Sculptures aim to put Alabama's music history on high note

A mock-up of the city's Singing River music sculpture has been unveiled, and work on building the 20-foot aluminum depiction of a musician will get underway soon.

Posted: Jan. 10, 2018 6:57 PM

FLORENCE, Ala. (AP) — A mock-up of the city's Singing River music sculpture has been unveiled, and work on building the 20-foot aluminum depiction of a musician will get underway soon.

The committee that raised money for the work selected Eric Nubbe, a graduate student at the University of Alabama. Nubbe said he will build the aluminum sculpture at the university's facilities in Tuscaloosa.

"I see a lot that is mediocre," said Libby Jordan, superintendent of the city's Arts and Museums Department. "This is good."

The abstract work depicts a trumpet player, which is a nod to Florence native W.C. Handy, the Father of the Blues. Florence has a museum devoted to Handy that soon will be operated by the Handy Foundation.

The sculpture will be erected on the west side of South Court Street at the Bluff Street intersection. It is the site of the former State Troopers post.

The city is providing a pedestal and lighting for the sculpture and will maintain it. Money for the sculpture has been raised privately during the past five years. David Freeman, one of the committee members, said the Florence sculpture will cost $35,000.

Nubbe said the sculpture will be angular and reflect sunlight at different times of the day.

"It's a very dramatic pose to grab your attention," he said. "It says we are here, still playing music."

The Shoals area is known internationally for its recording industry. It was the subject of the documentary film "Muscle Shoals" in 2013. Since then, Muscle Shoals Sound Studios in Sheffield has been restored with a grant from Beats by Dr. Dre, and operates as a museum and working studio.

Each of the four Shoals cities will have a Singing River sculpture. Sheffield's was erected first, and depicts a 1950s rock singer that resembles Elvis Presley, who was discovered by Florence native Sam Phillips.

Muscle Shoals' sculpture depicts a recording session bassist and resembles Muscle Shoals Rhythm Section bassist David Hood.

Tuscumbia's sculpture, which is under commission, will depict a Native American. It will be placed at the intersection of Water and Fifth streets near the 1880s railroad depot that was part of the Trail of Tears. It was the Native Americans who called the Tennessee River the Singing River.

Florence City Councilman Andy Betterton, who has been involved in the sculpture project, said the location of the sculpture is ideal.

"It's the gateway to our city," he said.

The idea for the sculpture came from a hiking trip retired University of North Alabama professor Bill Matthews took in Ireland. At the border of the Republic of Ireland and Northern Ireland, in a small town, is a group of sculpture depicting musicians and dancers called Let the Dance Begin.

Matthews talked to people here at home who wanted to do something to visibly acknowledge the importance of music in the Shoals and the idea for the Singing River sculptures took root five years ago.

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