TUSCUMBIA — A well known, Grammy Award winning Shoals artist, a Birmingham entrepreneur, a Montgomery rhythm and blues pioneer, and a Grammy winning film and television composer will be inducted into the Alabama Music Hall of Fame in January.
The 2020 inductees include:
n Gary Baker, a songwriter/producer/bassist from Sheffield, known for co-writing the Grammy-winning smash hit "I Swear" with Frank J. Myers.
n Mervyn Warren, a five-time Grammy Award winner and 10 time nominee from Huntsville, whose work crosses into several genres.
n Willie Mae "Big Mama" Thornton, a Montgomery native known as the first artist to record Lieber and Stoller's "Hound Dog," which became her biggest hit.
n Elton B. Stephens, a businessman born in Barbour County who was instrumental in the rebirth of the Alabama Symphony Orchestra.
The 2020 induction banquet will return to the Marriott Shoals Conference Center in Florence on Saturday, Jan. 25.
“We are excited about this slate of inductees because it demonstrates the diversity of the musical genres represented by Alabama’s music achievers,” hall of fame board Chairwoman Sara Hamlin said. “This will be a night to remember.”
Baker said he didn't know if he would ever be inducted in the hall of fame since he is a native of New York state. But he's spent the better part of his life, 42 years, in the Shoals.
"I'm really excited," Baker said. "I'd be lying if I said I wasn't excited. When I told my family, I told them it's like winning a Grammy to me. I didn't know if they'd let an ex-Yankee come in, but here I am."
Baker is originally from Niagara Falls, New York, and moved to the Shoals to record with the LeBlanc and Carr Band. He later joined the group The Shooters and founded Noiseblock Recording Studio in downtown Florence.
"I hope I can continue to do right and hold down my end of the deal," said Baker, who would like to perform at the event.
A resident of Sheffield, Baker said he will have several friends, some fellow musicians, attending the induction banquet.
Mervyn Warren is a highly accomplished film and TV composer, record producer, arranger, songwriter/lyricist, pianist and vocalist.
He has worked with Whitney Houston, Boyz II Men, Barbara Streisand, Rascal Flatts, Chicago, Queen Latifah, Al Jarreau, Faith Hill and many more.
His numerous production credits include pop, rhythm and blues, jazz and country music.
Warren has composed scores for several feature films including "The Wedding Planner," "A Walk To Remember" and "The Preacher’s Wife." He's written arrangements for Quincy Jones, David Foster, the late Arif Mardin and many others.
He was a founding member of the a capella group Take 6, which formed in Huntsville in 1988. The band won four Grammy Awards, six Dove Awards, two Stellar Awards and a Soul Train Award.
Warren lives in Los Angeles, California.
The daughter of a Baptist preacher, Willie Mae "Big Mama" Thornton's rhythm and blues style was heavily influenced by the gospel music she listened to while growing up. Her musical education began in the church, then continued when she discovered R&B singers Bessie Smith and Memphis Minnie.
Her performances were characterized by her deep, powerful voice and strong sense of self. 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.
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 Jerry Leiber and Mike Stoller's "Hound Dog" which became her biggest hit. The song was also recorded by Elvis Presley in 1956.
Presley and Janis Joplin were said to be big fans of her work and incorporated aspects of her performances into their own work.
Born in Barbour County, Alabama in 1911, Elton B. Stephens founded Military Service Co. in 1944 with $5,000. It later became EBSCO Industries, which is now one of the top companies in Birmingham.
Stephens formed the Metropolitan Arts Council in Birmingham in 1986 and in 1995, he initiated a $15 million campaign to restore the Alabama Symphony Orchestra to the stages and schools of the greater Birmingham area. His generosity and leadership encouraged others in the community to assist the orchestra.
Stephens died in February 2005.
Alabama Music Hall of Fame Director Sandra Burroughs said tables for the induction banquet can be purchased for $2,500-$5,000.
“This banquet celebrates our amazing music achievers,” Burroughs said. “It is also our biggest fundraiser and we have always had tremendous support from music lovers throughout the state. Some of our former sponsors have already reached out about the 2020 Banquet.”
Judy Hood, a member of the hall of fame board of directors, said specific ticket information will be released in early December. Hood has been involved in the last three banquets that have been held in the Shoals.
“We expect another sellout,” Hood said.
The show will include performances related to the four inductees and also special guest performers who will be announced closer to the show, she said.
For more information about the banquet, call the hall of fame at 256-381-4417.