Press Release - Detail
For immediate release on Thursday, August 15, 2013.
CONTACT: Angela Fisher Hall 
Associate Director                                    
Birmingham Public Library System                                                                             
Phone: (205) 226-3614                                                                 
New Grant for Library Focuses on American Popular Music 
Birmingham, Alabama—The Birmingham Public Library (BPL) System has been awarded a $2,500 grant to host a twelve-week program series featuring documentary film screenings, scholar-led discussions and performances of twentieth-century American popular music. The “America’s Music: A Film History of Our Popular Music from Blues to Bluegrass to Broadway” series will enlighten audiences about uniquely American musical genres including blues and gospel, Broadway, jazz, bluegrass and country, rock n’ roll, mambo, and hip hop. BPL is one of fifty sites nationwide selected to host this program series. “America’s Music” is a project by the Tribeca Film Institute in collaboration with the American Library Association, Tribeca Flashpoint, and the Society for American Music. “America’s Music” has been made possible by a major grant from the National Endowment for the Humanities: Exploring the Human Endeavor.
 “We are thrilled to participate in this exciting program that will help introduce different types of music, show how modern music has been influenced by older styles, and bridge gaps among generations” said Birmingham Public Library’s Director Renee Blalock.  Programming for the series began Saturday, August 10 and runs through September 26, 2013. The Alabama Blues Women—featuring Debbie Bond, SharBaby, and Elnora Spencer—perform August 22 in the Atrium of the Central Library beginning at 6:30 p.m. All programs are free, open to the public and take place at various library locations in the City. For program details or to obtain copies of program materials, please visit or contact Sandi Lee at (205) 226-3742 or by e-mail at
“America’s Music,” designed for a general audience, will introduce genres of twentieth-century American popular music that are deeply connected to the history, culture, and geography of the United States. Older and younger Americans alike will have the chance to recognize how the cultural landscape that they take for granted today has been influenced by the development of the popular musical forms discussed in this series.
The onset of the twentieth century brought pervasive changes to American society. During the early part of the century, these social changes combined with new technologies to create a mass market for popular music that evolved over the next hundred years. The “America’s Music” series is not meant to offer an all-inclusive treatment of twentieth-century American popular music. Instead, each screening and discussion session will examine an important American musical genre in the context of key social and historical developments, with events in American music history acting as a catalyst for that examination.
The mission of Birmingham Public Library is to provide the highest quality library service to our citizens for life-long learning, cultural enrichment, and enjoyment.  This system—with nineteen locations and serving the community for 126 years—is one of the largest library systems in the southeast.  For additional information, visit our website at and be sure to follow us on Facebook and Twitter.  
America’s Music:
A Film History of Our Popular Music from Blues to Bluegrass to Broadway
Red, Hot and Blue: A Spotlight on Alabama Blues Women
Central Library, 2100 Park Place, Birmingham, AL  35203
First Floor East Building
August 12, 2013 - September 6, 2013 (Available during regular hours of operation)
Red, Hot and Blue:  Spotlight on Alabama Blues Women
Five Points West Regional Branch Library, 4812 Avenue W., Birmingham, AL  35208
September 9, 2013 – October 4, 2013  (Available during regular hours of operation)
This exhibition is a collection of oversized posters. In 2005 the Alabama Blues Project launched a traveling exhibition on Alabama blues women called Red, Hot and Blue: A Spotlight on Alabama Blues Women. The exhibition includes beautiful text panels featuring Dinah Washington, Big Mama Thornton, Lucille Bogan, Coot Grant, Odetta, Lil Greenwood, and Vera Hall.  The Alabama Blues Project’s mission is to preserve and promote Alabama blues.
America’s Music celebrates Alabama Blues Women: Debbie Bond, SharBaby, and Elnora Spencer
Atrium of the Central Library, 2100 Park Place, Birmingham, AL  35203
Thursday, August 22, 2013                             6:30 p.m.
Hear three greats come together to celebrate the blues!  Blues singer, guitar player, SharBaby settled in Alabama in 2006 after performing at the Freedom Creek Blues Festival, connecting with the late great Willie King and the rich blues culture of Alabama where she finally felt at home. Often compared to Jessie Mae Hemphill, she cites Hubert Sumlin and Howlin' Wolf as early influences. Shabbat’s music has received international critical acclaim for its mix of goodtime soulful traditional blues with contemporary originality. Singer, guitar player, songwriter, Debbie Bond has been paying her dues in the Alabama backwoods for over 30 years. She is a blues activist and founded the Alabama Blues Project,  to promote and preserve the states great blues heritage. One of her projects is the Exhibition Red Hot and Blue, celebrating past Alabama Blues Women. Her musical story includes years of performing with older, traditional Alabama blues musicians, in clubs, festival stages, and schools including Johnny Shines, Eddie Kirkland, Willie King and more. More recently she has presented live showcases of Alabama blues women. Her immersion in the blues has deeply flavored her guitar playing, soulful voice and song writing, yet her sound is contemporary and original, incorporating soul, blues rock and even country influences. This unique musical synthesis can be heard on her latest album, Hearts Are Wild. Adamsville- born Elnora Spencer came from a musical family and has now been singing the blues for over 40 years. Famous for her big voice and outstanding vocal range, over the years she has opened and played with many blues greats, including B.B. King, Bobby Blue Bland, Percy Sledge, Johnny Taylor and more. Voted Birmingham’s best vocalist multiple times, she brings her own powerful version of classic blues to modern times.
Broadway and Tin Pan Alley:  Film/Discussion Series
Arrington Auditorium of the Central Library, 2100 Park Place, Birmingham, AL  35203
Saturday, August 24, 2013                              2:00 p.m. – 4:00 p.m.
Dr. Steven Roberts will serve as the discussion facilitator. Broadway in the 1920s was a showcase for the sweeping changes transforming American culture in the early 20th century, including new roles for women, the mixing of social classes in new settings like Prohibition-era speakeasies and creative innovation by African Americans in jazz clubs and music halls. New word and music smiths writing for Tin Pan Alley and Broadway’s musical revues created their syncopated rhythms borrowed from the jazz craze and their lyrics helped create a vibrant, witty new American argot.   Join us for a look at what this music added to the all American landscape.
 Swing Jazz: Film/Discussion Series
Springville Road Regional Branch Library, 1224 Springville Road, Birmingham, AL  35215
Saturday, September 7, 2013                          2:00 p.m. – 4:00 p.m.
Dr. Steve Roberts will serve as the discussion facilitator.  Jazz reached the height of its popularity with the American public during the swing era, beginning in the dark days of the Depression and continuing through the victorious end of World War II.  Also known as the Big Band sound, swing jazz was characterized by its strong rhythmic drive and by an orchestral ‘call and response’ between different sections of the ensemble.  By performing their music with increasingly complex arrangements for ever larger orchestras, Swing musicians helped erode the wall between our definitions of popular music and the art music generally labeled “classical.” 
Tuxedo Junction: Alabama Contribute to American Jazz—A Discussion
Smithfield Branch Library, #1 Eighth Avenue West, Birmingham, AL  35204
Thursday, September 12, 2013                       10:00 a.m.
Karen Utz, Curator at Sloss Furnaces, will serve as the discussion facilitator. Albert Murray, a native of Alabama and a professor of English at Tuskegee Institute, wrote the following while preparing a lecture on the emotional appeal of jazz:
“Jazz is a music played by Americans to get rid of the blues….when
You see a jazz musician playing, you’re looking at a pioneer, and
You’re looking at an explorer; you’re looking at an experimenter,
You’re looking at a  scientist; you’re looking at all those things
Because it’s the creative process come to life.”
And many of the jazz musicians responsible for bringing this creative process to life often played at Birmingham’s own Tuxedo Junction.  For almost thirty years Tuxedo Junction’s strip served as the social and entertainment Mecca for African-Americans in the Birmingham area.  In 1930, Erskine Hawkins, Birmingham native and renowned trumpet player and big band leader, wrote the song “Tuxedo Junction” which celebrated and eventually immortalized his childhood community.  Jazz pieces performed by the Alabama great will be played throughout the presentation.
Doc: The Story of a Birmingham Jazz Man—Talk, Performance and Book Signing
Arrington Auditorium of the Central Library, 2100 Park Place, Birmingham, AL  35203
Tuesday, September 10, 2013                        6:30 p.m.
Doc:  The Story of a Birmingham Jazz Man—Talk, Performance and Book Signing
North Birmingham Regional Branch Library, 2501 31st Avenue North, Birmingham, AL  35207
Tuesday, September 17, 2013                        6:30 p.m.
Dr. Frank Adams and co-author Burgin Mathews will lead this performance and discussion. Doc is the autobiography of jazz elder statesman Frank “Doc” Adams, highlighting his role in Birmingham, Alabama’s historic jazz scene and tracing his personal adventure that parallels, in many ways, the story and spirit of jazz itself. Doc tells the story of an accomplished jazz master, from his musical apprenticeship under John T. “Fess” Whatley and his time touring with Sun Ra and Duke Ellington to his own inspiring work as an educator and bandleader. Central to this narrative is the often-overlooked story of Birmingham’s unique jazz tradition and community. From the very beginnings of jazz, Birmingham was home to an active network of jazz practitioners and a remarkable system of jazz apprenticeship rooted in the city’s segregated schools. Birmingham musicians spread across the country to populate the sidelines of the nation’s best known bands. Local musicians, like Erskine Hawkins and members of his celebrated orchestra, returned home heroes. Frank “Doc” Adams explores, through first-hand experience, the history of this community, introducing readers to a large and colorful cast of characters— including “Fess” Whatley, the legendary “maker of musicians” who trained legions of Birmingham players and made a significant mark on the larger history of jazz. Adams’s interactions with the young Sun Ra, meanwhile, reveals life-changing lessons from one of American music’s most innovative personalities.
 Country and Blue Grass:  Film/Discussion Series
Avondale Regional Branch Library, 509 South 40th Street, Birmingham, AL  35222
Saturday, September 21, 2013                        2:00 p.m. – 4:00 p.m.
Dr. Steven Roberts will serve as the discussion facilitator. Bluegrass is generally considered a sub-genre of country music that developed in the second half of the 20th century. Although for purposes of radio airplay, bluegrass songs were programmed on country music stations beginning in the late 1940s, bluegrass as a musical form did not develop directly out of the generation of recorded commercial country music that preceded it. Rather, the two forms share the same roots in the traditional music of the Appalachian region and the Irish and Scottish ballads that informed it. 
Act of Congress: In Concert—Bluegrass/Newgrass
Atrium of the Central Library, 2100 Park Place, Birmingham, AL  35203
Thursday, September 26, 2013                       6:30 p.m.

“A few weeks ago, I was browsing around on Noisetrade (see Noisetrade- A Useful Tool For Bluegrass Artists), and stumbled upon a band called Act Of Congress. The name caught my eye, and the music captured my attention. While this Alabama group doesn’t play straight bluegrass, their music does incorporate many elements of what we love about Big Mon’s legacy. I had the pleasure of talking with founding member and guitarist, Chris Griffin, about the group Dave Higgs of Nashville Public Radio calls “one of the freshest sounding, exuberant bands in all of the known acoustic universe.”  I definitely recommend this new acoustic group. The extreme talent exhibited by these young adults cannot be overstated. Their original music is uniquely their own, and features elements of various forms of music, including bluegrass.”
Rock:  Film/Discussion Series
Five Points West Regional Branch Library, 4812 Avenue W., Birmingham, AL  35208
Saturday, October 5, 2013                              2:00 p.m. – 4:00 p.m.
Dr. Steven Roberts will serve as the discussion facilitator. The music we know as rock and roll emerged
in the mid-1950s, although its advent had been on the horizon for at least a decade.  A quarter of the
American population moved during World War II, and that brought southern, rural, sacred and secular
traditions into new contact with urban based music and audiences. The product of many regional musical
scenes and independent record labels, rock and roll emerged in Memphis, Los Angeles, Shreveport,
New York, Detroit, Baltimore, and dozens of other cities.  It was, in historian Charlie Gillett’s words, the
Sound of the City. 
 Latin Rhythm from Mambo to Hip Hop:  Film/Discussion Series
North Birmingham Regional Branch Library, 2501 31st Avenue North, Birmingham, AL  35207
Saturday, October 19, 2013                            2:00 p.m. – 4:00 p.m.
Dr. Steven Roberts will serve as the discussion facilitator. The historic arc from mambo to hip hop describes a Diaspora-cultural dynamic that shows remarkable resilience in the face of multiple pressures to abandon native and historical traditions and go American mainstream. At the same time, the intricate and vastly creative interaction between Cuban, Puerto Rican and other “Latin” traditions with African American music in its many stylistic expressions, a fusion that shows no sign of abating in the new millennium, has graced contemporary listeners with decade after decade of inspired musical invention.

MEDIA:  Media coverage of all events is appreciated.  To schedule an interview with the grant project coordinator, please call (205) 226-3742 or send an e-mail to  For additional photos, please call Angela Fisher Hall at (205) 226-3614. 
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