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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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Phillips was open to different styles of music, but took a particular liking to the blues, which he once said "got people—black and white—to think about life, how difficult, yet also how good it can be."
Releasing 226 singles throughout its 16-year run, Phillips's label produced more rock 'n' roll records than any other label of its time. Sun Records' sister label, Phillips International, which Phillips launched in 1957, released an additional 71 singles.
Elvis Presley walked into the Memphis Recording Service in 1954 and, hoping that he and Phillips could discuss a formal recording session, exchanged information with the owner. It took Presley several tries before he finally impressed Phillips. The two worked together to launch Presley into regional success, which became a drawing card for Sun Records, bringing musicians from around the region to record.
Despite the regional popularity, Phillips's studio underwent financial difficulties and he was forced to sell Presley's contract in November 1955, to RCA Records for $35,000. With those funds, Phillips was able to boost distribution of Carl Perkins's "Blue Suede Shoes," which became Sun Records' first national hit.
Although Presley had gone on to work with RCA, he continued to use techniques that Phillips had taught him. For Phillips, it was all about conveying emotion and giving a song "a living personality," according to Sun Records' website. Technical perfection was unnecessary to Phillips, and he always sought imperfectly perfect sound.
In addition to breaking ground both musically and financially by making Presley a star and launching other Sun Records musicians into fame, Phillips continued pursuing endeavors that made waves and changed the status quo. He was also a savvy businessman, and his insight allowed him to take risks that paid off.
In 1955, Phillips launched WHER radio station—the first all-female radio station in the nation. He was also one of the first investors of the Holiday Inn motel chain, and later created the subsidiary recording label, Holiday Inn Records. Phillips owned the Sun Studio Café in Memphis and, along with his family, founded the Big River Broadcasting Corporation, which owns several radio stations near his birth town, Florence, Alabama.
Phillips was recognized for his achievements in 1986, as part of the first group inducted into the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame. He was also the first non-performer ever inducted into the Rockabilly Hall of Fame. In 1987, Phillips was inducted into the Alabama Music Hall of Fame; in 1998, the Blues Hall of Fame; and in 2001, the Country Musical Hall of Fame. He also received a Grammy Trustees Award in 1991 for his achievements.
Phillips was portrayed by different actors in several films and television shows that were made about Presley and Johnny Cash from 1979 through 2005. In 2000, A&E Television Networks released a documentary about Phillips's life and involvement in the emergence of rock 'n' roll, titled Sam Phillips: The Man Who Invented Rock 'n' Roll.
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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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