From top left to bottom right, Mervyn Warren, Willie Mae “Big Mama” Thornton, Elton B. Stephens and Gary Baker. (courtesy: AMHOF)

TUSCUMBIA – The Alabama Music Hall of Fame inducted four new members Saturday night, with Gary Baker, Mervyn Warren, Willie Mae “Big Mama” Thornton and Elton B. Stephens joining the hall.
“We are excited about this slate of inductees because it demonstrates the diversity of the musical genres represented by Alabama’s music achievers,” AMHOF Board chairwoman Sara Hamlin said.

The hall also honored radio icon and Shoals resident, the late Mitch Self, with the first Alabama Music Hall of Fame Advocacy Award.
Sheffield resident Gary Baker won a Grammy Award for the smash hit “I Swear,” which he co-wrote with Frank J. Myers, according to the bio provided by the AMHOF. The 1994 song was No. 1 on the country charts and Top 5 in pop charts.
Baker also wrote “Once Upon a Lifetime,” which the group ‘Alabama’ performed. It became a No. 1 country hit in 1992.
“Through the years he has penned hit songs for numerous other artists including the Backstreet Boys, 98 Degrees and Reba McIntire,” his bio states. “His songs have been featured in numerous high-profile television show and movie soundtracks. He has produced many records, including the Backstreet Boys’ greatest hits album. He launched his career in Muscle Shoals with the famed LeBlanc Carr Band, performing on their top 10 hit named ‘Falling.’ He wrote and recorded with several artists ranging from Mac Davis to Marie Osmond before becoming a member of the ‘Shooters,’ a hit country act from Muscle Shoals.”
A Barbour County native, the late Elton B. Stephens helped establish the rebirth of the Alabama Symphony Orchestra, his bio from the AMHOF states.
“In 1995, he was approached by board members and asked to help re-establish the bankrupt ASO,” it states. “Driven by his love of a challenge and his passion for classical music, Stephens and his wife, Alys, stepped up to help the orchestra. In January of 1995, he initiated a $15 million campaign to restore the ASO to the stages and schools of the Greater Birmingham Area. Two years later, the orchestra performed its first concert in the Alys Stephens Performing Arts Center. Stephens’ leadership encouraged other generous donors in the community to assist ASO.”
The daughter of a Baptist preacher, Montgomery native Willie Mae Thornton’s style was influenced by gospel music, according to an AMHOF biography. Rhythm-and-blues singers Bessie Smith and Memphis Minnie also were major inspirations.
“She wrote several blues songs, including ‘Ball ‘n Chain,’ which is included in the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame’s list of the ‘500 Songs that shaped Rock and Roll,’” the bio states. “She was the first person to record Leiber and Stoller’s ‘Hound Dog,’ which became her biggest hit, staying seven weeks at number one on the Billboard R&B chart in 1953 and selling almost two million copies.
“Scholars have praised Thornton for subverting the traditional roles of African-American women. She added a gutsy female voice to a field that was dominated by white males and her strong personality derailed stereotypes. Elvis and Janis Joplin were big fans of her work and incorporated aspects of her performances into their own work.”
She died in 1984 but in 2004, the nonprofit Willie Mae Rock Camp for Girls was established in New York. The camp provides music education to girls ages 8-18.
Marvyn Waren is a five-time Grammy winner and 10-time Grammy nominee, according to a biography from the hall, which calls him “a highly accomplished film and TV composer, record producer, arranger, songwriter/lyricist, pianist and vocalist.”
His production credits include pop, R&B, jazz and country and include work with Whitney Houston, Boyz II Men, Barbara Streisand, Rascal Flatts, Chicago, Queen Latifah, Al Jarreau and Faith Hill and many more, according to the bio.
“He has composed scores for several feature films including ‘The Wedding Planner,’ ‘A Walk To Remember’ and ‘The Preacher’s Wife,’” the bio states. “He has written arrangements for Quincy Joes, David Foster, the late Arif Mardin and many others. He was a founding member of Take 6, the acapella sextet that originated in Huntsville and took the world by storm in 1988. The band won four Grammy Awards, six Dover Awards, two Stellar Awards and the Soul Train Award. He left the group in 1991 to pursue a career as a producer, songwriter, arranger and film composer.”

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