isaac Hayes's birthday and also a few days after the 7th anniversary of the Watts Riots. Stax could now print advertisements saying in bold letters: "JOIN US AT THE BIGGEST RECORDING SESSION EVER... IN THE MAKING OF THE GREATEST SOUL ALBUM EVER! WATTSTAX '72 BENEFIT CONCERT." The name of the concert was formed to include "Watts", as in the neighbourhood, and "Stax", the name of the record company putting the show together. As more and more word got out about this big benefit concert, more tickets were being sold. All seats were reserved and only priced at $1.00. Stax wanted to make it possible for anyone to attend, so they made ticket prices cheap. As more and more money was coming in, Al Bell was becoming less and less regretful about putting on the production. The L.A. Coliseum managers could not wait to see what would happen on August 20 at 3:00 p.m. at their stadium.

Isaac Hayes American singer-songwriter and actor

Isaac Lee Hayes Jr. was an American singer, songwriter, actor, and producer. Hayes was one of the creative forces behind the Southern soul music label Stax Records, where he served both as an in-house songwriter and as a session musician and record producer, teaming with his partner David Porter during the mid-1960s. Hayes and Porter, along with Bill Withers, the Sherman Brothers, Steve Cropper, and John Fogerty were inducted into the Songwriters Hall of Fame in 2005 in recognition of writing scores of songs for themselves, the duo Sam & Dave, Carla Thomas, and others. In 2002, Hayes was inducted into the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame.


The stage was built the day before the concert in the middle of the night. This conflict happened because a football game was scheduled on the night of August 19. Stax, being polite, did not make the Coliseum-managers cancel the game. Immediately after the football game, trucks full of long wood-planks drove onto the field. The stage was built right in the center of the field and was built high enough where artists could walk/sit under (a little less than 20 feet tall…). A platform was built that lead from the road (where artists would walk from) to the side stairs of the stage. The seats were hand-cleaned and trash was picked up all around the Coliseum... making the stadium look perfect for the next-day's concertgoers. Also, due to the Coliseum's policy, there could be no seating on the field so the grass wouldn't get ruined for football games. Because of this, Stax wondered: "Could each and every seat be occupied?" Since all of this construction was being done late at night, the rest of it was finished the next day. The concert didn't start until 3:00 in the afternoon, so there was all morning to set-up. A big thing to take care of was cleaning the additional bleachers that seated at least 1,000. The bleachers were set-up so that there would be more seating that included a better view of the stage. Next thing to take care of was building a fence around the stage for the artists' safety reasons. Along with that, a large group of L.A.'s African-American policemen were requested to be scattered all around (inside and outside) the Coliseum. Next to do: was taking care of the transportation situation. The dressing rooms for Stax's artists were outside/behind the stadium... kind of far from the stage. Two vans were rented to drive the artists up to the stage and then back to the dressing rooms. Another pricy necessity was the bathroom situation. Portable restrooms were rented (for the artists to use before and after their sets) and placed right under the side of the stage. Lighting was needed since a few of the acts took place at night. Colored lights were hammered onto poles on each corner of the stage. Next to take care of was the speakers. Stax wanted to make sure the whole stadium could hear the music (especially for the people who were sitting far away from the stage.) In each corner of the fenced part of the field were stacked speakers. Right below the stage was a long table which had several open-reel tape recorders. Stax wanted to put the highlights from the concert on records and sell copies. The biggest deal to take care of was filming the whole concert. A film crew was scattered from the top-row of the stadium to the corners of the stage where the artists were zoomed-in-on. The film crew was told to capture the artists singing, but also get shots of the crowd dancing. And lastly, throughout the whole show, the most commotion was communicating over walkie-talkies. As told, the production of the Wattstax Concert was very stressful.


At around 1:45 p.m., the Coliseum grounds started to be swarmed with L.A.'s Black population. Guards stamped tickets and told concertgoers where their seats were located. The stadium's seats filled up hastily, while the production-team was making sure everything was good to go. The concert's orchestra (dubbed The Wattstax'72 Orchestra) and its composer, Dale Warren, sat until 2:38 p.m. ready to play their warm-up instrumental titled "Salvation Symphony". At 2:38 p.m., the first song was performed to a crowd of 112,000 (mostly African-American).

Dale Ossman Warren was an American musician, who was best known for his work as an arranger for Motown Records in the early 1960s, and later for the Stax label where he worked with Isaac Hayes among many others. He was also primarily responsible for writing, arranging and producing the influential 1973 funk concept album Ghetto: Misfortune's Wealth by 24-Carat Black.

Performing artists

  • 2:38: "Salvation Symphony" by Dale Warren
  • 2:57: "Star Spangled Banner" by Kim Weston
  • 3:01: "Speech" by Tommy Jacquette
  • 3:05: "Speeches" by Anonymous Speakers
  • 3:13: "Introduction/I Am Somebody" by Jesse Jackson
  • 3:19: "Lift Every Voice and Sing" by Kim Weston
  • 3:23: "Speech and Staple Singers Intro" by Melvin Van Peebles AND "Heavy Makes You Happy" by Staple Singers
  • 3:27: "Are You Sure" by Staple Singers
  • 3:31: "I Like The Things About Me" by Staple Singers
  • 3:37: "Respect Yourself" by Staple Singers
  • 3:42: "I’ll Take You There" by Staple Singers
  • 3:47: "Somebody Bigger than You and I" by Jimmy Jones
  • 3:52: "Precious Lord, Take My Hand" by Deborah Manning
  • 3:57: "Better Get A Move On" by Louise McCord
  • 4:01: "Unknown" by Eric Mercury
  • 4:04: "Unknown" by Freddy Robinson
  • 4:09: "Them Hot Pants" by Lee Sain
  • 4:13: "Unknown" by Ernie Hines
  • 4:17: "Wade In The Water" by Little Sonny
  • 4:21: "Pin The Tail On The Donkey" by The Newcomers
  • 4:24: "Explain It To Her Mama" by The Temprees
  • 4:27: "I’ve Been Lonely" by Frederick Knight
  • 4:31: "I Forgot To Be Your Lover" by William Bell
  • 4:34: "Knock On Wood" by Eddie Floyd
  • 4:38: "Old Time Religion" by The Golden Thirteen
  • 4:42: "Lying on the Truth" by Rance Allen
  • 4:46: "Up Above My Head" by Rance Allen
  • 4:50: "Introduction" by David Porter
  • 4:54: "Ain't That Loving You" by David Porter
  • 4:58: "Can't See You When I Want to" by David Porter
  • 5:09: "Reach Out and Touch" by David Porter
  • 5:12: "Son of Shaft" by The Bar-Kays
  • 5:18: "Feel It" by The Bar-Kays
  • 5:23: "In the Hole" by The Bar-Kays
  • 5:26: "I Can’t Turn You Loose" by The Bar-Kays
  • 5:31: "Unknown Performances" by Tommy Tate
  • 5:41: "I Like What You’re Doing" by Carla Thomas
  • 5:46: "Gee Whiz (Look at His Eyes)" by Carla Thomas
  • 5:49: "B-A-B-Y" by Carla Thomas
  • 5:52: "Pick Up the Pieces" by Carla Thomas
  • 5:55: "I Have a God Who Loves" by Carla Thomas
  • 6:00: "Matchbox Blues" by Albert King
  • 6:05: "Got to Be Some Changes Made" by Albert King
  • 6:11: "I'll Play the Blues for You" by Albert King
  • 6:17: "Killing Floor" by Albert King
  • 6:21: "Angel of Mercy" by Albert King
  • 6:26: "Breakdown" by Rufus Thomas
  • 6:32: "Do the Funky Chicken" by Rufus Thomas
  • 6:39: "Do the Funky Penguin" by Rufus Thomas
  • 6:45: "I Don't Know What This World Is Coming to" by The Soul Children
  • 6:52: "Hearsay" by The Soul Children
  • 7:00: "Speech" by Fred Williamson and Jesse Jackson
  • 7:03: "If Loving you is Wrong" by Luther Ingram
  • 7:06: "Theme from Shaft" by Isaac Hayes
  • 7:12: "Soulsville" by Isaac Hayes
  • 7:17: "Never Can Say Goodbye" by Isaac Hayes

"Gee Whiz " is a song written and performed by Carla Thomas. It reached #5 on the U.S. R&B chart and #10 on the U.S. pop chart in 1961. It was featured on her 1961 album Gee Whiz.

Carla Thomas American singer

Carla Venita Thomas is an American singer, who is often referred to as the Queen of Memphis Soul. She is the daughter of Rufus Thomas.

Theme from <i>Shaft</i> single by Isaac Hayes

"Theme from Shaft", written and recorded by Isaac Hayes in 1971, is the soul and funk-styled theme song to the Metro-Goldwyn-Mayer film, Shaft. The theme was released as a single two months after the movie's soundtrack by Stax Records' Enterprise label. "Theme from Shaft" went to number two on the Billboard Soul Singles chart and to number one on the Billboard Hot 100 in the United States in November 1971. The song was also well received by adult audiences, reaching number six on Billboard's Easy Listening chart. The song is considered by some to be one of the first disco songs.


In January 2004, a restored version of the film played at the Sundance Film Festival, followed by a theatrical reissue in June by Sony Pictures Repertory. In September 2004, the PBS series P.O.V. aired a new documentary about the concert and the movie. That same month, the movie was released on DVD by Warner Bros., which obtained the video rights when it purchased the Wolper library (Warner's former sister company, Warner Music Group, coincidentally owns the rights to most pre-1968 Stax recordings).[ citation needed ]

Warner Music Group American global music conglomerate

Warner Music Group Inc. (WMG), also known as Warner Music, is an American multinational entertainment and record label conglomerate headquartered in New York City. It is one of the "big three" recording companies and the third largest in the global music industry, after Universal Music Group (UMG) and Sony Music Entertainment (SME). Formerly part of Time Warner, the company was publicly traded on the New York Stock Exchange until May 2011, when it announced its privatization and sale to Access Industries, which was completed in July 2011. With a multibillion-dollar annual turnover, WMG employs more than 3,500 people and has operations in more than 50 countries throughout the world.


Songs in the film

In order of appearance:

Other songs in the concert

Production credits

See also

Related Research Articles

Booker T. Jones American musician

Booker Taliaferro Jones Jr. is an American multi-instrumentalist, songwriter, record producer and arranger, best known as the frontman of the band Booker T. & the M.G.'s. He has also worked in the studios with many well-known artists of the 20th and 21st centuries, earning him a Grammy Award for lifetime achievement.

Rufus Thomas 1917-2001 American singer

Rufus C. Thomas, Jr. was an American rhythm-and-blues, funk, soul and blues singer, songwriter, dancer, DJ and comic entertainer from Memphis, Tennessee. He recorded for several labels, including Chess Records and Sun Records in the 1950s, before becoming established in the 1960s and 1970s at Stax Records. He is best known for his novelty dance records, including "Walking the Dog" (1963), "Do the Funky Chicken" (1969) and "(Do the) Push and Pull" (1970). According to the Mississippi Blues Commission, "Rufus Thomas embodied the spirit of Memphis music perhaps more than any other artist, and from the early 1940s until his death . . . occupied many important roles in the local scene."

Memphis soul, also known as the Memphis sound, was the most prominent strain of Southern soul. It is a shimmering, sultry style produced in the 1960s and 1970s at Stax Records and Hi Records in Memphis, Tennessee, featuring melodic unison horn lines, organ, guitar, bass, and a driving beat on the drums.

Charles Pitts American musician

Charles "Skip" Pitts was an American soul and blues guitarist. He is best known for his distinctive "wah-wah" style, prominently featured on Isaac Hayes' title track from the 1971 movie Shaft. He is widely considered to have been one of the architects of soul, R&B and funk guitar.

Southern soul is a type of soul music that emerged from the Southern United States. The music originated from a combination of styles, including blues, country, early rock and roll, and a strong gospel influence that emanated from the sounds of Southern black churches. The focus of the music was not on its lyrics, but on the "feel" or the groove. This rhythmic force made it a strong influence in the rise of funk music. The terms "Deep soul", "Country soul", "Downhome soul" and "Hard soul" have been used synonymously with "Southern soul"p. 18

William Bell (singer) singer

William Bell is an American soul singer and songwriter. As a performer, he is probably best known for his debut single, 1961's "You Don't Miss Your Water"; 1968's top 10 hit in the UK "Private Number", a duet with Judy Clay; and his only US top 40 hit, 1976's "Tryin' to Love Two", which also hit No. 1 on the R&B chart. Upon the death of Otis Redding, Bell released the well-received memorial song "A Tribute to a King".

Sam Moore American musician

Samuel David Moore is an American vocalist who was a member of the soul and R&B group Sam & Dave from 1961 to 1981. He is a member of the Rock & Roll Hall of Fame, the Grammy Hall of Fame, and the Vocal Group Hall of Fame.

Mavis Staples American singer

Mavis Staples is an American rhythm and blues and gospel singer, actress, and civil rights activist. She has recorded and performed with her family's band The Staple Singers, and also as a solo artist.

Ben Cauley American musician

Ben S. Cauley, Jr. was an American trumpet player, vocalist, songwriter, and founding member of the Stax recording group, The Bar-Kays. He was the only survivor of the 1967 plane crash that claimed the lives of soul singer Otis Redding and four members of the Bar-Kays.

Stax Museum of American Soul Music Soul music museum in Tennessee, United States

The Stax Museum of American Soul Music is a museum located in Memphis, Tennessee, at 926 East McLemore Avenue, the former location of Stax Records. It is operated by Soulsville USA, which also operates the adjacent Stax Music Academy.

Bobby Manuel is an American guitarist. In the early 1960s he was the lead guitarist for the local band, The Memphis Blazers. He was hired by Stax Records in the late 1960s as an engineer and also quickly began doing studio work as a guitarist, becoming one of the company's most dependable and oft-used session players.

Ronald Marvell Thomas was an American keyboardist, record producer and arranger known for his work in Memphis Soul.

Willie Hall (drummer) American drummer, actor and musician

Willie Clarence Hall is an American drummer best known for his work with Isaac Hayes, and as a member of the Blues Brothers band.

Porretta Soul Festival

The Porretta Soul Festival is a soul music festival that usually takes place in the third week of July in Rufus Thomas Park in Porretta Terme, in the province of Bologna.

Donald "Duck" Dunn discography

This article lists the discography of the late American Blues and Soul bassist, Donald "Duck" Dunn. Dunn was an influential bassist notable for his recordings in the 1960s in the house band for Stax Records, Booker T. & the M.G.'s and thereafter as a session bassist.


  1. "Big Rental Films of 1973". Variety , January 9, 1974. pg 60.
  2. James Maycock, "Loud and Proud" The Guardian, 19 July 2002