A legendary gospel quartet, an influential folk duo, a genre-bending singer, a culture-changing executive and a gentle giant are this year’s recipients of the Americana Music Association’s Lifetime Achievement Awards.
The Fairfield Four will receive the Legacy of Americana Award presented in partnership with the National Museum of African American Music. Launched at Nashville’s Fairfield Missionary Baptist Church 101 years, the group came into prominence in the 1930s when their performances were broadcast on Nashville’s WSIX. Remaining a capella throughout their lengthy tenure, the groups’ R&B-tinged gospel influenced a slew of artists including Elvis Presley and B.B. King. The group won a Grammy in 1998 and appeared in the film O Brother, Where Art Thou? in 2000.
The Indigo Girls are this year’s recipients of the Spirit of Americana Award presented in conjunction with the First Amendment Center at Vanderbilt University. Coming out of Atlanta in the 1980s, the harmony-driven pair, who began writing and performing together in high school, were signed to Epic Records on the strength of their first album and commanded a dedicated and massive following, heretofore unheard of for out lesbian artists. Emily Saliers and Amy Ray have continued their advocacy for LGBTQ+ rights throughout their four-decade career.
Chris Isaak’s sonorous yet delicate voice blended soul stylings with rockabilly and country noir. Film director David Lynch was a massive fan and Isaak surged onto the mainstream charts with “Wicked Game,” “Somebody’s Crying” and “Baby Did A Bad, Bad Thing.”
Al Bell, who ran both Memphis’ Stax Records and Motown Records, will receive the Jack Emerson Lifetime Achievement Award for Executive. After working as a DJ, Bell became head of promotions at Stax in 1965, eventually owning the company. The legendary 1972 Wattstax festival lifted Isaac Hayes and the Staple Singers to stardom.
The late Don Williams, who died in 2017, won the hearts of country fans with his easy-going voice and relatable hits “You’re My Best Friend” and “I Believe in You.” He began his career with the Pozo-Seco Singers and came to Nashville with the help of Cowboy Jack Clement. He was inducted into the Country Music Hall of Fame in 2010.
“This year’s Lifetime Achievement honorees represent the diverse sounds that contribute to American roots music,” Jed Hilly, Executive Director of the Americana Music Association, said in a statement. “Our honorees have inspired this community individually and have collectively changed the landscape of the music industry.”