Music Legend Al Bell Named U of A’s 2018-19 McIlroy Professor


Music legend and U of A visiting professor Al Bell in front of the Stax Marquee. Photo courtesy of Reed Bunzel of Al Bell Presents, LLC

Photo SubmittedMusic legend and U of A visiting professor Al Bell in front of the Stax Marquee. Photo courtesy of Reed Bunzel of Al Bell Presents, LLC

FAYETTEVILLE, Ark. – The University of Arkansas has named Al Bell – visionary music business leader, producer, Grammy Trustees Lifetime Achievement Award recipient, and Arkansas Business Hall of Fame Inductee – as its 2018-19 McIlroy Family Visiting Professor in the Visual and Performing Arts.

A music legend, Arkansas native and formerly of Stax Records and Motown Records Group, Bell will teach master classes, be a musical ambassador and host community events starting Oct. 29.

The professorship, established in the university’s J. William Fulbright College of Arts and Sciences, supports the teaching and work of a professional artist who imparts highly specialized knowledge essential to students’ artistic, educational, and career enrichment and of value to the community at large. It was made possible through the philanthropy of Hayden and Mary Joe McIlroy and the Walton Family Charitable Support Foundation.

“We are so excited to partner Mr. Bell’s decades of experience in the music industry with our focus on education, performance and creation,” said Ronda Mains, chair of the college’s Department of Music. “We will come together to build new avenues to help our students succeed in the ever-changing music world.”

Bell said being named the university’s 2018-19 McIlroy Family Visiting Professor is an honor he doesn’t take lightly.

“I am profoundly honored, humbled and thankful to be recognized, considered and named to this professorship,” Bell said. “This partnership centered on learning, performance and the music business is an indescribable opportunity. I can personally testify that life, living and all of the challenges associated with it are worth it if you possess the right intent.”

To begin his tenure as the McIlroy Family Visiting Professor, Bell will present a public lecture open to students and the greater Northwest Arkansas community at 5 p.m. Monday, Oct 29, at the U of A’s Donald W. Reynolds Center for Enterprise Development, at 145 N. Buchanan Ave. on the Fayetteville campus.

Bell’s talk, “NOW is the Season and the Time!,” will delve into his experiences and what he’s really about, the emotional and rare healing power of music, the unbridled economic power of music, and the power music has to create human harmony.

Additional events featuring Bell are being planned and will be announced on the Department of Music website.

“We are honored to have the legendary Mr. Al Bell join Fulbright College,” said Todd Shields, dean of the college. “Regardless of a student’s career path, the knowledge, business acumen and expertise shared by Mr. Bell will undoubtedly benefit students and faculty from across the university, our community, and beyond.”

In 2011, Bell received the highest honor the music industry bestows, the Grammy Trustees Award, putting him in the company of an elite group that includes Steve Jobs, Walt Disney, Ira Gershwin, Frank Sinatra, the Beatles and others who have made industry-changing contributions to music in their lifetimes.

Shields said that the partnership with Bell will further the university’s mission to be a community partner in Northwest Arkansas and throughout the state.

“The partnership will also strengthen our ties to the growing music scene in the region, and enable future curricular additions and a redeveloped music business focus in our music department,” Mains said. “Mr. Bell’s appointment will not only impact the development of our music students, it will also create new opportunities for Northwest Arkansas to build on a proud tradition of music in an environment enriched by the arts.”

Each recipient of the McIlroy professorship holds a joint appointment as a visiting professor of the Fulbright College and the Walton Arts Center, which Shields said will also create more opportunities for community enrichment.

“To be elected to partner in a ‘working together’ leadership position as the McIlroy Visiting Professor, to inform and work with our students, members of the business community and art sectors, Northwest Arkansas citizens, America, and the world – that is an honor,” Bell said. “We will educate our students and others so that they will know music and the value of a music ecosystem. We speak loudly and proudly to the music and entertainment industry to look to the University of Arkansas if you want the best. My greatest reward in life is that my mission’s pursuit has been endorsed, accelerated and my learnings can be better understood and passed on for generations to come.”


Born Alvertis Isbell in Brinkley, Arkansas, Al Bell is the former chairman and owner of Stax Records, where he was responsible for the careers of numerous music icons and the overall direction of American soul music. He subsequently served as president of Motown Records Group. In 2011, Bell received the highest honor the music industry bestows, the Grammy Trustees Award. He has also been inducted into 30 Halls of Fame.

Stax Records, with Bell as its chairman and owner, was valued by Price Waterhouse in 1975 at $82 million, making it the second largest minority-owned business in the U.S. Stax had 167 hits on the Billboard Top 100 Chart, and 243 hits on the Billboard R&B Chart.

Bell has written more than 200 songs. One song was written in North Little Rock in 1971 while Bell was sitting on the hood of an old school bus that his father kept in the backyard. He had just been to the funeral of his murdered brother, and he didn’t feel comfortable, even in that familiar place. Thinking about his brother, he began to hear music, then words – I know a place, Ain’t nobody crying, Ain’t nobody worried, Ain’t no smilin’ faces, Lying to the races. That became “I’ll Take You There.” Recorded by the Staple Singers and released by Stax Records, the single written and produced by Bell was No. 1 on the Billboard R&B Singles chart for four weeks.

Bell also discovered the music group Tag Team, and released “Whoomp! (There It Is),” which sold over 5 million copies and remains one of the biggest-selling singles in history. Then, Prince asked Bell to release a single record, after Warner Brothers Records turned Prince down. Bell released “The Most Beautiful Girl in the World” and gave Prince a major international hit.

Bell was inducted into the Arkansas Black Hall of Fame in 2002, received the Arthur A. Fletcher Lifetime Achievement Award from the National Black Chamber of Commerce in 2008, and received honorary doctorate degrees from Philander Smith College in 1972 and 2011.

In 2015, Bell was inducted into the prestigious Arkansas Business Hall of Fame, an award also bestowed on Sam M. Walton, Don J. Tyson, Jackson T. Stephens, J.B. and Johnelle Hunt, and the Dallas Cowboys’ Jerry Jones.

In 2015, Bell was also honored with an induction into the Arkansas Entertainers Hall of Fame, which showcases the careers of The Natural State’s sons and daughters who have made their marks on the entertainment world. Bell is again in the company of greats – Glen Campbell, Johnny Cash, Al Green, Art Porter Sr. and more.

About the J. William Fulbright College of Arts and Sciences: The J. William Fulbright College of Arts and Sciences is the largest and most academically diverse unit on campus with three schools, 16 departments and 43 academic programs and research centers. The college provides the core curriculum for all University of Arkansas students and is named for J. William Fulbright, former university president and longtime U.S. senator.

About the University of Arkansas: The University of Arkansas provides an internationally competitive education for undergraduate and graduate students in more than 200 academic programs.

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