Stax Museum mourns the passing of close friend and saxophonist Floyd Newman

The Stax Museum of American Soul Music is sad to report that one of our closest friends, Floyd Newman, passed away this morning at the age of 91.

Saxophonist, bandleader, and high school band instructor Floyd Newman donated his saxophone to the Stax Museum’s permanent collection in 2018, a saxophone his father bought him in the late 1940s at a pawn shop on Beale Street, which was used and turned 100 years old that year.

Newman, who was the first member invited to be in B.B. King’s first band and one of only two still living, got his start at the famed Plantation Inn Nightclub in West Memphis along with legends such as Ben Branch, Gene “Bowlegs” Miller, jazz greats Phineas and Calvin Newborn, Willie Mitchell, and a young man he hired by the name of Isaac Hayes. It was Hayes’ first paid gig as a professional musician and it was Newman who brought Hayes to Stax Records in 1962 to play sessions, ultimately leading a path to a career as one of the most successful recordings artists in history.

During the days of playing at the Plantation Inn and at Stax, Newman was on the Mar-Keys’ hit “Last Night” when it was still Satellite Records. When the song sold a million copies and got national airplay, Stax founder Jim Stewart and his sister and label partner Estelle Axton learned there was already a Satellite Records in California and formed the portmanteau “Stax” using the first two letters of their last names.

Photo by Joel Hurd/WKNO FM.

In those days, Newman was also getting his degree at Rust College in Holly Springs, Miss. – which meant playing the Planation Inn, doing sessions at Stax, attending classes in college, and sleeping an hour or two a night in between.

The work paid off. Newman not only enjoyed a lifetime career as a Memphis City Schools band instructor and guidance counselor at Humes and Northside High School, but also enjoyed a lifetime of making great music until his retirement several years ago.

“Floyd Newman Day”

The saxophone Newman donated to the Stax Museum also led a colorful life. Newman played this particular sax with The Mar-Keys, Otis Redding, Booker T. & the MGs, Eddie Floyd, Arthur Conley, Isaac Hayes, Elvis Presley, Aretha Franklin, Frank Sinatra, Barbra Streisand, Wilson Pickett, Etta James, Stephen Stills, B.B. King, and a host of other artists who are a who’s who of music history.

Floyd Newman was celebrated with a note in the Beale Street Brass Note Walk of Fame on Saturday, November 1, 2014 at 1:00 pm at The Band Box, 142 Beale Street.

During the donation event in 2018, Memphis Mayor Jim Strickland and Shelby County Mayor Lee Harris proclaimed it “Floyd Newman Day.”

Throughout Newman’s tenure as a high school band director and guidance counselor, he never told his students about his dazzling musical past.