Musical Heritage in Alabama
Visit Alabama and you will find a state with it’s roots deep in music and one that has played a central role in the development of Blues and Country music worldwide. The footsteps of some great music legends can be followed here - Nat King Cole, Hank Williams, W.C Handy, Jimmy Buffett and Tammy Wynette to name but a few.
Muscle Shoals, Alabama
Where can one go to find the home of two of the most influential recording centres in America? The answer is Muscle Shoals in northern Alabama renowned for it’s huge contribution to rock, country and R&B music throughout the 1960s and 70s. Muscle Shoals Sound Studios and FAME Studios were used frequently by superstars like Aretha Franklin, Rolling Stones, Rod Stewart, Lynyrd Skynyrd and Otis Redding who all made classic recordings there.
Read our 48 hours in The Shoals article.
Alabama Music Hall of Fame
The Alabama Music Hall of Fame in Tuscumbia has reopened and continues the celebration of Alabama music ranging from Hank Williams to Nat King Cole. The tourist attraction reopened to coincide with the attention created by the documentary “Muscle Shoals”, which features Rolling Stones guitarist Keith Richards and others talking about the sound that came out of recording studios in the northwest corner of the state.
“Alabama has a strong musical heritage, and the Shoals can lay claim to a unique musical sound. I’m excited that the Hall of Fame can now reopen in the Shoals and share that musical heritage with more people,” Gov. Robert Bentley said.
The Hall features the tour bus of the band Alabama, a wax figure of Hank Williams wearing an original stage suit and a wax figure of Nat King Cole at his piano. There are instruments, apparel and memorabilia from many other Alabama performers, including Lionel Richie, EmmyLou Harris, Wilson Pickett, Percy Sledge and Tommy Shaw of Styx. The hall hours are 9 a.m. to 5 p.m. Tuesday through to Saturday.
Ever heard of the American term ‘Swamper’? It usually means a helper like a truck driver’s assistant or waitress but in Alabama it refers to ‘studio musicians’ - the ‘hired guns’ of the music world! When American songwriter Paul Simon arrived in Muscle Shoals to work with The Swampers,also known as the Muscle Shoals Rhythm Section, he was surprised to find a line up of white musicians. Thinking that they were office workers, he asked to ‘meet the band’! Many expected the band to be made up of black musicians because of the long association with R&B classics.
W.C.Handy - Father of the Blues
Down the road in nearby Florence, legendary figure W.C.Handy the ‘Father of the Blues’ was born in a simple log cabin which is now a museum. He composed famous tunes like the ‘St Louis Blues’ and ‘Memphis Blues’ and is honoured in the annual W.C.Handy Music Festival, a great celebration of Blues and Jazz, held every July in the Shoals area of Florence.
Jazz in Birmingham
You’d expect Birmingham, Alabama’s largest city to add it’s own stamp to the music world and it doesn’t disappoint. Jazz enthusiasts head downtown to the Alabama Jazz Hall of Fame located in the historic Carver Theatre for the Performing Arts, this museum pays tribute to great jazz artists with ties to Alabama like Nat King Cole, Sun Ra,uke Ellington, Lionel Hampton and Erskine Hawkins.
Moving South of Birmingham to Montgomery, Alabama’s State Capital, is where Hank Williams lived from 1937 to 1948. The Hank Williams Museum on Commerce Street documents the life of this Country Music pioneer famous for such classics as ‘Hey Good Lookin’ and ‘Cold Cold Heart’, also home to the annual Hank Williams Songwriting Contest. Follow The Hank Williams Trail south to Mount Olive where he was born and to Georgiana his boyhood home as well as Andalusia where he married Audrey Sheppard, the influence for many of his songs.
Mardi Gras in Alabama
Thought that New Orleans was the only place for the Mardi Gras? Well the Mobile Mardi Gras dating back to 1703 claims to be the first and organisers take pride in this ‘family friendly’ celebration of art and music. The two week event culminates every year on ‘Fat Tuesday’, the day before Lent.