TUSCUMBIA – The building on Highway 72 lies quietly in repose on the 40-acre parcel that was once a cotton field on the south side of town. There are no cars in the parking lot; no visitors walking through the doors.
Yesterday in Birmingham, the Alabama Music Hall of Fame’s Board of Directors decided to keep the building closed for at least another ninety days to save money. In all reality, it may never open again. The State of Alabama has been cutting appropriations for The Hall of Fame for several years, and cut off money entirely in October 2011. It is common knowledge that the cost to keep the doors open have been greater than its admission ticket income since it first opened in 1981. The facility closed back in December so that the aging, deteriorating and stale exhibits could have a thorough going-over, and, of course to save money on operating expenses. A task force created by State Representative Johnny Mack Morrow to evaluate the longevity potential for the Hall of Fame, outlined a plan that calls for drastic measures.
Based on the task force’s plan, the Board will consider whether it should permanently close the museum, sell off the land upon which it sits, and distribute the curated exhibits throughout Alabama. A new Hall of Fame headquarters would be sought, most likely in Colbert County. This is particularly ironic, given that 2012 was proclaimed by The Legislature and Governor Bentley as the Year of Alabama Music.
In 2010, the Hall of Fame’s Board of Directors, which had just added some new members, terminated the employment of long-time Executive Director, David Johnson. The Board, faced with flagging revenues had brought in former president of The University of Illinois Foundation, B.A. Nugent. Nugent’s abilities were praised by Board Member Buel Springer, of Florence, and the members jumped at the chance to bring Nugent into the fold. The Board was unhappy with Johnson, and believed that Nugent could do what the Executive Director could not, namely keep the Hall of Flame afloat with new-found money. After all, Nugent had taken the university’s endowment of about $80 million and turned it into $1.3 billion. “Where is Buel springer now?” asked David Johnson, “Buel had Nugent put on (the Board). He hasn’t raised anything, and it sounds like now they’re trying to close it down.”
The Quad-Cities Daily caught up with Johnson at his home office where he now promotes music shows featuring artists from the 60’s and ’70’s, such as Percy Sledge, B.J. Thomas, and Eddie Floyd. When asked about his feelings toward the Hall of Fame’s uncertain future he said, “Very, very, very disappointed. It sickens me and I’m trying to get it off my mind. You know, what troubles me the most, are all the promises that I made to the people who so generously donated artifacts to the museum. I told people so many things; what we were going to do with their stuff; how we were going to use their contributions to the history of Alabama music. Collecting all these artifacts, it haunts me now.”
Johnson was unceremoniously fired April 13th, 2010. He received an e-mail from then-Board Chairman John Briggs, which contained the news that effective immediately, he was no longer Executive Director. The message came shortly before 5 p.m., just hours after a bill that would dissolve the Hall of Fame’s current board and change the way board members are appointed was effectively killed before coming to a vote in the state House of Representatives. The bill was introduced by then-state Sen. Bobby Denton, D-Muscle Shoals, a recent inductee into the Alabama Music Hall of Fame. However, the Hall of Fame Board held an emergency meeting that day in Montgomery, passed a resolution against Denton’s bill, and prevailed with other members of the Alabama House.
Two years later, Johnson sees nothing good that came out of that action of the Board of Directors. When asked about his thoughts on the future of the Alabama Music Hall of Fame, he was discouraged, “That was my life of 20 years. I gave it everything I had, and I loved it. I try to keep my mind off the subject, but at times it’s impossible. There’s nothing I can do about it now, and that bothers me. It bothers me greatly.”
Johnson also has questions in his mind about funding sources. “Where’s the music industry? There are so many people inside Alabama alone that could fund the Hall of Fame. Where are they?” he asked.