Making history: meet Huntsville’s new Music Advisory Board

By Lucy Berry DeButy

A born wordsmith and storyteller, Lucy Berry DeButy joined the City of Huntsville as a Digital Media Specialist in January 2020. She previously worked as a journalist for and The Decatur Daily, as well as a content marketing writer and editor for Hexagon, formerly Intergraph.

Danish author Hans Christian Andersen once wrote, “Where words fail, music speaks.”
The City of Huntsville’s leadership team couldn’t agree more.
That’s why the City has appointed nine members to serve on the inaugural Music Advisory Board to help kickstart Huntsville’s journey to becoming Alabama’s first “Music City.”
The Board will break down existing silos and bring key players together to execute initiatives proposed in a music audit by London-based Sound Diplomacy last year.
“The objective of the Music Advisory Board as we see it is to carry forward the recommendations of the music audit and continue to work, in a slow and steady process, on everything that is required to ensure Huntsville’s music community, in all its forms, is a part of the growth of the city,” said Shain Shapiro, CEO of Sound Diplomacy.
Board members
From the development of music events to the creation of educational partnerships, the Board will collaborate with the City to help realize the vision laid out in the music audit, an in-depth look at Huntsville’s musical artists, environment, venues, educational infrastructure and culture.
The City, which had a large pool of candidates to consider, selected the following individuals for the Music Advisory Board:
• Judy Allison – Manages and performs with Josh Allison. She also works with Purple19 to conduct professional development seminars for local musicians.
• Codie Gopher – Organizer of Huntsville Hip Hop Tech Conference. He has more than 20 years’ experience as a creative and executive in the music industry.
• Crickett Hoffman – Founder of CodeName Underground, which provides a stage for rising hip hop and R&B artists in the area. She was also a founding member of the Kind Society and Hip Hop Live.
• Mario Maitland – Founder and CEO of Maitland Conservatory, which gives music students hands-on instruction in production, contemporary instrumental training, vocal coaching, leadership and more in North Huntsville.
• Chuck Rutenberg – Performer and CEO of BIZFORCE Technologies.
• Celese Sanders – Performer and founder/president of Encore Opera Theatre.
• DeQn Sue – Alternative-pop singer dubbed the “Queen of Quirk” by Time Magazine. She’s been featured on NPR’s Tiny Desk, T-Mobile and the Netflix series, “Orange is the New Black.”
• Brett Tannehill – General manager of WLRH 89.3 FM, musician and 20-year public broadcasting veteran.
• Mark Torstenson – Co-owner and manager of The Fret Shop, musician and live performance audio recording engineer for Know Huntsville.
To help fulfill its mission, the Music Advisory Board will oversee four subcommittees in the following areas: outreach and marketing, industry, education and events. Dennis Madsen, Huntsville’s manager of urban and long-range planning, said those not selected for the Board or who are just now learning about the City’s plans should email him at [email protected] if interested in joining a subcommittee.
“There is no shortage of people out there willing to give of themselves and to sacrifice their own time to really do good things for the community at large,” he said.
What’s next?
The Board will gather soon for an informal social before its first official meeting in March. Madsen anticipates Sound Diplomacy will continue to serve the City on a consulting basis as the Board establishes itself the first year.
While the Board has not yet set its agenda, Madsen said members may soon begin addressing recommendations from the music audit, such as building a new music weekend or festival, focusing on education outreach and connecting with the Americana Music Triangle.
Within the year, the City also hopes to create the position of Music Officer to serve as a resource for the local music scene and to assist in the marketing and recruitment of music-related jobs.
“It would be someone who wakes up every morning thinking about doing things for the music industry in Huntsville,” Madsen said.
Many cities have cultural liaisons, but the Music Officer role is unique. It would be sourced through the city and potentially with industry partners, allowing Huntsville to harness the value of music across economic and workforce development, tourism, equity and quality of life.
Shapiro said the Board features a diverse array of people who can lead, speak for the community and ensure everyone involved is held accountable.
“Some of the recommendations are easier to implement than others, and my hope is the Board becomes the protagonist in all this, works to recruit and support the Music Officer in the future and represents Huntsville’s incredible music community to everyone, from your neighbor to another city halfway around the world,” he said.
‘Picture of success’
As the Board implements recommendations from the music audit, the City anticipates more music venues coming online, more music-oriented events in Huntsville and more diverse artistic representation. Establishing its own music identity will also help Huntsville attract new people, produce jobs and improve its overall image.
Mayor Tommy Battle said the formation of a Music Advisory Board “adds another element to the tool chest we can use to promote Huntsville.”
“It’s very exciting for me personally,” he said. “It’s something outside the realm of my expertise, but it’s something I know from looking at other communities adds an element to the picture of success of what your community’s going to be.”
Want more info on the music audit? Click here for the executive summary from Sound Diplomacy.

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