TUSCUMBIA — A state representative has written a letter to Gov. Robert Bentley expressing his frustration over budget cuts that have led to closing the Alabama Music Hall of Fame.
Rep. Johnny Mack Morrow, D-Red Bay, said funding for the hall of fame was cut from the general fund budget in 2011, the same year the state Department of Tourism named 2011 the “Year of Alabama Music.”
“When the governor made that recommendation, I went on the House floor and asked how can we say we are proud of our music history while at the same time we are stripping all funding for the Music Hall of Fame,” Morrow wrote. “But my words fell on deaf ears.”
In a news release issued Wednesday, Morrow said he was sending the governor a letter expressing his “frustration, disappointment, and embarrassment” over the governor’s decision to zero out all funding for the Alabama Music Hall of Fame.
Morrow noted that the history of Muscle Shoals music and Alabama’s role in shaping American culture through music is making national headlines after the release of “Muscle Shoals,” a documentary focused on the lasting impact of Alabama’s musical influence.
The documentary focused on the early days of the Muscle Shoals music scene, from roughly 1959 to 1972.
“Muscle Shoals” made its debut to rave reviews Jan. 26 at the Sundance Film Festival in Park City, Utah.
The governor’s office issued a short statement concerning Morrow’s letter.
“During difficult financial times, we must focus our resources on the most essential government functions,” said Bentley spokesman Jeremy King.
The Alabama Music Hall of Fame has been closed since Christmas and the power has been turned off because it has been unable to pay its utility bills. Executive Director Wiley Barnard said he is working to get the power restored.
“It is embarrassing that the governor has cut all funding for the hall of fame,” Morrow said. “It sends a mixed message to the nation, and causes shame to the Shoals at a time when Shoals residents should be feeling tremendous pride.”
Rodney Hall, chairman of the Alabama Music Hall of Fame board of directors, said he appreciates the support of Morrow and the Shoals legislative delegation.
“We find it extremely ironic that the Muscle Shoals sound, starting with the (documentary) premiere at the Sundance film festival, will be celebrated worldwide over the next couple years, while our home state can’t find a few hundred thousand dollars out of a $1,769,000,000 budget to honor the single biggest positive image of our state worldwide,” Hall said. “That’s a $1.7 billion general fund. Alabama music: zero.”
Morrow recently called a meeting of the Shoals legislative delegation to find ways to get the facility open.
“How much do you think Tennessee, Mississippi, Louisiana and other southern states spend on music tourism?” Hall asked. “That is why they are annihilating us when it comes to music tourism.
“Muscle Shoals music has a much broader appeal internationally than Nashville’s mainly country music or Mississippi’s blues music. These other states get the value of their music legacies. We apparently don’t.”
Hall said the board started working two years ago toward making the music hall of fame self-sufficient over the next several years.
Since that time, the state cut funding completely, which damaged its opportunity to be a major asset for the state.
According to Morrow’s news release, supporters of the hall of fame have criticized Bentley for making the decision to zero out state funding for the museum, saying it sends mixed messages at a time when people from around the nation are captivated by the documentary and the rich musical history that Alabama has to offer.
“I am begging Gov. Bentley to recognize what a wonderful resource the music hall of fame is and to restore the hall’s funding,” Morrow said. “The people of Alabama want us to be fiscally responsible. But that does not mean that they want us to take a knife to the heart and soul of our culture, or to shut down a museum that brings in much needed tourism and celebrates Alabama history.”
Russ Corey can be reached at 256-740-5738 or russ.corey@TimesDaily.com.