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Home of the internationally renowned Tuskegee Institutes School of Music

State Spotlight


Became a state on..... December 14, 1819

Southern Genres..... Appalachian Folk, Blues, Country Fiddle, Gospel, Spirituals, Jazz, Polka

Alabama has played a central role in the development of both blues and country music. Appalachian folk music, fiddle music, gospel, spirituals, and polka have had local scenes in parts of Alabama. The Tuskegee Institutes School of Music (established 1931), especially the Tuskegee Choir, is an internationally renowned institution. There are three major modern orchestras, the Mobile Symphony, the Alabama Symphony Orchestra and the Huntsville Symphony Orchestra; the last is the oldest continuously operating professional orchestra in the state, giving its first performance in 1955.

Music of Alabama

State Song

Julia Tutwiler, an advocate for education and prison reform, wrote the state song, "Alabama". The state song of Alabama is entitled "Alabama". It was written by Julia Tutwiler and composed by Edna Gockel Gussen. It was adopted as the state song in 1931.

A State Senate bill (SB-458) was passed 32-1 in 2000 to move "Alabama" to the status of State Anthem, with "Stars Fell On Alabama", a song written in 1933 whose most popular release was by Jimmy Buffett in 1972 becoming the new State Song, and "My Home's in Alabama" (1980) by the Country group Alabama would become the State Ballad, but the bill failed in the State House.

Other grass roots efforts to make "Sweet Home Alabama" (1974) by Lynyrd Skynyrd the state song have also failed, but the song's potential official status made a comeback when the State Tourism Agency chose the song as the centerpiece of its 2008 marketing campaign.

Recording studios

Muscle Shoals, Alabama is renowned worldwide as one of the epicenters of the music industry, having been the birthplace of a number of classic recordings. The studios of the Muscle Shoals area (Florence, Sheffield, Muscle Shoals, and Tuscumbia) figure prominently in the history of rock, country and R&B through the 1960s, 70s & 80s. FAME Studios, Muscle Shoals Sound Studios, Wishbone Studios, Quinvy Studios, East Avalon Recorders/ClearDay Studio, and others have recorded local musicians and international superstars alike. Notable artists have included Aretha Franklin, Rolling Stones, Lynyrd Skynyrd, Otis Redding, Wilson Pickett, Bob Dylan, Paul Simon, Rod Stewart, Willie Nelson, Hank Williams Jr Roy Orbison, and countless others have recorded there. The notable studio house bands include The Muscle Shoals Rhythm Section, The Swampers, The Muscle Shoals Horns, and The Fame Gang.

Though not as popular a recording center as before, Muscle Shoals continues to be an important contributor to American popular music and is home to a number of the world's most successful songwriters, musicians and producers.

Halls of fame

The Alabama Music Hall of Fame was created by the Alabama state legislature as a state agency in 1980. A 12,500 square foot (1,200 m²) exhibit hall opened in Tuscumbia in 1990.

The Alabama Jazz Hall of Fame (AJHoF) is located in Birmingham, housed in the historic Carver Theatre. It was founded in 1978 and opened a museum in 1993.

Styles of music

Popular music

Many artists in the realms of Southern Rock, Rock & Roll, Country, Rhythm & Blues and Pop have emerged from Alabama over the past 50 years, including Wilson Pickett, Toni Tennille, Percy Sledge, Tommy Shaw of Styx, Martha Reeves of Martha and the Vandellas, the Southern Rock/Pop/R&B band Wet Willie, the Rock band Brother Cane, the Power Pop band Hotel of Birmingham, Bill McCorvey of the Country band Pirates of the Mississippi, and songwriter/producer Walt Aldridge. The Commodores and their former front man Lionel Richie both hail from Tuskegee. Rick Hall, founder of FAME Studios in Muscle Shoals is a well-known producer of classic R&B, pop, country music from the 1960s through the 1980s. The Birmingham area has had more than its fair share of American Idol contestants do well, including second season winner Ruben Studdard, fourth season runner-up Bo Bice, and fifth season winner Taylor Hicks (Taylor Hicks is on the Southern Museum of Music Artist Advisory Board).

Blues & Jazz

WC Handy, often referred to as the "father of the blues", was born and raised in Florence, Alabama, which since 1982 holds an annual WC Handy Music Festival "to preserve, present, and promote the musical heritage of Northwest Alabama". The festival is usually held in the summer, and cake and other foods are typically served.

Piedmont and country blues singer, guitarist, and songwriter Ed Bell was born near Fort Deposit.

Though born in Frayser, a community in North Memphis, Tennessee, Johnny Shines, Blues singer and guitarist, moved to Holt, Alabama, in Tuscaloosa County, in 1969, where he lived until he died. Shines died on April 20, 1992, in Tuscaloosa, Alabama. He was inducted into the Blues Hall of Fame later the same year.

Alabama has a rich jazz heritage, being the birthplace of such greats as Lionel Hampton, Erskine Hawkins, Nat King Cole, Cleveland Eaton, James Reese Europe, Cootie Williams, William Manuel Johnson, Urbie Green, Ward Swingle, Cow Cow Davenport, members of Take 6 and many more. Tubist Howard Johnson of the Saturday Night Live band hails from Montgomery. The museum of the Alabama Jazz Hall of Fame honors many of these fine musicians. In the 1930s and 40s, college dance bands, such as the Alabama Cavaliers, the Auburn Knights and the Bama State Collegians played an important role in the history of jazz in the South. Birmingham, Alabama boasts several active big bands, including the SuperJazz Big Band, the Joe Giattina Orchestra, the Night Flight Big Band and the Magic City Jazz Orchestra, founded and directed by Ray Reach. In addition, there is a world-class horn section, the Tuscaloosa Horns, comprising some of Alabama's finest jazz/soul/funk instrumentalists. Also the newest/youngest break out big band in Alabama which incorporates everything from Duke Ellington to Bob Marley; the New South Jazz Orchestra which prominently features the Tuscaloosa Horns and the composing/arranging skills of members of the Tuscaloosa Horns.

Ward Swingle, world famous multiple Grammy Award winning jazz vocal composer and pianist, hails from Mobile.

Birmingham contributed prominently to the history of jazz in America. It is the hometown of numerous influential jazz musicians, including bassist Cleveland Eaton, pianist and vocalist Ray Reach, guitarist Johnny Smith, trumpeter and bandleader Erskine Hawkins, trumpeter and arranger Tommy Stewart, trumpeter Nelson Williams, composer Hugh Martin, arranger Sammy Lowe, bandleader Sun Ra, vibraphonist and bandleader Lionel Hampton, singer and guitarist Odetta, John Propst (pianist for Pete Fountain and Boots Randolph) and many more. Historical areas such as Tuxedo Junction and the Fourth Avenue Historic District played an important role in the evolution of jazz in Birmingham and the United States.


Gospel music has an especially long tradition in the state, among both the white and black populations. Given the strongly religious coloring of Alabama's population historically, the genre is one example of many shared phenomena between the historically segregated cultures of the state. It should be noted that the two traditions are, however, distinct, and entail key distinctions, with Southern gospel incorporating elements of bluegrass and country music more strongly than "black" gospel.


The state also has a Celtic music scene, which has produced bands like Henri's Notions, After Class, and the Birmingham-based harpist Cynthia Douglass, as well as a number of piping bands and promotional Celtic organizations.

Sacred Harp

Alabama is the leading state for Sacred Harp singing. More annual singings are held in Alabama than in any other state. The The Sacred Harp: Revised Cooper Edition, a version of The Sacred Harp used across the southern parts of Georgia, Alabama, Mississippi, and Texas, is published by the Sacred Harp Book Company of Samson, Alabama The Sacred Harp/Shape Note Music and Cultural Center is located in Bessemer, Alabama.

Country, Bluegrass, & Old-time Music

The State of Alabama has a rich history in country, bluegrass and old-time music. The influence of Mississippi Delta blues to the west and the ancient sounds of Appalachian Folk Music to the north blend with native Jazz sounds to form a brand of country music with a unique Alabama flavor. "Country music may be recorded in Nashville, but it was born in the Heart of Dixie." (Will Vincent, Tall Pines Bluegrass).

North Alabama’s contribution to bluegrass music over the years has been exceptional. From former “Bluegrass Boys” Rual Yarbrough and Jake Landers, mandolin virtuoso Hershel Sizemore, fiddling legend Al Lester and the incomparable Claire Lynch, to modern day country-star-turned-bluegrass artist Marty Raybon, the list goes on and on.

Probably one of the most well-known musicians to ever hail from Alabama is Hank Williams Sr., born in Georgiana. Hank's hits include "I'm So Lonesome I Could Cry", "Lost Highway" and "Jambalaya (On the Bayou)" Hank and his wife Audrey are both buried in Oakwood Cemetery in Montgomery where the Hank Williams Museum resides downtown. A section of Interstate 65 between Georgiana and Montgomery was commemorated the "Lost Highway" in memory of Williams in 1997.

Other notable residents include Jimmy Buffett, though born in Pascagoula, Mississippi, grew up in the Mobile area. Country star Tammy Wynette was born on the Mississippi/Alabama line. The Louvin Brothers were pioneers of tight harmony country and bluegrass vocalizations. Vern Gosdin is another influential country music legend who came from the state of Alabama. Emmylou Harris was born in Birmingham. Shenandoah from Muscle Shoals became major stars. The group Alabama from Fort Payne is often credited with bringing country music groups (as opposed to solo vocalists) into the mainstream, paving the way for the success of today's top country groups.

Alabama Iconic Musicians

  • Alabama (band) - Country superstar band, based in Fort Payne
  • Ernest Ashworth- Country Star and a member of the Grand Ole Opry for 44 years. Known for his hit "Talk Back Trembling Lips" from Huntsville, Alabama
  • Nat King Cole - Jazz and R&B musician/songwriter, born in Montgomery
  • The Commodores - Soul/funk group formed in Tuskegee Had 2 #1 Hot 100 hits, like "Three Times a Lady" in 1978.
  • William Levi Dawson - composer, organizer of the Tuskegee School of Music, from Anniston, Alabama
  • Delmore Brothers - from Elkmont, Alabama
  • Cleveland Eaton - jazz bassist, veteran of the Count Basie Orchestra and the Ramsey Lewis Trio, from Birmingham, Alabama
  • Joe L. Frank - country music promoter from Mt. Rozell
  • Rick Hall - record producer from Franklin County
  • W.C. Handy - father of the blues, Born in Florence
  • Erskine Hawkins - big band leader
  • Sonny James - Early country star, born in Hacklebug
  • James Joiner - founder of Tune Recording Studio, songwriter, from Florence
  • Jake Hess - gospel singer from Limestone County
  • Buddy Killen - record producer and founder of Dial Records, executive at Tree Publishing
  • Louvin Brothers - influential close harmony group, from Section
  • Chuck Leavell - Keyboardist, former member of the Allman Brothers Band, sideman for Eric Clapton and the Rolling Stones
  • Muscle Shoals Rhythm Section - consisting of Jimmy Johnson, guitar, Roger Hawkins, drums, David Hood, bass, and Barry Beckett, keyboards
  • Dan Penn - singer, songwriter R&B record producer, from Vernon
  • Sam Phillips - founder of Sun Records, born in Florence
  • Curly Putman - songwriter from Princeton
  • Martha Reeves - Motown lead singer, Born in Eufaula
  • Jimmie Rodgers - Early country star, born in Geiger
  • Billy Sherrill - Country producer, with 74 top 10 hits, born in Phil Campbell
  • Percy Sledge - 1960s soul star, born in Leighton
  • Dinah Washington - Jazz and blues singer, born in Tuscaloosa
  • Jerry Wexler - New Yorker with Atlantic Records, responsible for the rise of Muscle Shoals
  • John T. "Fess" Whatley - music educator, worked with the Jazz Demons, the first jazz band in Birmingham
  • Hank Williams - Country music pioneer, born in Georgiana
  • Tammy Wynette - Country singer - Lived in Red Bay