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American record producer Sam Phillips is best known for discovering musicians Elvis Presley, Carl Perkins, Johnny Cash and Howlin' Wolf, among other blues, country and rock 'n' roll artists. He is also known for revolutionizing the music industry and introducing rock 'n' roll to the world throughout the 1950s.
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Sam Phillips was born on a farm near Florence, Alabama, on January 5, 1923. His parents were poor tenant farmers and he worked with them as a child, picking cotton from the fields. Alongside him were black laborers who sang as they worked, inspiring Phillips to enter the music industry. Phillips went on to become a radio announcer and engineer and eventually opened his own recording studio and record label. He discovered many blues, country and rock and roll musicians like Elvis Presley,
"[Blues music] got people—black and white—to think about life, how difficult, yet also how good it can be."
"I am a sound freak. I could play around with sound forever. I know that was part of my success. There's no amount of brains and dollars and sense... that can bring you around to getting the joy out of doing something in sound that I see and feel until this day and always will until I'm no longer around physically."
Johnny Cash, Carl Perkins and Howlin' Wolf, who would go on to become famous stars. Phillips was inducted into the Rock and Roll, Rockability, Blues and Country Music halls of fame before his death in 2003.
Record producer Samuel Cornelius Phillips, better known as Sam Phillips, died a rich and famous man, but he came from humble beginnings and a childhood that opened his mind and led him to make decisions that, in essence, revolutionized the music industry in the 20th century.
The youngest of eight children, Phillips was born on January 5, 1923, on a farm near Florence, Alabama, to poor tenant farmers. He picked cotton in the fields as a child, working with his parents alongside black laborers, who sang as they worked. Their music had made an impression on Phillips, as had Beale Street—the heart of the music scene in Memphis, Tennessee, where Phillips and his family visited in 1939.
"Beale Street convinced me that with the talent coming out of the Delta, especially of black artists, I really wanted to try to do something with that talent because I was very close to it all my life," Phillips told National Public Radio in November 2001. "I saw the great association between country music and black blues in the South."
And in fact, Phillips ended up turning country music and black blues into what the world came to know as rock 'n' roll, according to Phillips's 2003 obituary in The New York Times.
The Great Depression bankrupted Phillips's father, who died in 1941, and the adolescent was forced to leave high school and look after his mother and aunt. He worked in a grocery store and funeral parlor for some time, but soon after shifted into the music industry.
Throughout the 1940s, Phillips worked as a disc jockey and radio engineer for an AM radio station that broadcast music from both white and black musicians. He later became a radio announcer for another station, and just two days before his 27th birthday (January 5, 1950), Phillips opened his own recording studio in Memphis. The Memphis Recording Service, as it was named, invited amateurs to perform. Phillips would record their performances and sell them to larger record labels. The MRS also served as the studio for Phillips's own label, Sun Records, which he launched in 1952.
Among amateurs who performed at the Memphis Recording Service and later went on to become famous musicians were Johnny Cash, B.B. King, Jerry Lee Lewis, Carl Perkins, Howlin' Wolf and, perhaps most notably, Elvis Presley.
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The first Grammy Awards ceremony was held in 1959, after Walk of Fame recording executives compiled a list of industry leaders who they realized would never get a star on Hollywood Boulevard, but deserved recognition. The group helped found the National Academy of Recording Arts and Sciences, and named their award the "Grammy" as a nod to Edison's gramophone. Since then, hundreds of music industry members have received Grammys for their notable accomplishments in the field of music and recording. Here are the many winners of this now-prestigious award.
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