TUSCUMBIA, Ala. – The Alabama Music Hall of Fame is getting ready to induct two Grammy award winners, a legendary blues singer and the philanthropist who spearheaded the revival of the Alabama Symphony Orchestra.
Gary Baker, Mervyn Warren, Willie Mae “Big Mama” Thornton and Elton B. Stephens will be honored at the AMHOF Induction Banquet and Awards Show Saturday, January 25, at the Marriott Shoals Conference Center in Florence.
“We are excited about this slate of inductees because it demonstrates the diversity of the musical genres represented by Alabama’s music achievers,” said AMHOF Board chairman Sara Hamlin. “This will be a night to remember.”
Board member Judy Hood has been involved in the past three induction shows. “We expect another sellout,” Hood says, adding that the show will include performances related to the inductees as well as some “special guests” that will be announced closer to the show.
AMHOF Executive Director Sandra Burroughs said table prices will range from $2500 to $5000. “This banquet celebrates our amazing music achievers,” said Burroughs. “It is also our biggest fundraiser and we have always had tremendous support from music lovers throughout the state.” For more information, call AMHOF at 256-381-4417.
The 2020 inductees include:
Gary Baker, who has lived in Sheffield for 43 years, earned a Grammy for the smash hit “I Swear,” which he co-wrote with Frank J. Myers. The song was number one on the country charts and crossed over to the number one spot on the pop charts. Baker co-wrote “I’m Already There,” which also hit number one on the country charts before crossing over to the top five on the pop charts.
His first major songwriting success was with “Once Upon a Lifetime,” which was performed by the group “Alabama” and soared to the number one on country charts. Through the years he has penned hit songs for numerous other artists including the Backstreet Boys, 98 Degrees and Reba McEntire. His songs have been featured in numerous high-profile television show and movie soundtracks.
He has produced many records, including the Backstreet Boys greatest hits album. In appreciation for his contributions to them, the Backstreet Boys are coming to the 2020 banquet to induct him.
He launched his career in Muscle Shoals with the famed LeBlanc Carr Band, performing on their top 10 hit named “Falling.” He wrote and recorded with several artists ranging from Mac Davis to Marie Osmond before becoming a member of the “Shooters, a hit country act from Muscle Shoals.
A Huntsville native, five-time Grammy winner and 10-time Grammy nominee Mervyn Warren is a highly accomplished film and TV composer, record producer, arranger, songwriter/lyricist, pianist and vocalist. Equally adept at various styles, Warren’s work spans several genres. His numerous production credits include pop, R&B, jazz and country and include work with Whitney Houston, Boyz II Men, Barbara Streisand, Rascal Flatts, Chicago, Queen Latifah, Al Jarreau and Faith Hill and many more.
He has composed scores for several feature films including The Wedding Planner, A Walk To Remember and The Preacher’s Wife. He has written arrangements for Quincy Joes, David Foster, the late Arif Mardin and many others.
He was a founding member of Take 6, the acapella sextet that originated in Huntsville and took the world by storm in 1988, The band won four Grammy Awards, six Dover Awards, two Stellar Awards and the Soul Train Award. He left the group in 1991 to pursue a career as a producer, songwriter, arranger and film composer.
Warren lives in Los Angeles, California where his career continues to thrive.
WILLIE MAE ‘BIG MAMA’ THORNTON
A native of Montgomery, Alabama, Willie Mae Thornton’s style was heavily influenced by the gospel music she listed to growing up. Her father was a Baptist preacher. Her musical education started in the church but continued through her observation of the rhythm-and-blues singers Bessie Smith and Memphis Minnie, whom she deeply admired.
Her performances were characterized by her deep, powerful voice and strong sense of self. She wrote several blues songs, including “Ball ‘n Chain,” which is included in the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame’s list of the “500 Songs that shaped Rock and Roll.” She was the first person to record Leiber and Stoller’s “Hound Dog” which became her biggest hit, staying seven weeks at number one on the Billboard R&B chart in 1953 and selling almost two million copies.
Scholars have praised Thornton for subverting the traditional roles of African-American women. She added a gutsy female voice to a field that was dominated by white males and her strong personality derailed stereotypes. Elvis and Janis Joplin were big fans of her work and incorporated aspects of her performances into their own work.
She was born in December of 1926 and died in Los Angeles in 1984 at the age of 57. In 2004, the nonprofit Will Mae Rock Camp for Girls was established in New York. Its mission is to provide music educations to girls ranging from eight to 18. The director of the camp will attend the banquet to induct Thornton.
ELTON B. STEPHENS
Born in Barbour County, Alabama in 1911, Elton B. Stephens was instrumental in the rebirth of the Alabama Symphony Orchestra. In 1995, he was approached by board members and asked to help re-establish the bankrupt ASO. Driven by his love of a challenge and his passion for classical music, Stephens and his wife, Alys, stepped up to help the orchestra.
In January of 1995, he initiated a $15 million campaign to restore the ASO to the stages and schools of the Greater Birmingham Area. Two years later, the orchestra performed its first concert in the Alys Stephens Performing Arts Center. Stephens’ leadership encouraged other generous donors in the community to assist ASO.
Stephens died in February of 2005, but his memory lives on in the hearts of classical music musicians and fans. Today, the ASO benefits from an endowment fund of more than $12 million.