African American History · history · music · southern history

muscle shoals

Rick Hall, far right, with Wilson Pickett and the Swampers.

As I prep for “Music and Race in the UK,” a course I am scheduled to teach next summer in our Alabama at Oxford program, I have gone back and forth on whether to use Muscle Shoals in the course.

Aretha Franklin’s career took off after she came to Alabama to record at the Muscle Shoals Sound Studio.

After showing the documentary on the incredible music coming out of Alabama in the late sixties from Rick Hall’s studio today in my “American Civilization Since 1865” class, I’ll stick with it alright.  Not only does the storyline figure into my interest in showing my students the possibilities and limitations of postwar America, it uncovers the rich cross-fertilization of culture in the U.K. and the United States.

A student made my day today when he told me he lived near Rick Hall before Hall passed. I told him about my love for this state and the music coming out of the Muscle Shoals Sound Studio in Sheffield, Alabama – no matter the well known challenges we continue to have socially. Performers like the recently departed Aretha Franklin as well as others, among them Percy Sledge, Wilson Pickett and still more including the Swampers, the white back up musicians with whom Hall worked, put on display the best to be seen when we get on the same page. If only we can take it beyond the music to which we listen.

I felt like we did this past weekend. My husband and I attended the memorial service for the recently departed Walter Arnstein, his University of Illinois doctoral adviser. Walter and his family barely got of out of Germany in time. I was moved by the brief stories his son shared in between the lovely music performed yesterday in Urbana.

Display at Walter Arnstein’s Memorial Service yesterday.

Being in Illinois took me back to the day I defended my own doctoral dissertation and the day I graduated in 2013. My husband and I walked near Gregory  Hall on UI’s campus filled with emotion. We have so much for which to be grateful. We both pursued our PhD’s late in life. I just realized I am the fifth oldest person in the Department of History at Alabama. Yikes.


We can only hope to leave a lasting impression on others the way Walter did. It was great seeing his wife Charlotte and daughter Sylvia, too. I also enjoyed seeing my dear friend Betsy Hendrick of Urbana’s Hendrick House.


Happy Thanksgiving, All. Just one more week left for the Fall 2019 semester. Roll Tide!


Delicious vanilla ice cream and berries at Silvercreek, wonderful artisanal restaurant in Urbana.

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