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W.C. Handy Music Festival, Florence, AL, 1999
W.C. Handy Music Festival, Florence, AL, 1999 Photo: Jim Hannon, TimesDaily

W.C. Handy Music Festival

The northwest Alabama area, known as the Shoals, sits on the banks of the Tennessee River. Its musical heritage is wide and deep. The Shoals includes the municipalities of Florence, Sheffield, Tuscumbia, Muscle Shoals and Russellville. The Shoals forms a geographic musical triangle with Memphis and Nashville; the music from this region has had an enormous impact on the whole of American music.

"Muscle Shoals Sounds: The Rhythm of the River" was a series published by the Florence TimesDaily newspaper over seven Sundays beginning on June 13, 1999. Its goal was to revisit the musical treasures of the Shoals, to salute its stewards, and to preserve the rich musical heritage that makes this part of the Tennessee Valley so richly musically blessed.

The Shoals was home to Florence native W.C. Handy (1873-1958), the "Father of the Blues," and to Sam Philips (1923- ), the founder of famed Sun Records, which launched the careers of Elvis Presley and Jerry Lee Lewis. In 1959, Florence businessman Tom Stafford and musicians Rick Hall and Billy Sherrill formed FAME (Florence Alabama Music Enterprises). A year later, Hall split with Stafford and Sherrill, but took the FAME name with him and started a recording studio in Muscle Shoals. Over the years, FAME was responsible for releasing hits, among others, of Wilson Pickett and Aretha Franklin, The Osmonds, Mac Davis, and Paul Anka. The FAME rhythm section in 1969 opened their own studio on Jackson Highway in Sheffield, and called it Muscle Shoals Sounds (MSS). In the years following MSS recorded many music notables, among them Cher, Bozz Scaggs, the Rolling Stones, Linda Ronstadt, Joe Cocker, Bob Seger, Paul Simon, Simon and Garfunkel, Willie Nelson, Rod Stewart, Bob Dylan. Wishbone Productions, also based in Muscle Shoals, produced the Motown acts the Commodores, Temptations, and Supremes. In addition the area has produced a bevy of musicians and singers -- from Bobby Denton, who started his career in Florence in 1958, to new star and Muscle Shoals native, Alecia Elliott, who signed a contract with MCA in 1998.

In 1980, the Alabama Legislative established the Alabama Music Hall of Fame, an outgrowth of the Muscle Shoals Music Association. In 1982, the area's Music Preservation Society unveiled its first W.C. Handy Music Festival, an annual celebration of the life of the Florence native. Few other regions of the United States can boast such a rich music history as the Alabama Shoals.

Project documentation includes four copies of the "Muscle Shoals Sounds" series from the Florence TimesDaily; a print-out of the series from the TimesDaily web site; newspaper coverage of the Muscle Shoals Music Symposium; xerographic copies of Muscle Shoals music industry photos; a brochure and printout of the web pages of the Alabama Music Hall of Fame; a history of the Music Preservation Society; and brochures, programs and other information from the annual W.C. Handy Music Festival.

Originally submitted by: Robert E. (Bud) Cramer, Jr., Representative (5th District).

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The Local Legacies project provides a "snapshot" of American Culture as it was expressed in spring of 2000. Consequently, it is not being updated with new or revised information with the exception of "Related Website" links.

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