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Born in Middleton, Tennessee, Estelle Stewart grew up on a farm. She moved to Memphis as a school teacher, married Everett Axton, and was working in a bank when, in 1958, her brother Jim Stewart asked for help to develop Satellite Records, which he had set up to issue recordings of local country and rockabilly artists. She convinced her husband that they should remortgage their house and, in 1959, joined Satellite as an equal partner. The following year, Axton and Stewart turned the Capitol Theatre, in a black Memphis neighbourhood, into a recording studio and record shop, and began making hit records with predominantly black artists.
Satellite was forced to change its name after it was discovered that a Los Angeles label already owned the title, and it changed its name to Stax, taking its name from Axton and Stewart's surnames. Axton was actively involved with selecting and developing the artists on the label, who included Rufus Thomas, Otis Redding, Booker T & the MGs, and Isaac Hayes.
She sold her interest in the company in 1970. After the non-compete agreement expired, Axton formed Fretone Records whose biggest hit, "Disco Duck" by Rick Dees was licensed for distribution to RSO Records.
In December, 2006, The Recording Academy announced that Estelle Axton would be honored with a Trustee's Award as part of the upcoming Grammys.
Estelle was the founder of the Memphis Songwriters Association in 1973. The Memphis Songwriters Association was formed in order to foster the education and advancement of local area songwriters. There was a focus on the development of the songwriting craft with the intentions of producing commercially viable songs and improving performance skills.
MSA has consecutively maintained membership for over 35 years. Estelle's formation of the Memphis Songwriters Association led to the motivation of many local songwriters and singer/songwriters publishing their original material. Some of these songs and artists met with some surprising success. Unfortunately, historical records are fragmented and scarce, however, there is a number of MSA alumni that could still tell the stories.
Estelle went on, with friend and founder of Moon Records, Cordell Jackson to work with the Music Industries of Memphis, later named the Memphis Music Association to assist in the development of local Memphis music as a global force once again. Their collaboration and guidance helped launch the first Memphis Demo Derby, the brainchild of PR Director Brett Hamilton, which was designed to present and showcase any and all Memphis musical talent to A&R reps, studio heads, producers and the like. The event was such a huge success, it continued for several years. Joe Savarin, founder of the Handy Awards, and Wanda Freeman of Tenant Laboratories lent a hand in spite of public opposition. The MMA was the umbrella organization for all Memphis music and still exists today.
The Memphis Songwriters Association is still consistently holding meetings, songwriter workshops, open mics, song critiques, and singer/songwriter showcase events to this day.
- "Booker T. & the MGs, Estelle Axton to be honored at 2007 Grammys". Retrieved 2007-06-06.
- 49th Grammy Awards
- Estelle Axton at Find-A-Grave