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Fine arts academy partners with FAME
By Lisa Singleton-Rickman -
Jim Hannon/TimesDaily
Musician Norbert Putnam and music producer Rick Hall are introduced to an assembly Wednesday at Florence High School by Florence Superintendent Janet Womack before announcing the Florence Academy of Fine Arts’ partnership with FAME Recording Studios.

FLORENCE — High school students rarely have an opportunity to work with legends in the music industry, but this fall Florence city students will rub elbows with some of the best in the business from the renown FAME Recording Studios in Muscle Shoals.

The school district’s new Florence Academy of Fine Arts has a partnership with FAME that will allow students in the academy to learn some of the complexities of recording music and learn about the music industry in general.

During a Wednesday press conference, Florence Superintendent Janet Womack called the alliance with FAME one that “will go a long way toward helping us launch this long-awaited dream for our academy.”

FAME founder Rick Hall and his son, Rodney, who is president of FAME, attended the press conference.

Approximately 100 fine arts students attended the conference as well, and had the opportunity to see the film trailer for “Muscle Shoals,” a documentary that traces the formative years of the Muscle Shoals sound. The film debuted in January before a packed house at Eccles Theater during the prestigious Sundance Film Festival in Park City, Utah, and has received reviews that include the words “incredible,” “amazing” and “moving.”

Womack said the academy is coming to fruition because of the district’s forward thinking two years ago when the state Department of Education offered Alabama school systems waivers of some rules.

“We took advantage of that so that we could allow those individuals from the music and arts community to work with Florence city schools students,” she said. “Our students in our fine arts program already have a top-notch reputation and are out-classing the competition. It’s only going to get better from here, with the expertise of these artists.”

Currently there are 14 fine arts programs in visual, writing and musical arts. With the institution of the academy, there will be nine additional classes beginning in the fall. The musical arts classes include intermediate classes in guitar, bass, drum and voice.

Rodney Hall explained that students in each of the classes will form bands of various genres the first semester, while other students are learning about the recording process at FAME Studios. Then, students from the recording class will record each of the bands.

In his comments, Hall said, it occurred him 23 years ago, when he got into the music business that “what we were lacking was education.”

“I came back home and started working in the business and noticed right away that we just weren’t taking the time to work with the next generation,” he said, adding that keeping the Muscle Shoals sound in the music industry forefront was a goal.

Florence sophomore Liza Jane Richey, a member of the school’s fine arts department, said she’s thrilled to be a part of an already strong department and expects the academy to gain even greater accolades statewide.

“I have no doubt that by my senior year, we’ll be the No. 1 fine arts department in the state,” she said.

Florence Principal Lynne Hice said the Shoals has long been recognized as a treasure chest for the arts, not only in Alabama but nationally. She said now the school system will have an even greater role in that reputation.

“When other school systems were cutting funding for the arts (due to proration), Florence city schools stood firm,” she said. “(Wednesday’s) announcement will result in some major benefits for these students.”

Lisa Singleton-Rickman can be reached at 256-740-5735 or

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