Sunday, February 6, 2011

The Year of Alabama Music

State devotes 2011 to celebrating its legacy and influence on American music
By Catherine Godbey
The Decatur Daily

To define the music of Alabama is to tell the story of the blues, country and soul.

“Alabama’s culture, which includes music and

literature and other forms of art comes from the tragedy and triumphs of our people,” said state Tourism Director Lee Sentell. “Music evolved in rural places in Alabama as a way to tell stories and share emotions.”

Alabama music is the hillbilly toe-tapping twang brought by the Scottish and Irish from the Appalachian Mountains.

It is the rhythms of Africa sung by the slaves on the plantations.

It is the rhythm and blues, garage rock, punk, gospel and folk played on front porches, in neighborhood joints, churches and on stages across the country.

“Because of the wealth of musical genres that come from Alabama, and the wealth of great artists within those genres, it is impossible to define Alabama music in a single blurb,” said Marc Smirnoff, editor of Oxford American.

Instead of a blurb, the magazine’s 12th annual Southern Music issue devoted 126 pages, a 26-song CD and a website to telling the story of the Alabama artists that transformed the music industry. Featured artists include Ralph “Soul” Jackson, Dinah Washington and the Sex Clark Five.

The Alabama edition follows last year’s release devoted to Arkansas.

The magazine spurred the Alabama Department of Tourism into action.

“We were aware that Oxford American does this every winter, and we were familiar with the success Arkansas had,” Sentell said. “We thought this would be a unique and appealing way to reach hard-core music fans.”

In January, the tourism department kicked of the Year of Music campaign.

Featuring a guide to the 100 places to hear live music, a profile of Alabama artists and a list of festivals, the department aims to highlight the depth of the state’s history and influence in music.

Alabama legends
“We want to educate people in the South and throughout the United States about the unique contributions Alabama natives have made on the world of American music,” Sentell said. “And we are hoping to bring attention to contemporary and emerging artists.”

Among the legends are Hank Williams, W.C. Handy, Lionel Richie, Odetta, Nat King Cole, Emmylou Harris and Jimmy Buffett.

Morgan, Limestone and Lawrence counties also contributed to the state’s music identity. From Limestone County came The Delmore Brothers, a country music duo and stars of the Grand Ole Opry.

And from Morgan County there was Elvis Presley’s musician Charlie Hodge, Dean Jones and A.J. Showalter, who wrote “Leaning on the Everlasting Arms” at the Hartselle Tabernacle.

Music in Morgan
As part of the Year in Music, the Decatur-Morgan County Convention and Visitors Bureau produced a film by Juergen Beck about Morgan County’s music legacy.

The nine-minute feature includes a history of the Princess Theatre Center for the Performing Arts, an overview of music festivals and interviews with classical guitarist Margarita Valls de Quesada, performer Reginald Jackson, singer-songwriter Michelle Malone and Hartselle High band director Randall Key.

The video showcases the past, present and future of Morgan County, said bureau president Tami Reist.

The Year of Music celebration includes a concert at the Princess. On Feb. 25, the theater will host “An Evening with Mac McAnally.”

“ We hope this campaign will encourage travel to other locations in the state and promote music destinations,” Sentell said.

The tourism department will host a songwriters contest about the state and is promoting the Alabama Jammer, an Alabama-shaped guitar made by Gibson.

The Oxford American issue profiling Alabama music will remain on bookstore shelves through February.

Want more?
Find 100 places to hear music in Alabama, a complete list of the state’s music festivals and events and a history of notable artists at

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