Malaco: The Last Soul Company celebrates 50 years

Malaco: The Last Soul Company celebrates 50 years
To the surprise of many, the record company is located right here in Magnolia State. Source: WLBT
To the surprise of many, the record company is located right here in Magnolia State. Source: WLBT
50 years -- five decades -- and the self-proclaimed "Last Soul Company" is still standing. Source: WLBT
50 years -- five decades -- and the self-proclaimed "Last Soul Company" is still standing. Source: WLBT
Malaco Music Group is hosting a gospel anniversary concert at Thalia Mara Hall Thursday night. Source: WLBT
Malaco Music Group is hosting a gospel anniversary concert at Thalia Mara Hall Thursday night. Source: WLBT
With new a studio, new artists and a huge vault with thousands of original recordings and song copyrights, Malaco proved it is a survivor. Source: WLBT
With new a studio, new artists and a huge vault with thousands of original recordings and song copyrights, Malaco proved it is a survivor. Source: WLBT

JACKSON, MS (WLBT) - For a half century, Malaco Records' soul, blues and gospel music have made the independent, southern soul label a national success. To the surprise of many, the record company is located right here in Magnolia State.

"Any other record company that has been in business for 50 years, generally, is a museum," said Darrell Luster, head of A&R and promotion for the gospel division. "However, Malaco is still functioning and operational every day."

It was the late 1960's, blues music and soul music were taking off.

Tommy Couch and Mitchell Malouf were not going to let that music wave pass them by, so they transformed an old industrial building on West Northside Drive into the home of Malaco Records.

"The owners and the founder Tommy Couch were at Ole Miss and they started booking bands for the fraternities," said Luster. "So they thought it would be a good idea to start a recording studio so they can have demos to present to different people that didn't have demos."

He admits the company struggled to make money and hits in the south those first few years.

Then in the 1970's, the label hooked up with a New Orleans producer who traded artists for studio time. That deal helped produce King Floyd's "Grove Me" -- the first smash hit for the label.

Dorothy Moore's soul classic "Misty Blue" was also a chart-topper.

"Everyone wanted to party with a winner," said Oscar Laws.

Oscar "DJ Outlaw" Laws says almost every radio station across the country was spinning Malaco records and more up-and-coming entertainers were bringing their talents to Jackson.

"Jean Knight did the song that everyone one knew, "Mr. Big Stuff." Then we had Anita Ward," said Laws. "She had the song, the song, that was hot. I mean real hot. "Ring my Bell".

Just when many thought Malaco has found its niche, the label had the drive to make new waves, so they tried their hand at gospel music.

Late gospel singer Frank Williams was hired to help expand the genre.

"After that it is history," said gospel artist Benjamin Cone III.

Malaco took the sound of traditional gospel out of the four walls of the church and brought it to the world.

Over the years, the all-star team has included the Lashun Pace, the Jackson Southernaires, Rev. James Cleveland, the Georgia Mass Choir, BeBe and CeCe Winans, and Bobby Jones & The New Life Singers, but it was the Mississippi Mass Choir that put the Magnolia State on the map and even had mainstream media calling.

"I think, internationally, people know that Mississippi produces great singers," said Luster.

Then in 2011, the music stopped for the top independent record label.

A twister swept through Jackson crushing most of the business. Gospel Artist Benjamin Cone III remembers that day.

"It was terrible," said Cone. "The studio was destroyed and some of the warehouse was destroyed, so it was really bad."

Instead of packing up and leaving town, the legendary company rebuilt in the Capital City.

"To stay right here in northwest Jackson, it is a testament to how much they believe in community, this music and this culture," said Cone

With new a studio, new artists and a huge vault with thousands of original recordings and song copyrights, Malaco proved it is a survivor.

Now they are expanding their reach with countless licensing deals in movies and commercials and even ESPN.

"There may come to place where we are not selling CD's anymore," said Luster. "The packages may change, but music will never change."

50 years -- five decades -- and the self-proclaimed "Last Soul Company" is still standing.

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