Founded in 1978, the Alabama Jazz Hall of Fame is a 501(c)(3) nonprofit that honors Alabama’s jazz greats.
Our mission is to preserve a continued and sustained program of illuminating the contributions of the State of Alabama through its citizens, environment, demographics and lore, and perpetuating the heritage of jazz music.
We honor the pioneers who shaped jazz history, the players, the teachers, and the community leaders who gave rise to the art form.
By sharing their stories, we hope to inspire the next generation of jazz greats.
The Alabama Jazz Hall of Fame was conceived in 1978 as an effort to honor, preserve, and perpetuate Birmingham’s unique jazz heritage, celebrating its most notable artists while encouraging new generations of younger musicians. Founder J.L. Lowe teamed with the National Black Cultural Society, Richard Arrington, and other civic leaders to organize an annual induction program that would celebrate the city’s jazz legacy and bring attention to Alabama’s larger contributions to the jazz world.
The first induction ceremony, held in October of 1978, honored five of the city’s local jazz heroes: John T. “Fess” Whatley (inducted posthumously), the legendary music educator and bandleader who trained legions of local players for success on the national stage; Erskine Hawkins, Alabama’s most celebrated jazz bandleader, whose “Tuxedo Junction” immortalized a local nightspot; Sammy Lowe, a longtime member of the Hawkins orchestra and a prolific arranger and composer in his own right; Amos Gordon, teacher, saxophonist, conductor and composer, for many years the arranger for Louis Armstrong’s orchestra; Haywood Henry, woodwind virtuoso and another veteran of the Hawkins organization; and Frank Adams, the youngest of the group, another tireless educator and consummate musician whose professional credentials included work with Sun Ra, Duke Ellington, and many more. In the years to follow, the Alabama Jazz Hall of Fame has expanded to honor musicians from across the state, inducting over 245 musicians since its first ceremony.
In its early years, the Alabama Jazz Hall of Fame made its headquarters in a modest space located on 16th Street North. J.L. Lowe decorated a front room with pictures of Birmingham musicians, taken from a scrapbook compiled years before by his mentor, “Fess” Whatley; in the back rooms, Amos Gordon taught music lessons. In 1993, the Alabama Jazz Hall of Fame found a permanent home in the newly renovated and expanded Carver Theatre. Located in Birmingham’s Civil Rights District—just a short walk from the Civil Rights Institute, Sixteenth Street Baptist Church, and Kelly Ingram Park—the newly renovated museum offers visitors a chance to immerse themselves in the state’s rich musical heritage.