FLORENCE, Ala. – The latest class of the Alabama Music Hall of Fame includes two Grammy award winners, a legendary blues singer, and the philanthropist who spearheaded the revival of the Alabama symphony orchestra.
Montgomery’s Willie Mae “Big Mama” Thornton and Birmingham’s Elton B. Stephens were inducted posthumously.
Shoals songwriter, Gary Baker was inducted by friends Kevin Richardson and Brian Littrell of the Backstreet Boys. On stage, Gary turned to them and said, “I started working with them 26 years ago and I wouldn’t be here if it wasn’t for you guys, I wouldn’t. And the 150 million units you sold.” The audience laughed.
Baker moved to the Shoals more than 40 years ago to write songs. And with hits like “I Swear” and “I’m Already There,” he found a home. In closing, Gary told the audience, “I’m a southerner by choice yall and I’m so glad I ended up here in a place called sweet home Alabama.” The crowd cheered.
It’s always a night to remember when Alabama music achievers are inducted. This year was no different. It was a big night for Mervyn Warren. “It absolutely is,” he told me before the event, “I was born in Huntsville, born and raised. I’ve been in California for about 25 years but it’s of course a big honor and a privilege to be back at home and to be recognized.”
Warren, an original member of Take 6 says the more than 10 years he spent with the acapella group was quite the ride. “It was. It was,” he said with a smile, “We toured all over the world and had a lot of fun. It was fantastic.”
The five-time Grammy winner was inducted by fellow Take 6 member Mark Kibble. He wrapped up his induction by saying, “Thank you from my heart and soul. There is no place like home.”
It was a special homecoming. “Growing up in Alabama, I believed I had the talent to do big things with my music but there wasn’t a lot of encouragement,” he said during our interview, “People would say, oh, you’re talented but get a real job.”
He knows they meant well, but he was determined to live out his dream and shoot for the stars. “I listened to these records and I said I can do what these people are doing,” he remembers, “So the fact that I was able to make some things happen and had some exciting things happen to me even though it’s taken me away from Alabama, it’s nice that the folks from home recognized that and have invited me back for this recognition.”
The work that took him to Los Angeles keeps him busy. He’s writing, arranging, producing and doing music scores for movies. And he’s looking forward to the future.
“I don’t want to jinx it but I’ve always wanted to write a Broadway musical so I’m thinking about that,” he said with a smile, “I’m not going to predict that it is going to happen or be a success but it’s something that’s been in the back of my mind for a while, So, I’m taking a peek at that and we’ll see how that works out.”
The induction banquet and show only happens every two years. It is a huge fundraiser for the Alabama Music Hall of Fame. This year’s event was a sellout.