In June, Black America observed the annual Black Music Month. In July, one of Mississippi’s most famous record labels celebrated five decades of Black Music Excellence.
On July 12, a festive and star-studded Gospel Celebration concert earmarked Malaco Record’s 50th Anniversary. The glitter and glamour event took place in Malaco’s home base of Jackson, MS, at the Thalia Mara Hall.
The Gospel Celebration featured the most iconic acts in the gospel industry. It was co-hosted by the eminent Dr. Bobby Jones and the illustrious Dorinda Clark-Cole inside the 2,000-plus concert hall. Top stars that appeared and performed included Tina Campbell, Fred Hammond, Bishop Paul S. Morton, Luther Barnes, Tasha Page Lockhart and the Mississippi Mass Choir.
Others serving as honorees or making special appearances included Milton Biggham, Byron Cage, LaShun Pace, Paul Porter, Luther Barnes, Keith Wonderboy Johnson, Ann Nesby, Earnest Pugh and others.
Although it was a gospel-oriented event, the people at Malaco assured that they were celebrating all of the many genres and styles of music the record label had touched over its 50-yearlife span. Malaco dubs itself as “The Last Soul Company,” but they did not necessarily start that way.
Malaco started as a pocket-change enterprise in the early 1960s with white college students Tommy Couch and Wolf Stephenson booking bands for fraternity dances at the University of Mississippi.
After Couch graduated, he opened a record shop and recording studio in Jackson, Mississippi as Malaco Attractions with brother-in-law Mitchell Malouf (Malouf + Couch = Malaco). Stephenson joined them in promoting concerts with British Invasion rock bands Herman’s Hermits, the Who, the Animals, and others.
But, from 1967 to 1970, the company struggled and needed a change. That came when they made an agreement with New Orleans producer Wardell Quezergue to house his artists in exchange for studio time and use of their musicians. Among Quezergue’s clients: Fats Domino, King Floyd, Jean Knight and others. Malaco made distribution agreements with Memphis-based Stax Records and established their own Chimneyville label.
It all began to come together by 1971. Floyd exploded with two hits, “Groove Me” and “Let Me Kiss You Baby,” that finished #1 and #5 respectively on the R&B charts. That was followed by Knight’s now classic “Mr. Big Stuff,” that sold two million copies and peaked at #1 R&B, #2 Pop.
Such hits put Malaco on the recording map and they went on to work with the Pointer Sisters, Rufus Thomas and Paul Simon. But they reached another struggling point financially in 1974 and needed another musical savior.
After rejections by other labels, they took a desperate chance and released Dorothy Moore’s “Misty Blue” in 1975. “Misty Blue” earned gold records around the world, peaking at #2 R&B and #3 pop in the USA, and #5 in England. This was followed by thirteen chart records and five Grammy nominations for Moore by 1980.
With Black music clearly their niche, Malaco went full speed into Gospel, signing the Jackson Southernaires, The Williams Brothers, The Truthettesand others.
Delving into the disco genre, they scored with Anita Ward’s “Ring My Bell.”
Malaco then stopped trying to compete with mainstream labels and fell back on what it did so well –down home black music, old-time blues, soul and gospel. They revived the career of former Stax star Johnny Taylor and enjoyed long term success with artists like Z.Z Hill, Denise LaSalle, Benny Latimore, Little Milton Campbell, Bobby Blue Bland and others.
Malaco’s gospel label Savoy, would dominate the Billboard Gospel charts, achieving #1 ranking by Keith Pringle, Walter Hawkins, Rev. James Moore, Mississippi Mass Choir, Rev. Clay Evans, Dorothy Norwood, and the Rev. James Cleveland.
As they celebrate 50 years in business, Malaco looks to earn it moniker as “The Last Soul Company” for another half century.