University honors FAME Studios owner with degree

President Kenneth Kitts and board of trustees president pro tempore Marty Abroms presented FAME Studios owner Rick Hall with plans for an honorary doctorate degree at Rogers Hall July 23.

Hall will receive the degree during this midyear’s commencement ceremony Dec. 17.

The board of trustees created the plans after their decision to honor the celebrated Muscle Shoals record producer for his contributions to UNA through the entertainment industry program and the Shoals area.

The ceremony also kicked off the opening night of UNA summer Theatre’s “’I’ll take You There’: The Music of Muscle Shoals.” The play is about the musical history of the Shoals.

“Rick Hall’s legacy is no secret to those of us at UNA,” Kitts said during his speech. “The impact that he’s had on our region as a record producer, music publisher and the owner of FAME Studios cannot be overstated.”

Hall’s achievements include Billboard’s Producer of the Year, a Grammy Trustees Award and “a publishing catalog that has rewritten the American songbook,” Kitts said.

Hall cut records for artists like the Osmonds, Mac Davis, Paul Anka, Aretha Franklin, Jerry Reed and many other artists in the ’60s and ’70s.

FAME Studios is famous for producing hit records for artists, especially those who have not made a hit record in a while.

Because of the magical effect Rick Hall seemed to have on the artists who entered FAME Studios, Hall is known as the “Father of Muscle Shoals Music.”

“Once I started having hit records it became synonymous with, if you came to Muscle Shoals you’d automatically have a hit record,” Hall said during the Q&A session. “So, we tried to uphold that.”

Hall’s success did not come without struggle though.

“I couldn’t get anything going in Nashville, Tennessee,” he said. “So I decided ‘Well I’m going to build a recording studio in Muscle Shoals’ and I was working at Reynolds Metal Co. at the time making tinfoil.”

During a time when segregation divided the nation, Hall helped narrow the divide by cutting records with black artists.

Listening to the infamous words of Alabama Gov. George Wallace, “Segregation now, segregation tomorrow and segregation forever,” scared Hall, so he tried to keep his work with black artists underground, Hall said.

“I was afraid for my life,” he said. “Back then, it wasn’t like now.”

Hall acquired a reputation for working with black artists.

“I was known as the ‘Black Record Producer’ until they came there, and they’d say ‘well I thought you were black,’” Hall said.

Hall credits much of his success to black artists like Etta James, Wilson Pickett, Jimmy Hughes and Franklin.

“I cut all these records on black people,” Hall said. “And if it wasn’t for black people, I’m going to tell you something, I wouldn’t be standing here today because they gave me my only shot at cutting hit records.”