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A conversation with Al Bell

  • Written by Tri-State Defender Newsroom
Memphis Music icon Al Bell – record producer, songwriter and record exec – recently had to make room on his mantle for another award, this one a Grammy. by ChaVale Q. Conner
Special to the Tri-State Defender

Memphis Music icon Al Bell – record producer, songwriter and record exec – recently had to make room on his mantle for another award, this one a Grammy.

Gracious as always, Bell, who often is described as “the driving force behind Stax Records,” took time this week to reflect with the Tri-State Defender about the honor, Memphis, its musicians, youth and more.

ChaVale Q. Conner:  Congratulations Mr. Bell on winning the Grammy Trustees Award for 2011 at the Wilshire Ebell Theatre. You must be so proud to be honored for your accomplishments in American music.”

Al Bell (right) with the Court of Royalty for the Miss Black Memphis Pageant and CEO of the pageant, Muhammad Ziyad (second row, left). (Courtesy photo)

Al Bell:
Words cannot express my feelings. I am honored, humbled (and) thankful. I’m just overjoyed because they gave this award not just to me, but to Memphis, the Memphis Music foundation, and the entire Memphis music community. I accept this honor as a representative to a bigger picture before God. I am grateful to be recognized for something I truly love and adore.

CQC: Have you always had a love for music? What has this journey been like for you?

A.B.: I became involved with music in junior high school at the record hops or discos as you would know them. My father exposed me to the work of my cousin, Louis Jordan, who performed in the 1940s. He did songs like “Corrina Corrina Corrina” and “Saturday Night Fish Fry.” So I learned to appreciate his style.

I was always interested in the way music made people react and feel. I couldn’t read a note, but I could feel, and hear what went well together. It is a God given gift to be able to hear music. When I worked in radio, I was always interacting with listeners trying to find out what they thought and how the music made them feel. I learned to play music that made them feel good, motivated, hopeful, and that’s how I related to them.

CQC: You recently were in Memphis for the Miss Black Memphis Pageant with the CEO of the program, Muhammad Ziyad and some of Memphis’ talented youth. Tell us how it was to interact with them?

A.B.: I completely support Brother Ziyad and what he has done with the program. I am one of its first sponsors. Memphis is so dear to my heart and I look forward to learning from the youth there and coming to partake in the event whenever I can. The youth are where the magic happens and I guess I learned that from my father, who always said as long as your green you are growing, so I try to stay where the knowledge is. I had an amazing experience at the pageant.

CQC: How do you feel about the youth and where Memphis music is heading today?

A.B.: When I was young I was always around the older folks, listening and learning from them. Now that I’m older, I enjoy learning from the youth. Music encourages the growth and development of young people. Young people need to be able to express themselves through music. It increases the ability to learn spiritually, academically and mentally and even fosters growth in math, art, science and even attitudinally and physically.

Memphis is full of talent and a soul that is indigenous to the community. It’s just a natural feel that comes across in everything done in Memphis. As a result, Memphis music is as unique as ever. It is as great yesterday, as it is today and is consistently respected on a global level.

My advice would be that Memphis strives to invest in the rare and raw talent of its local artists. Otis Redding, Elvis and Al Green – all Memphis artists – were invested in and well received by the communities they came from. We must continue to do the same today, without pushing them away. We have to be about the business of marketing and promotions because without the proper exposure, wonderful artists are going unappreciated.

CQC: Kirk Whalum also was a winner at the Grammy’s this year. What are your thoughts on his success?

A.B.: Thank God for such a gifted, noble and talented young brother! Thank God he is being recognized nationally and we are blessed to have him providing leadership of the Soulsville Foundation Music Academy and Charter School. Kirk and all the workers will take the foundation into the 21st Century securely and he is very capable of influencing the academic world into bringing music back into our schools. I am so proud of his talents and I am confident that he will continue to bring nothing but continued success to the Foundation.

(For more about Bell, visit AlBellPresents.com.)

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