The music industry as we once knew it has been forced to evolve rapidly in recent years, as technology has grown faster than established business models. Major record labels struggle to maintain control of the radio waves, music sales, artist development, and our ears; meanwhile, established artists like Radiohead and Beck have embraced the Internet, a one-time enemy to record sales, by offering their work at pay-what-you-want prices, or occasionally for free. Other artists, like Jack White with Third Man Records, have taken control of the entire creative process by starting their own indie record labels, effectively surpassing the gatekeepers of yesterday.
Ben Tanner of Alabama Shakes and The Bear, John Paul White of the Civil Wars (DIY band of 2012), and financial advisor, Shoals native, and friend Will Trapp, are bringing some of that anti-Old Guard attitude to our community with their indie label, Single Lock Records. The Shoals has a rich music history, thanks to Rick Hall, Muscle Shoals Sound, and many others who helped establish the recording industry here during the 1960’s and 70’s. Hall’s FAME Studios, with its talented roster of studio musicians, attracted diverse recording artists, including Aretha Franklin, Wilson Pickett, Cher, Paul Simon, and even the Osmonds. Some of these artists created their best work here. Later, Muscle Shoals Sound opened, recording the Rolling Stones, Traffic, and Bob Dylan, among many others. These days, the music flows OUT of the Shoals, not INTO it.
Last January, we had several conversations in our studio about punks and pirates spurred by Richard McCarthy’s analogy about pirates and “big food.” Just last week, the conversation continued in our studio about how the underground punk movement changed the way music was produced and delivered to the listening public. (More on this coming in the next weeks…)
The story highlights a new exhibit at The Costume Institute of The Metropolitan Museum of Art, Punk: Chaos to Couture, focusing on DIY Punk fashion.
Certainly music and fashion have been two of the more obvious arenas where the gatekeepers (music executives, producers, designers, magazine editors) have decided for us what we listen to and what we wear. The general anarchy that drove the punk era may have been debaucherous and even, violently, against mainstream culture, but the intellectual elements of DIY are lasting and poignant.
As we approach MAKESHIFT 2013, we anticipate continuing the conversation from MAKESHIFT 2012, when we asked and discussed where the intersection of Fashion, Food, Design, Craft, Music, and DIY intersect and how that intersection ultimately leads to collaboration. Pit stained, ripped t-shirts, and safety pin adornments aside, we have something to learn from the DIY Punk revolution.
Last week we wrote about Dust-to-Digital’s Drop on Down in Florida, a 2 CD release highlighting African American music traditions in Florida, paired with a 224-page hardcover book. Dust-to-Digital is a unique recording company: part archivist, part celebrator of cultural artifacts. We will be talking about several of these awesome (by the original definition) releases over the next few weeks.
Husband and wife team Lance and April Ledbetter are protecting the sounds of our past with their highly acclaimed label, Dust-to-Digital. Founded by Lance a little over a decade ago, Dust-to-Digital is home to a growing catalogue of important cultural works from the United States and around the globe. I’ve been viewing their line-up for a few years and am constantly impressed by the amount of material and depth each release includes. The types of recordings they release are unlike most on the market. It’s really audio conservation in its finest form. I was lucky enough to meet them both last fall during our trip to Atlanta, when we both attended the Lonnie Holly show at the High Museum. Afterward, they attended our event with the Gee’s Bend Quilters at Grocery on Home.
Within the first few minutes of their arrival at the event, I barraged them with questions: “Can we carry your work? Can we do a blog post? Would you want to trade?”
The answer came back, “Yes.”
All of us at Alabama Chanin are so proud and honored to be able to introduce and begin to explore the work of Dust-to-Digital and to sell these treasured collectors’ items on our website.
These days, you don’t think twice about hearing a woman’s voice on the radio. There are surely female deejays or journalists on your local station. NPR broadcasts the voices and stories of women like The Kitchen Sisters or Terry Gross among others. Alabama Chanin favorite, Elizabeth Cook has her own show, “Apron Strings,” on Sirius XM’s Outlaw Country. But, once upon a time, it wasn’t so common to hear a female voice over the airwaves. For those in the Shoals area, Becky Burns Phillips was one of those first voices to be broadcast.
In 1942, Rebecca “Becky” Burns Phillips met her future husband, Sam Phillips, while they were both working at WLAY radio station in Sheffield, Alabama. They were both in high school. She, 17, had a radio segment with her sister where they played music and sang; he was a 19-year old radio announcer who was on his way to making rock and roll history. The Kitchen Sisters, in an article honoring Becky, quoted Sam as saying, “I fell in love with Becky’s voice even before I met her.” Becky described her first encounter with Sam to journalist Peter Guralnick: “He had just come in out of the rain. His hair was windblown and full of raindrops. He wore sandals and a smile unlike any I had ever seen. He sat down on the piano bench and began to talk to me. I told my family that night that I had met the man I wanted to marry.”
The two were married in 1943. Sam worked feverishly to establish Memphis Recording Service and, later, Sun Records. It is said that, during that time, he suffered two nervous breakdowns – which Becky gracefully helped him through. Becky and Sam had two sons, Jerry and Knox, but motherhood never took away her desire to work in radio.
Sam proudly spoke about how Becky’s talent inspired him to co-found WHER: 1000 Beautiful Watts, referred to as “The First All-Girl Radio Show in the Nation.” He would say that he wanted women, wanted his wife to have a chance that no one had ever given them before – and he co-founded WHER with the money he made from selling Elvis Presley’s contract. He would say, “Becky was the best I ever heard.”
Her son Knox remembered that, at the time of WHER’s conception, women weren’t even allowed to attend the Columbia School of Broadcasting. “But, because of my mother,” he said, “when Sam started the station (WHER) he made it all female: all female air talent, all female executives and sales staff,” he told The Commercial Appeal.
At WHER, Becky was able to shine – writing scripts, organizing segments, managing the station, and presenting in her own beautiful way. She was in charge of approving each record that was played. Though her husband was a rock and roll legend, there were no rocking records at WHER. And there were NEVER to be any curse words allowed over the airwaves. Over the years, she hosted a number of radio shows and carefully curated every day’s segments. Becky told the Kitchen Sisters, “I played music to work by – all the beautiful music like Jackie Gleason and Doris Day, and I gave household hints.”
Phillips broadcast on the radio for over 40 years, until the mid-1980’s, always with her distinctive sign-off: “A smile on your face puts a smile in your voice.”
Mrs. Phillips died in September of 2012 at the age of 87.
Becky Burns Phillips carefully preserved WHER’s record library for well over 40 years. Many of those recordings can be heard on the Peabody Award winning segment by the Kitchen Sisters, “Lost and Found Sound: 1000 Beautiful Watts.”
Listen to Becky Phillips talk about her husband, Sam, and WHER Radio for the TV Segment, “The Lives They Lived” here:
There were few like her, a true pioneer in her field. Her fearlessness and her devotion to her family and her profession are inspirational. We are proud to be part of a community that fostered a woman like Becky Phillips, a pioneer in spirit and part of the heart and soul of Alabama Chanin.
P.S.: I never met Becky Phillips. After moving back home in 2000, I was “busy.” Building a business and sorting through my own life, closed me off to some of the great treasures (and families) of my own community. My loss. Resolution: take time to work less and belong more. xoNatalie
“Craft” might seem like it’s for the amateurs, and “fashion” for the auteurs. Yet we live in an age where creativity and innovation are increasingly found in collaborations between makers and users, crafters and designers, designers and manufacturers, and in the loosening of the boundaries between them. Open sourcing and the emergence of DIY everything (from apps to dresses to education) are THE design stories of the 21st century.
If the philosophers and economists are right, such stories reflect renewed possibilities for building communities, for growing businesses, and for practicing everyday forms of enchantment, ethics, and sustainability. It is time to expand our way of thinking about the relationship between craft and fashion, between the self-made and the ready-to-wear, between fashion as intellectual property and fashion as an open source. What can we learn from the fields of music, product design, and education? Does a backward glance help us see how fashion was at the forefront of these innovations from the start? What is a Vogue pattern if not an open source? What are les petits mains other than artists?
SHIFTING THOUGHTS ON DESIGN, FASHION, COMMUNITY, CRAFT & DIY
Over the four days of New York Design Week (May 19-22, 2012), Alabama Chanin–in collaboration with its fashion and design partners–is organizing a series of talks, workshops, and gatherings with leaders in the fashion, design, and craft/DIY communities. The events bring together a dynamic combination of industry leaders to explore the ways in which the fashion, art, and design worlds are inextricably linked to the world of craft/DIY and how each of these worlds elevates the others. We look to create an intersection–a meeting point–to explore, discuss, and celebrate the role of local production, handmade, and craft/DIY in fashion and design as a way to empower individuals, businesses, and communities.