“At The Alabama Music Hall of Fame, we honor musicians who changed the course of music history,” says Marketing Director Dixie Connell. “So many famous artists have Alabama roots, like Lionel Ritchie, Percy Sledge, The Temptations, and W.C. Handy, Father of The Blues.”
“We believe music soothes our soul, pulls us together, and makes us all want to strut our stuff.”
Back in the 1960’s and 70’s, Muscle Shoals Alabama was the “Hit Recording Capitol of the World.” We examine portraits of Nat King Cole, Hank Williams, and Tammy Wynette, oogle their glitzy showbiz costumes, and walk onboard Alabama’s Road Bus. We jive around the jukebox to Percy Sledge’s “When a Man Loves A Woman,” and Wilson Pickett’s “Mustang Sally.”
Then the Sound Engineer invites me into the Wishbone Recording Studio to select my favorite torch song and record my own hit. I croon my sultriest version of “You Make Me Feel Like a Natural Woman.” No worries, Aretha Franklin, you’re still the Queen of Soul, now and forever. And I have a blast pretending to be a star among all these amazing artists. This is a don’t miss stop on your next trip to Tuscumbia, Alabama.
In Birmingham, we visit The Alabama Hall of Jazz. Dr. Frank Adams, 80 years young, meets us at the front door, playing his clarinet. This intriguing pied piper entertains us with the musical careers of Lionel Hampton, Charlie Parker, Erskine Hawkins and Ella Fitzgerald. Dr. Adams proudly shares his own claim to fame: he played with Louis Armstrong and in The Duke Ellington Orchestra.
Most fascinating is the biography of William Christopher Handy, “The Father of the Blues.” Born 1873 in a log cabin in Florence Alabama, Handy was the son and grandson of African Methodist Episcopal Ministers. His father did not want him to become a musician, but Handy became Music Director of the traveling Mahara Minstrels. He later worked as a teacher and bandmaster, and then moved to Memphis, Tennessee. His groundbreaking composition “Memphis Blues,” featured spirituals, work songs, and folk ballads. He achieved fame with “St. Louis Blues,” and “Yellow Dog Blues,” and recorded with his band in New York from 1917-1923. Until his death in 1958, Handy published sixty of his compositions, achieving his title, “Father of the Blues.” If you want to experience his music, attend the 2011 W.C. Handy Festival in Florence, where the Handy Community Choir blows the roof off with their Praise Concerts.
At W.C. Handy’s Home & Museum, I was privileged to sit at his original piano before his sheet music, “St. Louis Blues.” Feeling the master watching me from Heaven, I humbly placed my hands on his hallowed keys. For a lovely moment, W.C.’s music streamed through my fingers, inspiring us with his enthralling sound.
Alabama thrives as a contemporary hotbed of creative talent. Tour Muscle Shoals recording studios to meet up and coming music songwriters and producers. At WorkPlay, a Birmingham entertainment complex, groove with guitar artist Keith Williams, and sensational sax solos by Vann Burchfield.
This is one magical musical tour.
Throughout our tour of Tuscaloosa, Muscle Shoals, and Birmingham, we feasted on southern comfort food.
At Staggs Grocery in Florence, breakfast is a major event. Along with eggs any style, your plate overflows with sausage, country ham, bacon, grits, and cathead biscuits, which you dip into thick sweet chocolate gravy. (Then try a 5-mile sprint!)
Country Boys, in Petersville Alabama, serves chicken and dumplings, grilled catfish, complimented by black-eyed peas, fried okra, and corn muffins. Save room for the homemade peach cobbler and everything will be all right, trust me.
Barbecue devotees swear by the succulent pork ribs at Dreamland, in Tuscaloosa. Since 1958, this jumping barbecue joint has served spicy rib slabs, white bread, and sides of slaw, potato salad, and thick baked beans. Watching customers licking their fingers, I had to agree with the wall graffiti: “Ain’t nothin’ like em nowhere.”
My favorite meal was brunch at the swanky Renaissance Birmingham Ross Bridge Golf Resort and Spa. After a fabulous morning in the Spa where I enjoyed a lavender oil massage, I floated up to the dining room to sample scrambled eggs, waffles, salads, fruit, smoked salmon, and the most incredible cinnamon rolls on Planet Earth.
On your next Alabama musical tour, it’s easy to keep your energy high: gorge on chocolate sauce and cathead biscuits for breakfast, barbecue ribs and potato salad for lunch, and chicken dumplings and peach cobbler for dinner. You won’t lose a pound, but everything tastes so delicious, you won’t mind buying bigger jeans.
IF YOU GO
More info from these Tourism Offices:
Hotels we recommend:
Renaissance Birmingham Ross Bridge Golf Resort & Spa
Marriott Shoals Hotel & Spa, www.MarriottShoalsHotel.com
Florence/Lauderdale Tourism, www.VisitFlorenceAl.com