Al Bell on local music: ‘It’s like gold’


Speakers, delegates share ideas at Music Cities Convention


In the 1960s, Al Bell helped create Stax, a Memphis record label that gave the world Otis Redding, Sam & Dave, Isaac Hayes, Booker T. and the M.G.’s, and other immortal artists. Their songs are still being played more than 50 years later.

In an era of staunch racial segregation, Stax also became one of Memphis’ largest employers. Bell said a similar opportunity exists in Lafayette, already known for its homegrown music.

“Please appreciate and understand the asset value of this rare music art, right here in your own backyard, is priceless and invaluable,” said Bell. “It’s like gold. Globally popularize your Creole zydeco music in Louisiana and watch your tourism dollars increase the growth of other businesses with new dollars being cycled through the city’s economy.

“Your tax base increasing, additional employment opportunities arriving, your social and color environment improving — all of this resulting in an overall improvement in the quality of life for all of your citizens.”

Bell shared his thoughts as the keynote speaker at the Music Cities Convention, which opened Thursday at the Acadiana Center for the Arts. More than 250 delegates from six continents are attending the two-day music policy conference, which is only making its third appearance in the United States. Sound Diplomacy, based in London, Barcelona and Berlin, is the convention’s parent company.

Forty international speakers are exploring this year’s theme: “Diversity, Music and Improving Our Cities and Communities.”

In his welcome address, Lafayette City-Parish President Joel Robideaux touted the local music scene, with help from a new video that explains its origins. Robideaux shared personal research that the region is home to roughly 160 Grammy nominees, a number that surpasses many larger cities.

Robideaux’s initiative called CREATE — Culture, Recreation, Entertainment, Arts, Tourism Economy — works to strengthen the value of arts in the community.

“We’re an oilfield community,” said Robideaux. “We have hundreds and hundreds, if not thousands, of patents as it relates to the technology associated with oil. But the oil industry is an up-and-down industry.

“Our food, our music and our culture is something we control. It’s not out of our control. It makes sense to me that I come up with an initiative that capitalizes on this culture that we have. It’s something we control and that’s the CREATE initiative.”

In a panel discussion titled “Music, Diversity, City Development,” Jonathan Williams, founder of Quality of Life Services and the Love of People nonprofit, and Anya Burgess, owner of Sola Violins, shared their efforts to bolster local music. Williams, founder of the monthly Blue Monday Jam and fundraiser at Jefferson Street Pub, helps aging and retired musicians with their bills.

Burgess, a Grammy-nominated musician with the Magnolia Sisters and Bonsoir Catin, said she overcame “great skepticism” to her plan to open a violin shop in downtown Lafayette.

“I was surprised by that response,” said Burgess. “Lo and behold, it worked and I moved to a much bigger space. It’s just proof of our strong, musical community we have here. Lafayette can support a violin shop.

“It’s so interesting to me to hear the talk as people are walking by my store. It brings up, ‘Oh, I played the violin when I was young. Isn’t it so cool that there’s a violin shop?’

“It gives people pride to show the strength of the music in our area.”

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