(In addition to the GRAMMY Awards, The Recording Academy presents Special Merit Awards recognizing contributions of significance to the recording field, including the Lifetime Achievement Award, Trustees Award and Technical GRAMMY Award. In the days leading up to the 56th GRAMMY Awards, GRAMMY.com will present the tributes to the 2014 Special Merit Awards recipients.)
The moment I stepped into Rick Hall's Fame Recording Studios, I felt a buzz! I was giddy like a little girl with excitement! The history, fellowship and talent of the artists who'd come before enveloped and surround me and it was powerful. I tasted it on my lips, it sank down to my heart. I wanted to absorb and revel in the ambiance where this beautiful music was created and has gone on to move generations.
It's hard not to feel overwhelmed by the legacy and the names that walked through Fame Recording Studios' doors and put Muscle Shoals, Ala., on the music map. As someone who has a real love and appreciation for music, I wish I could have spent just a few moments in the presence of the artists who made magic at Fame. I wish I could have sat in on those sessions with Etta James, Andy Williams, Aretha Franklin, Otis Redding, and Wilson Pickett, just to name a few, as they found there was something incredibly special bubbling alongside the rolling Tennessee River. It had Southern charm, deep soul, R&B, rock, pop, and just the right dose of funk. It was original and Rick Hall and the musicians he brought together were the very heartbeat of the sounds that came from the now-legendary town.
Hall built Muscle Shoals from the ground up with his determined spirit. Originally an artist and songwriter, Hall understood what it was like to want to share your music with the world. When doors were closed on him, he opened his own with his first small studio and soon after laid down roots as a music producer in Muscle Shoals. Thanks to Hall, the town of about 1,000 has since become home to countless musicians, with many getting their first start and a chance to be a part of something completely original.
While the civil rights movement shook the country, the musicians entering Fame Studios were colorblind. Side by side with Hall, they created some of the most unique sounds and lasting music of their generation. Maybe Hall didn't know it then, but he was truly bringing people together through the universal language of music. The name Hall was making for himself with Fame Studios had artists from all over the world heading down south for a chance to be a part of what could come out of that magical studio.
Anyone who creates music knows that any good song comes with little magic, and I am proud to have been able to record at Fame Studios as part of the documentary Muscle Shoals. I was filled from being able to learn more about and experience a little bit of what Hall had created. He is a leader and visionary for our industry. His sheer diligence and determination are a lesson in themselves. And his desire to find the magic is the Soul of the Shoals. He is truly the father of Muscle Shoals music.
(GRAMMY winner Alicia Keys was featured in the 2013 documentary Muscle Shoals, and contributed a cover of Bob Dylan's "Pressing On" to the film's soundtrack. Keys is nominated this year in the Best R&B Album category for Girl On Fire.)