African Americans with Huntsville ties have shaped music’s landscape

single-meta-cal February 20, 2023

From gospel music to jazz, from blues to hip-hop, Huntsville’s African American community has fostered a creative space of musical greatness.

For example, iconic entertainer Sammy Davis, Jr. was ushered into the history books via Huntsville native Will Maston and the Will Maston Trio.

A woman in a pink dress sits at a table with an open book. She is singing to someone to her left. There is a white cup on the table and another woman sitting there in blue.

Hailed by Opera News for her “sumptuous, mid-weight soprano,” and by The New York Times for her “warm, ample voice,” Huntsville native Brandie Inez Sutton is one of the classical world’s most impressive new stars.

Little Richard was once a student here at Oakwood University. Today, a well-recognized mural at MidCity District pays homage to the larger-than-life performer and entertainer. The father of blues, W.C. Handy, was the band director at Alabama A&M University in the early 1900s, under the leadership of William Hooper Councill. Jazz and blues great Dinah Washington recorded with the Walter Buchanan Orchestra. Buchanan was Councill’s grandson.

Herman Blount, a music major at Alabama A&M, birthed his Sun Ra persona while a student here. He was a world-renowned pioneer in the genre of jazz fusion.

Some other factoids you might not know – Grammy nominated songwriter Clifton Davis (“Never Can Say Goodbye”) holds a degree in Theology from Oakwood University. Joya Wesley, daughter of former JB Fred Wesley, was born in Huntsville.

Legendary songstress Anita Baker’s song, “Giving You the Best That I’ve Got,” has ties to Huntsville and Sound Cell Studios, via Skip Scarborough. Additionally, the world-renowned Frankie Beverly and Maze was managed by the late great Huntsville native Joe Douglas.

Producer Kelvin Wooten is seen at the Grammy awards. He is wearing a dark purple suit.

In addition to producing artists as diverse as H.E.R. and Eric Clapton, Grammy winner Kelvin Wooten is the founder of WoodaWorx, a production company.

Producer, vocal coach and arranger Steve Mackey honed his craft while living in Huntsville and singing with Oakwood University’s Aeolians, Dynamic Praise and Madison Mission Mass Choir. Mackey is also a renowned vocal coach and has worked with Jennifer Lopez, Selena Gomez, Maroon 5, Fergie and Lenny Kravitz.

The list of African American musicians goes on, not only with musicians from the past, but present and future musical artists. Today, you have names such as Brandie Inez Sutton, a national touring opera singer, Kelvin Wooten, an R&B and hip hop Grammy winner, and many more musicians and songwriters who continue Huntsville’s legacy in the world of music.

The contributions of African Americans in music and their Huntsville footsteps keep the sweet tones and melodies constantly flowing for the world to hear.

Gopher, a member of the Huntsville Music Board, is an independent researcher of modern culture. With over 20 years of experience in the music creative zone, he works to bridge economic gaps while enhancing the quality of life for the next generations of creators. Huntsville historian William Hampton, owner and operator of Huntsville Revisited, contributed to this blog. Visit the Huntsville Revisited Facebook page to learn more about Huntsville’s unique history.