The following was written by local author Jerry Barksdale for The News-Courier's Nov. 6, 2016, edition.
Limestone County was once known as the largest cotton producer in Alabama. We are fast becoming known for something else – home of great musicians.
The Scout House on East Washington Street will soon become a museum to house the history of Limestone County music. It will also be a teaching facility to teach our young people about songwriting, singing, playing and recording.
Soon you will see carpenters working on the exterior of the old building that was constructed by the W.P.A. during the Great Depression, thanks to a $20,000 Keep America Beautiful /Lowe’s Community Partner Grant. My father picked up rocks that were used in its construction. In the 1950’s teenagers of my generation gathered there on Friday nights for chaperoned dances. There was no band, just a stack of records and a borrowed player. Many a boy stole his first kiss there.
Our music history is rich and diverse, ranging from the famous Delmore Brothers of the 1930s to modern greats like Hall of Fame songwriter, Roger Murrah, champion fiddler, Daniel Carwile and country singer Anderson East. Then there is the legendary Mike Chapman, Milton Sledge and Grand Ole Opry and bluegrass singer, Bradley Walker. And of course, the famous Alabama Shakes who travel the world. West Limestone High Schooler, Lillian Glanton is also making a name for herself.
Long before any of those was former slave, William Green “Blind Tom” Bethune, who at age four played a long classical rendition flawlessly on piano, which he only heard once. According to the late local historian Faye Axford, he played concerts across Europe and performed before Queen Victoria. Pattie Malone, born into slavery in Athens in 1855 was a mezzo-soprano and sang with the Fisk Jubilee Singers across Europe and performed before German Emperor Wilhelm I.
There are scores of less famous, but nevertheless great musicians, such as Athens auto dealer, Jerry McGlocklin. He can saw a fiddle in half. Sam McCracken was the granddaddy of fiddlers and “Father” of the Tennessee Valley Old Time Fiddler’s Convention. Have you ever heard rock ‘n rollers, The Flashbacks or Milton Woolridge’s mellow voice? Did you know that Price Mitchell of French’s Mill had a country hit with “Personality?”
Radio icon, Bob Dunnavant Sr. was also a pioneer in country music. And most people don’t know that gospel singer, Jake Williams, father of the late former mayor and State Representative Dan Williams, influenced gospel Hall of Famer Jake Hess, “Elvis’s favorite singer,” of Limestone County. In their heyday, Wally and Ginger Laxson of East Limestone were among the top gospel singers in America. Tripp’n Dixie’s Bill Swindell, Calvin Covington, Stuart Cobbs, and Mike and Mark Johnson always bring out a crowd. Tina Swindell, sister of Roger Murrah, is a songwriter and singer. There are many others.
I have been asked by the Athens Art League and Friends of the Scout House Committee to gather names, photographs and bios of all Limestone County musicians, whether conceived, birthed or merely resided here. That includes anyone who made music or was involved in the music industry and the public believes should be included in the museum. We don’t want to leave anyone out that deserves to be there. Contact me at Jbarks2013@gmail.com or mail me at Jerry Barksdale, 18351 Dement Road, Athens, Alabama 35611.
Make music, make history, make a difference. I will appreciate your help.
Friends of the Scout House Committee member