Our Inductees

Established in 1978, the Alabama Jazz Hall of Fame began with the induction of six charter members. Since then, more than 200 musicians, educators and jazz advocates have been honored with Hall of Fame status.

1978 Charter Inductees

Frank E. Adams, Sr.


Dr. Frank E. Adams, Sr. – remembered affectionately as “Doc” – received his first, informal musical instruction from his older brother, Oscar Adams, Jr. His formal education began at Lincoln Elementary, where he studied under band director William Wise Handy, and continued at Industrial High School under the direction of John T. “Fess” Whatley. As a teenager, Adams played in Fess Whatley’s professional dance orchestra, as well as in the more experimental group led by Herman “Sonny” Blount, the eccentric and visionary bandleader who would later become famous as Sun Ra.

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Amos Gordon

Amos Gordon received his first saxophone at the age of thirteen, a birthday gift from his mother. He studied music under Lincoln Elementary’s Benjamin Smith and Industrial High School’s “Fess” Whatley, performing also in Whatley’s Vibra-Cathedral Orchestra, then Birmingham’s leading dance band. As a student at Alabama State Teachers College, Gordon became the newest leader of the celebrated ‘Bama State Collegians (that group’s original line-up had just relocated to New York City, turning professional as the Erskine Hawkins Orchestra). Upon graduation from Alabama State, Gordon returned to Birmingham to lead the band and teach social studies at Tuggle Elementary. World War II, however, would cut his time there short: on his first day of work—September 1, 1939—the news came that Hitler had invaded Poland. In 1943 Gordon was drafted and assigned to the 313th Army Air Force Band at Tuskegee Air Base.

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Erskine Hawkins


Nicknamed the “Twentieth Century Gabriel” for his exuberant, high-note hitting trumpet style, Erskine Hawkins led one of the longest running and most popular dance bands of the swing era. The house band for many years at Harlem’s Savoy Ballroom, the Erskine Hawkins Orchestra recorded and broadcast extensively and, between New York residencies, toured the country in long strings of widely acclaimed one-night stands. The group’s signature theme, “Tuxedo Junction,” took its name from the spot in Ensley, Alabama, just outside of Birmingham, where Hawkins and other members of the group had gained some of their first professional playing experience. The song, covered by Glenn Miller and many others, became an anthem of the World War II years and remains an enduring piece of Birmingham’s unique jazz heritage.

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Haywood Henry


A longtime member of the Erskine Hawkins Orchestra, Hawood Henry was one of the big band era’s most outstanding, if often overlooked, baritone sax players. A student of Benjamin Jones at Lincoln Elementary and of “Fess” Whatley at Industrial High School, Henry enrolled at Alabama Teachers College in 1930, joining first that college’s ‘Bama State Revelers and then its premier orchestra, the ‘Bama State Collegians. Henry left Alabama State before graduation, joining the musical entourage of evangelist George Wilson Becton, touring with Becton’s “Gospel Feast” revival and settling in New York City. When his former bandmates from ‘Bama State arrived in the city he rejoined the group, which recreated itself as the Erskine Hawkins Orchestra—soon becoming one of the most popular dance groups of the swing era.

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Sammy Lowe


Throughout his long tenure with the Erskine Hawkins Orchestra, trumpeter, composer, and arranger Sammy Lowe proved a key architect of that group’s sound; as the big band era waned, Lowe made the transition to rock and roll and rhythm and blues with enormous success, arranging numerous popular hits for a wide range of acts. His earliest performance experience came in grammar school, as a member—with brother J.L. and sister Leatha—of the Lowe Family Band, a homegrown dance “orchestra” charging its dancers 25 cents a piece.

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John T. “Fess” Whatley

(c. 1895-1972)

J.L. Lowe, founder of the Alabama Jazz Hall of Fame, often described the jazz hall as a kind of shrine to “Fess” Whatley, the musical mentor whose influence as educator, bandleader, and community leader proved critical to Birmingham’s unique music history. Born in Tuscaloosa at the close of the 19th century, Whatley’s earliest instruments included a guitar he made from a cigar box and wires. With his father’s hunting horn as a makeshift trumpet, the young Whatley led neighborhood playmates around the block, pretending to be his idol, P.G. Lowery, trumpeter and bandleader with the Ringling Brothers and other circuses.

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