Alabama Music Hall of Fame Inductees & Contemporary Award Winners
Formed in Fort Payne, the country supergroup Alabama blended the unbeatable talents of lead singer, rhythm guitarist and songwriter Randy Owen, bass player, songwriter and harmony vocalist Teddy Gentry, multi-instrumentalist, singer and songwriter Jeff Cook and drummer Mark Herndon.
Arthur Alexander Jnr. was born on 10 May 1940 in Florence, Alabama on the Tennessee River which separates Florence from Sheffield and Muscle Shoals. The rural community echoed to the sounds of down-home music. His mother and sister sang in church while his guitarist-father played gospel songs using the neck of a whiskey bottle for a slide. On Saturday nights, Alexander Snr. played the blues in the hot, dusty juke-joints around Sheffield.
A talented songwriter and vocalist, Ava has worked in the Shoals area since the early 1970's. During the 1970s Ava was signed to MGM and MCA Records as a recording artist. Her work as a background vocalist can be heard on recordings by Hank Williams, Jr., Crystal Gayle, Mac Davis, T. Graham Brown, Wilson Pickett, Joan Baez, Narvel Felts, Billy Vera, Percy Sledge, Roy Clark, Lenny LeBlanc, Steve Forbert, Mary Chapin Carpenter, Billy Ray Cyrus, Ronnie Milsap, Delbert McClinton, Patti Austin, Amy Grant and many more. As a songwriter she has had over 150 of her songs recorded.
Growing up in Franklin County, Sherrill played piano during evangelical tent-meeting revivals preached by his evangelical father. After learning to play saxophone, he teamed up with fellow musician and songwriter Rick Hall to form a rock ’n’ roll and rhythm-and-blues band called The Fairlanes. Sherrill and Hall co-wrote “Sweet and Innocent” for Roy Orbison before moving to the Muscle Shoals area to form a publishing partnership – Florence Alabama Music Enterprises (FAME) – with music enthusiast Tom Stafford above the City Drug Store in downtown Florence.
The Original Blind Boys of Alabama were formerly known as the Happy Land Singers. The attention of the public was first fixed on the Blind Boys in 1939 while they were still attending school, and were members of the chorus at Alabama Institute for the Deaf and Blind at Talledega. They were in great demand throughout the South for their soul-stirring gospel performances. The originator of the group was Velma Traylor, who was killed in an accident in November in 1947 in Blowing Spring, Georgia. The group consists of Clarence Fountain, George Scott, Olice Thomas and Johnny Fields.
Bobby Goldsboro's career has been a remarkable evolution. This multi-talented performer started out in the early sixties as a guitarist with the legendary Roy Orbison. During his three years with Orbison he traveled all over the world and even toured with the Beatles. Bobby was also the opening act for the Rolling Stones on their first U.S. tour!
Bennett began performing as a drummer and singer during the 1940s. In late 1952 he signed with King Records with his Western Swing band, the Southlanders and released a minor country hit, "Time." A year later he revamped the band changing the name to the Rockets and adding R&B and blues elements to his music with the intention of gaining a younger audience.
Buddy Buie's career started in his hometown of Dothan with boyhood friend Bobby Goldsboro who had formed a band known as the Webs. The band learned that Roy Orbison would be coming to Dothan, they learned his songs so well that Roy asked them to become his touring band. Thus, the Candymen were born and Buie became Orbison's tour manager as well.
Long before he helped shape Nashville into a powerhouse of publishing and recording, aspiring country musician Buddy Killen left his hometown of Florence and moved to Music City less than twenty-four hours after his high school graduation.
Well, I'II tell ya, it makes no difference if you came from the city. And it don't matter if you came from the country. And some of you out there within the sound of my voice may have come from the suburbs," declares Clarence Carter, in his most stentorian tones, at the climactic moment of his lost masterpiece. "Making Love (At The Dark End Of The Street").
Cleveland Josephus Eaton II was raised with an intense comprehensive musical background. He was playing his mother's piano at the age of 5, and turned his efforts toward the saxophone by the time he was 8. Eaton took up the trumpet two years later and when he reached the age of 15, music teacher John Springer introduced him to the tuba and string bass.
Renowned for the funk, soul and R&B hits “Just to Be Close to You,” “Easy” and “Brick House,” the Commodores became one of the top bands in the world during their long tenure at the Detroit-based Motown label. The group is credited with 50 albums that produced seven No. 1 songs and a host of other Top 10 hits on the Billboard charts.
Had he only written his best known composition – the classic story song “Green, Green Grass of Home” – Curly Putman would be remembered as one of the creative cornerstones of modern country music. In addition to that multi-million-selling musical standard, Putman also wrote such enduring country favorites as “My Elusive Dreams” (co-written with fellow Alabama native Billy Sherrill), “D-I-V-O-R-C-E” and “He Stopped Loving Her Today” (both co-written with Bobby Braddock)
Dan Penn, a native of Vernon, AL., moved to the Shoals area while still a teenager and assumed the role of lead vocalist with one of the premier ensembles of the day, The Mark V Combo. It was in the same year that he penned his first chart record, Conway Twitty's "Is A Bluebird Blue". During the early 60s, Penn began working with Rick Hall, first as an artist under then name Lonnie Wray, and later as the writer of hits for Joe Simon, James and Bobby Purify, Jimmy Hughes, Percy Sledge and Wilson Pickett.
David Briggs played his first recording session at 14. Since that time he has added keyboards to recordings of a Who's Who in pop and country music. Briggs' first session was for James Joiner, and it was while working for Joiner's Tune Records that he met Jerry Carrigan, Norbert Putman and Terry Thompson. The four combined to form the original rhythm section at Rick Hall's Fame Studio, cutting hits on Arthur Alexander, Jimmy Hughes, Tommy Roe, The Tams and others.
The Delmore Brothers were two of the top harmonizers of early country music, drawing musical influences from both the gospel and Appalachian folk traditions. Alton Delmore and his younger brother Rabon were also skilled songwriters, penning literally hundreds of classic country songs that have stood the test of time.
Born Ruth Lee Jones, her family left Alabama for the north when she was three years old. Washington grew up in Chicago, where she first entered the world of music playing piano and directing her church choir. For a while she divided her time between performing in clubs and singing and playing piano in Salle Martin’s gospel choir. She won an amateur contest at the Regal Theatre when she was fifteen.
Calvert, Al., native Don Davis' musical career spanned over 40 years during which he worked as a session musician on over 3,000 recordings, was a music publisher, record producer, music arranger, hosted an early morning television show, and was music director for a network television show.
Donna Hilley, the Birmingham, Alabama native, joined radio station WKDA, run by the late Jack Stapp, who also founded Tree International. Eight years with WKDA were followed by eight years as assistant to the president of a Nashville advertising and public relations firm. Hilley then rejoined Jack Stapp by going to work at his fledgling Tree organization.
Donnie Fritts began playing drums in local bands at age 15 and later developed into a session keyboard player. His first studio experience was in the recording studio located in Florence above City Drug Store. Working closely with Rick Hall, Billy Sherrill, Dan Penn, Arthur Alexander, David Briggs, Jerry Carrigan and Norbert Putnam, Fritts was involved in many of the early songs and recordings created in the Shoals music industry.
Earl "Peanut" Montgomery spent many years in the music industry as one of Nashville's top song writers and musicians. His songs were recorded by artist such as George Jones, Tammy Wynette, Tanya Tucker, Emmylou Harris, Dolly Parton, Porter Wagoner, Hank Williams, Jr., Barbara Mandrell, Johnny Paycheck, Jody Miller, Merle Haggard, Eddie Arnold, Mel Street, Jimmie Davis, Bobby Bare, David Houston, Sammie Smith, Freddie Hart, Connie Smith, Melba Montgomery (Earl's sister) and many others.
Floyd's own mid-'60s output included "Raise Your Hand," which utilized the same Booker T. & the MGs-powered thrust as "Knock on Wood," and "Big Bird," written partially in shocked response to the tragic death of Redding. Floyd remained loyal to Stax right up to its bitter demise, his engaging vocals resulting in major hits with the gentle "I've Never Found a Girl" and a lively remake of Sam Cooke's "Bring It on Home to Me."
Edward "Eddie" Levert (born June 16, 1942) is an American singer, and is the lead vocalist of the soul/funk/R&B vocal group, The O'Jays. Levert was born in Bessemer, Alabama, but was raised in Canton, Ohio. While attending high school, he met buddies Walter Williams, Bill Isles, Bobby Massey, and William Powell. They were motivated to sing after seeing a performance from Frankie Lymon & the Teenagers. They formed in 1958.
Though other performers sold more records and earned greater fame, few left as profound an impact on contemporary music as Emmylou Harris. Blessed with a crystalline voice, a remarkable gift for phrasing and a restless creative spirit, she traveled a singular artistic path, proudly carrying the torch of "Cosmic American music" passed down by her mentor, Gram Parsons.
Huntsville, Alabama native Ernie Ashworth through determination, ambition and hard work was able to realize his dream of one day playing on the Grand Ole Opry. In the early fifties he began singing with a band in Nashville. Ernie had been writing songs for a good while and was soon pitching them to the music publishing companies. He had his songs recorded by some of the top country artists including Carl Smith, Little Jimmy Dickens, Johnny Horton, Wilma Lee Cooper and others.
Composer and trumpet player Erskine Hawkins drew on memories of a neighborhood nightspot for his classic big band standard "Tuxedo Junction", a jazzy number that became the most popular song of the World War II era. Hawkins was born in Birmingham in 1914, the son of a U.S. soldier who lost his life in military action during the first world war. The young musician began playing drums at the age of 7, moved on to the trombone, then decided at the age of 13 to channel his musical energies into playing trumpet.
Born Fred Segrest, Hart was one of 15 children of sharecropper parents. He had to grow up quickly, at the age of five he began playing the guitar, by age 12 he had quit school and started working for his parents. At age 15, with the outbreak of World War II, he lied about his age and joined the Marine Corps., seeing action at both Guam and Iwo Jima. While in the military, Hart developed an interest in the martial arts, earning Black Belts in both Karate and Judo. After the war he taught self defense at the L.A. Police Academy.
Moving to the Muscle Shoals area in the late 1970's, Baker quickly established himself as one of the area's most talented vocalists-musician-songwriters. As a session musician and vocalist he has worked with Mac Davis, The Kendalls, Gary Morris, Bertie Higgins and Eddy Raven. His songwriting credits have included cuts by T.G. Sheppard, Gary Morris, Eddy Raven, Restless Heart, Joe Diffie, Alabama, All-4-One, and John Michael Montgomery.
Legendary singer, songwriter and guitarist Hank Williams had risen to the top ranks of musical stardom by the time he reached the age of 25. Four years later, country music’s most iconic and influential artist was suddenly and unexpectedly dead at the untimely age of 29.
Martin received his musical training at the Birmingham Conservatory of Music. He joined with Ralph Blane to write songs such as "Have Yourself A Merry Little Christmas" and "The Trolley Song" from the score of the MGM film "Meet Me In St. Louis". "Have Yourself A Merry Little Christmas" is among the Top 10 performed songs of all time according to the American Society of Composers Authors and Publishers.
Born in 1887 in Lebanon, Al., J.R. (Pap) Baxter became one of the most influential people in Gospel music. As a student of T.B. Mosley and A.J. Showalter, Baxter learned the rudiments of harmony and gospel music. He began teaching while still a student. He then studied hymn writing with James Rowe, Charles H. Gabriel and others, and used his talents to write literally thousands of "song poems".
J .R. Cobb is a guitar player and songwriter and a member of the Atlanta Rhythm Section. Former sessionmen, The Atlanta Rhythm Section smoothed out Southern rock's rough edges with studio sophistication. Cobb, Dean Daughtry, and producer-manager Buddy Buie had been members of the Classic IV, whose hits included "Spooky", "Stormy", and "Traces".
In addition to his work as a trumpet player and band leader, John Tuggle “Fess” Whatley became one of the most influential educators in American music during the 1920s and 1930s, when graduates of his music curriculum at Birmingham Industrial High School began to take positions with the many of the leading bands of that day.
Proclaimed “Mr. Gospel Music” by the genre he loved and served for more six decades, four-time Grammy Award winner Jake Hess became one of the most imitated singers, innovators and leaders in the field of Southern gospel music.
While working for his family’s bus company, Joiner Transit, Joiner noticed the quality and amount of talent displayed at fiddlers’ conventions and other musical gatherings throughout northwest Alabama. “When I came home from the Army in 1953,” Joiner later recalled, “I began to see that nobody was doing anything with that talent – and that really got me thinking.”
James Reese Europe forever changed the face of popular music when on 1905 he helped stage the first public jazz concert in the United States as a member of Ernest Hogan's Memphis Students.Europe moved with his family to Washington, D.C. at the age of 10, and received his music education in the public schools.
J erry Carrigan played his first recording session at age 13, and helped develop Muscle Shoals into a thriving music community.Carrigan traces his musical beginnings to the early days when producers such as Tom Stafford, Kelso Herston, James Joiner and Rick Hall would "still give newcomers a chance." "You might say I was raised in the studio," Carrigan explains.
Legendary Atlantic Records producer Jerry Wexler earned the affectionate and respectful title “The Godfather of Muscle Shoals Music” through his shrewd, savvy music-industry instincts and his influential involvement and longstanding commitment to the Muscle Shoals recording industry.
Jim McBride, of Huntsville, was a full time postman and part time songwriter until 1981 when he left the postal service to pursue his songwriting career full time. His first hit song came that year with the release by Conway Twitty of "A Bridge That Just Won't Burn". That same year he had his first number one hit "Bet Your Heart On Me" released by Johnny Lee and performed in the movie "Country Gold".
Jim Nabors is most widely known for his many television appearances, yet the talented singer has also recorded over 38 albums, including five gold and one platinum. A graduate of the University of Alabama, Nabors began exploring the range of his rich baritone voice while a member of the Sylacauga High School Glee Club.
The Country Music Hall of Fame justifiably hailed “Singing Brakeman” and “Mississippi Blue Yodeler” Jimmie Rodgers as “the man who started it all.” Although his brief six-year career was cut tragically short by tuberculosis, Rodgers became the first nationally known star of country music. His songs about rounders and gamblers, bounders and rounders directly later generations of performers from Ernest Tubb and Hank Williams to Lefty Frizzell and Merle Haggard.
Born in Mount Rozell, Frank grew up in Giles County, Tennessee, near the Alabama border. He worked in the steel mills of Birmingham as a young man before moving to the coal mines of Illinois. At the age of twenty-three, Frank headed for Chicago, where he eventually became a booking agent for radio stars Fibber McGee and Molly, Gene Autry and other popular entertainers of the day.
Kelso Herston, a Florence native with over forty successful years in the music industry, is the consummate "Music Man"; playing on sessions for over two hundred different artists, producing over fifty top recording artists, publishing over one hundred songs and being responsible for over five thousand nationally acclaimed jingles.
Lionel Richie "now stands at the pinnacle of pop music, recognized around the world as the most successful singer/songwriter working today," Charles Whitaker announced in a 1987 Ebony article. "His string of nine No. 1 hits," Whitaker continued, "in nine consecutive years, is a music business record."
Charlie and Ira Louvin rose out of the close-harmony brother acts of the 1930s to become one of the most influential duos in country music history.
Mack Vickery made his first recordings for legendary producer and Rock & Roll Hall of Fame member, Sam Phillips in 1957 and later recorded for several labels, racking up some chart hits before he began to concentrate on songwriting.Hank Williams Jr. snagged the first hit with a a Vickery tune, "I Can't Take It No Longer", in 1967 and by 1980 Mack had placed songs with a veritable "Who's Who" of artists including Waylon Jennings, Lefty Frizzel, Faron Young, Tanya Tucker, and Johnny Paycheck.
Although she was born in Eufaula, Motown soul sensation Martha Reeves moved northward with her family to Detroit before she was a year old, growing up in the metropolitan musical climate of “Motor City U.S.A.”Along with her high-powered backup singers, the Vandellas, Martha Reeves created some of the most irresistible and unforgettable dance records of the 1960s.
A lifelong resident of Mobile, AL., Milton Brown began writing country music while serving with the U.S. Army in Germany in the 1950's. Primarily a lyricist, Brown is the owner of Bama Boy Productions, a music recording firm, and a real estate broker. He has penned numerous country songs which have found success in movies -- the smash "Every Which Way But Loose" from the Clint Eastwood movie of the same name, and "Barroom Buddies" from the Eastwood film "Bronco Billy", are among the most successful.
Hailed as four of the finest studio musicians in the world, the Muscle Shoals Rhythm Section – made up of keyboardist Barry Beckett, drummer Roger Hawkins, bassist David Hood and guitarist Jimmy Johnson – has appeared on classic recordings by top-name artists in virtually every musical genre.
Montgomery native Nathaniel Adams Coles – better known by his stage name, Nat King Cole – earned prominence as a jazz pianist before switching to a singing career that would ultimately carry him to musical immortality.
A native of Muscle Shoals, AL., Norbert Putnam earned recognition as one of the first professional recording musicians in the Shoals area.Working with Rick Hall at FAME Recording Studio, Putnam played bass on many of the early hit recordings by artists such as Arthur Alexander, Tommy Roe, and the Tams.
A native of Elba, Al., Paul Hornsby began playing music at the age of seven, and moved into the professional ranks in 1962 while a student at the University of Alabama where he was a member of the band The Minutes.Hornsby's earliest recording experience was gained at various studios in Birmingham and Muscle Shoals, and in 1967 he joined Duane and Gregg Allman in a band known at The Hour Glass.
Southern soul legend Percy Sledge worked in the farm fields surrounding his hometown of Leighton, Alabama, before he was hired to work as an orderly at Colbert County Hospital (now Helen Keller Hospital) in nearby Sheffield.
A beat up hat, eye patch and wild stage antics were the perfect image for Dr. Hook. So perfect in fact that many people felt Ray Sawyer was Dr. Hook. The name, however, was for the entire band. Sawyer, a native of Monroeville, began playing drums professionally at the age of 17 in Mobile. In 1967 while on a fishing trip to Oregon, he was involved in an automobile accident that left him in a wheel chair for a year.
Recognized as the “Father of Muscle Shoals Music,” maverick producer, publisher, songwriter, musician and studio owner Rick Hall founded FAME Recording Studios and produced the Muscle Shoals music industry’s first national hits.
An Athens, AL, native, Roger Murrah became one of the most successful songwriters in Nashville by combining his insight into the entire range of human experiences with memorable hook lines and unforgettable melodies.
Boaz native, Rose Maddox, began singing at the age of 11 in the migrant camps and honky tonks of California during the Great Depression. With her brothers, the Maddox Brothers and Rose became known as "the most colorful hillbilly band in America". The music the band played was a raucous and exuberant mixture of folk music, old-time country music, gospel, jazz, swing and boogie-woogie.
Florence native Sam Phillips – the music visionary credited as the “Father of Rock ’n’ Roll” – ignited an earth-shaking cultural revolution with his fateful discovery of Elvis Presley and his trailblazing establishment of the star-making Sun Records label in Memphis, Tennessee.
Affectionately known as the “Southern Gentleman,” Sonny James helped broaden the appeal of country music by offering his own warm, elegant country versions of familiar pop standards of the recent past.
The Double Springs native, Speer family, began their rich heritage in 1921 when G.T. "Dad" Speer formed the first Speer Quartet. They were different from the beginning, breaking the barrier in Gospel Music by adding female voices in a field totally dominated by all male quartets. As Dad and Mom Speer's children were born, they were taught the rudiments of music as soon as they could talk.
A native of Center Star, Spooner Oldham gained his first recording experience as a member of the rhythm section at Fame Recording Studio in Muscle Shoals. It was there that he met songwriting partner Dan Penn.
Stewart Harris, composer, songwriter, producer and publisher is the President of Edisto Sound. Born in Birmingham, Alabama he grew up in South Carolina and began his career in 1971 as a performer of folk and pop music on America's east coast. Based in New York City, he performed in clubs and festivals until 1973. He then moved to Washington D.C. where he continued as an artist and began to compose songs.
Although she born in the small town of Tremont in Itawamba County, Mississippi, Tammy Wynette – the future “First Lady of Country Music” – spent much of her childhood in Red Bay, just across the Alabama state line. After her father’s death of a brain tumor when she only nine months old, young Virginia Wynette Pugh lived mostly with her maternal grandparents on a farm that spanned both sides of the Alabama-Mississippi border.
The most successful soul group of the 1960's, the Temptations, is known for intense vocals, tight harmonies, and dynamic rhythms-- all choreographed into an unforgettable stage routine.
The Thrasher Brothers, Jim, Buddy and Joe, are from Heflin, AL and are best known for their career as gospel singers, yet their career has spanned the areas of Country and Opera as well. Beginning in the 50s, The Thrasher Brothers performed for the first time at the Grand Ole Opry on the Friday Night Wally Fowler Gospel Sing. They continued to perform in Nashville and sang all across Alabama in local churches and school auditoriums.
Singer-songwriter-musician Tommy Shaw became an overnight success when he joined the multi-platinum band Styx shortly before a tour in 1976. The vocalist recalls a phone call he received from a member of the group's crew, "They were in a kind of panic situation. They had new management, a new record, a new label, a new tour about to start and somebody had just quit."
As the sixth child in a family of nine, Vern Gosdin began singing in a church in Woodland, Al. where his mother played piano. In 1961 he moved to California where he joined the West Coast Country music movement, first as a member of the Golden State Boys, then the Hillmen before forming The Gosdin Brothers with brother Rex.
Florence native William Christopher Handy – a musician, composer, arranger and publisher who became known as the “Father of the Blues” – grew up in a log cabin built by his grandfather, a former slave who served as a minister in the African Methodist Episcopal Church.
W alt Aldridge, a songwriter, singer, musician, engineer and producer has exercised his musical skills in Muscle Shoals and Nashville for eighteen years. Billboard magazine named Aldridge one of the Top Ten Country Songwriters of the year in 1989 and 1991 on the strength of such songs as Rickey Van Shelton's "I Am A Simple Man".
Brewton native, William Lee Golden made his show business debut at the age of seven playing guitar and singing on a hometown radio station. He is now one of the most recognizable faces in Country Music and has seen the top of the charts in three fields; Gospel, Country, and Pop.
At the age of thirteen, the Anniston native entered Tuskegee Institute, graduating with highest honors in 1921. Four years later, Dawson earned a bachelor of music degree from Horner Institute of Fine Arts in Kansas City, Missouri. He studied composition under Felix Borowski at the Chicago Musical College. He also studied under Adolph Weidig at the American Conservatory of Music, where he received a master of music degree in 1927.
Of the major '60s soul stars, Wilson Pickett was one of the roughest and sweatiest, working up some of the decade's hottest dance floor grooves on hits like "In the Midnight Hour," "Land of 1000 Dances," "Mustang Sally," and "Funky Broadway." Although he tends to be held in somewhat lower esteem than more versatile talents like Otis Redding and Aretha Franklin, he is often a preferred alternative of fans who like their soul on the rawer side.