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Music Festival History

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Father of the Blues

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Handy's First Music Teacher

Welcome to the Annual W.C. Handy Music Festival

William Christopher Handy was born in 1873 in the Shoals city of Florence, Alabama. Since 1982, the Music Preservation Society, Inc. (MPS) has been honoring and celebrating the "Father of the Blues" with an annual ten-day series of events held in the Northwestern part of Alabama.

This year we proudly recognize our 33rd award-wining Festival - honored with recognition by:

  • The Alabama Department of Tourism as one of the Top 10 Events
  • Southeast Tourism Society Top 20 Events for the months of July, August, September each year since 1986
  • Geo-tourism Map Guide to Appalachia Featured Site
  • Three time Cultural Olympiad Regional Designee
  • "Local Secret, Big Find"
  • Top 100 Event in North America

Festival Dates for 2014: July 18-27
We look forward to seeing you!



Photo by Alan Messer


Photo by Shannon Wells


Photo by Shannon Wells

Candi Staton, Hanceville, Alabama native, began her career at the Jewell Christian Academy in Nashville, Tennessee, where she and her sister, Maggie, were students. The two teamed up with fellow classmate, Naomi Harrison, to form the Jewell Gospel Trio. Touring on the traditional gospel music circuit led to recordings for the Nashboro, Apollo, and Savoy labels.

Staton's Muscle Shoals' connection began with recordings at FAME, where, as a Southern soul stylist, she earned the title, "The First Lady of Soul." Grammy nominations followed with her Soul version of "Stand By Your Man," and "In The Ghetto." Appearances on "The Soul Train" second- season opening show widened her audience even more. Hits continued to top the US R&B and UK singles charts. Returning to Muscle Shoals in the 1980s she recorded her 27th album, "When Life Happens," for Beracah Records/Fame Records and received two Grammy nominations for two albums on the Beracah label that she formed with her husband.

By the mid-1980s, Staton had joined Intersound Records, where she earned a new title, "The Sweetheart of Soul." Over her six-decade musical career, Staton has released over 50 albums and singles.

When asked about bringing her vocal magic to the 2014 W. C. Handy Music Festival Headliner stage, she said: "I am so excited to be a part of the Handy Festival in the Shoals area where I started. It's been a long time coming, but I'm finally going to spend an evening with some of the most wonderful people that I've known for many years. Come out and let's have an amazing evening!" Whether she's singing Southern Soul, Disco, Country, Gospel, or inspirational music, Staton has the gift and she uses it well.

Candi Staton will be joined for the 2014 W. C. Handy Music Festival by two singer/songwriter/musicians also with the Muscle Shoals' Connection. At the February 24, 2014 Alabama Music Hall of Fame Induction Banquet, in Florence, Alabama, when she was added to the list of Alabama Musical legends, Staton sang "I Ain't Easy To Love" with John Paul White, of The Civil Wars. After the performance, Muscle Shoals native, White, said: "I've had few experiences that rival singing with Candi. For me, growing up in the Shoals on country, soul and R&B - she's royalty. The best part is that she's one of the sweetest people I've met - musician or otherwise. I want to be like her." Staton recorded "I Ain't Easy to Love," with John Paul White and Jason Isbell for the album, "Life Happens," which debuted at #10 on Billboard's "Top Blues Album Charts" in May, 2014. John Paul White, Ben Tanner of The Alabama Shakes, and other partners have started a new record label called Single Lock Records, which recently signed St. Paul and the Broken Bones.

Music legend, Donnie Fritts - singer, songwriter, keyboardist, session musician and movie star - is another Shoals native, joining John Paul White for the 2014 W. C. Handy Music Festival Headliner Concert. Fritts has recorded with Charlie Rich, Jerry Lee Lewis, among others, and for 40 years has served as keyboardist for Kris Kristofferson. Fritts was inducted into the 2008 Alabama Music Hall of Fame, and has also appeared in several Kristofferson movies, has written songs recorded by music legends Willie Nelson, Delbert McClinton, Tony Joe White, Leroy Parnell, and John Prine. His most well known songs are "We Had It All" (sung by Waylon Jennings, Dobie Gray, Dolly Parton, Willie Nelson, Keith Richards, Ray Charles, Rolling Stones) and "Breakfast In Bed" (sung by Dusty Springfield, UB40 featuring Chrissie Hynde and Shelby Lynne). John Paul White and Donnie Fritts are currently teamed up as songwriters/artists/musicians to record what Fritts calls "a funky R&B" album on the Single Lock label.

Where: Norton Auditorium University of North Alabama
When: July 26, 2014 7:00 pm
Tickets: Order General Admission tickets in advance online below. General Admission tickets also may be available at Handy Festival Headquarters 217 East Tuscaloosa Street, Florence beginning July 14; VIP packages available by calling 256-766-7642 or 256-766-9719 or at; At the door - Norton Auditorium 6 pm GENERAL ADMISSION $40 VIP PACKAGE $150 All tickets are subject to availability.

Sponsored by: Music Preservation Society, Inc. * Shoals Solid Waste Authority * Colbert County Commission * Tennessee Valley Authority * Marriott Shoals Hotel and Spa * Local Ford Dealers * the University of North Alabama Department of University Events * Coca Cola Bottling Company * Quad Cities Carwash & Limousine * Rhoda P's Catering * Lauderdale County Commission


N Harmony With Nature

Two of the Shoals area's greatest assets are our rich musical heritage and the natural beauty that surrounds us. Keeping outdoor events litter and waste free allows us to showcase both of these assets to their fullest advantage. The objective of the N Harmony with Nature initiative, launched during the 2011 W. C. Handy Music Festival, was to promote environmental stewardship by reducing litter and waste and by promoting the value of recycling. The initiative was a tremendous success and was designated as the top project for Northwest Alabama Resource, Conservation and Development Council (RC&D) and for the State of Alabama. The initiative continues through the 2014 W. C. Handy Music Festival.

Our goal this year is to continue to build on the success of the previous W. C. Handy Music Festivals by promoting the reduction of litter and waste, not only for our outdoor events, but also for indoor events. We are asking our community citizens, attendees, and visitors to help us in our efforts by disposing trash in marked bins that will be provided at most events.

For more information about N Harmony with Nature, visit


Each ton of recycled paper can save 17 trees, 38 gallons of oil, three cubic yards of landfill space, 4,000 kilowatts of energy, and 7,000 gallons of water!


About the 2014 Winning Festival Design

Three University of North Alabama students have created the design that will be used to market the 2014 W. C. Handy Music Festival. Although there was an array of compelling entries, it was art students Caroline Thomas, Jordan Gowan, and Zach Swiatocha who teamed up under the direction of UNA Professor Ron Davis to win this year's W. C. Handy Music Festival Design Competition.

The talented trio will see their design featured on the front of the 2014 T-shirts, on the official W. C. Handy Music Festival Brochures, and on other marketing materials. The artists are expected to sign a limited number of the posters which will be sold to collectors, some of whom have signed posters dating back to 1982. There will also be unsigned posters available for purchase.

Posters and other concession items will go on sale starting July 14, 2014 at W. C. Handy Music Festival Headquarters located at the Kennedy-Douglass Center for the Arts Annex, 217 East Tuscaloosa Street, in Florence, Alabama.

The Festival Committee and Music Preservation Society, Inc. Board of Directors are very pleased with the selection and looks forward to seeing it printed on Festival materials this year.


2014 W.C. Handy Jazz Camp

The 21st W. C. Handy Music Camp was held June 9-12, 2014, on the campus of the University of North Alabama. Howard Lamb (trombone player extraordinaire and leader of the Memphis Jazz Orchestra) served as camp director. Music Camp instructors provided four days of intensive training on various instruments. They included keyboard instructor Ray Reach, Director of Student Jazz Programs at the Alabama Jazz Hall of Fame; and trumpet instructor Gary Lamb (trumpet, flute, and vocals), former road manager for Glenn Miller Orchestra. Other instructors were Robert Dickson, bass; Gary Wheat, saxophone; Mark Lanter, drums; Jim Cavendar, guitar. Camp curriculum included theory, private lessons, sectionals, combo, big band, and improvisation performance history. The Music Camp culminated with a concert on Thursday at 6:00 pm held on stage in Norton Auditorium followed by a reception. This concert was an inspiring pre-curser to the W. C. Handy Music Festival. The Music Camp Faculty performed at a pre-festival Handy Lunch jam session at Rosie's Restaurant on Court Street in Florence Wednesday, June 11th from noon until 1 pm.

The Music Camp was a joint effort of the W. C. Handy Music Festival and the University of North Alabama (UNA) and was hosted by Dr. Lloyd Jones and Dr. Edd Jones, both of whom have directed UNA's bands. Camp Assistant Drew White, with the help of UNA students Adam Byars and Jimmy Johnson, worked with faculty and UNA's Department of Music. Phi Mu Alpha Music Fraternity assisted with the concert and hosted a reception following the concert.


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