Music is a primary pillar of Mayor Tommy Battle’s workforce development strategy, commitment to quality of life, and his desire to provide more inclusive cultural and creative offerings for current and future residents of Huntsville.
Huntsville is the first city in America to embark on a comprehensive, data-driven journey to strategically amplify its music economy. This visionary understanding of music’s role in placemaking led Mayor Battle to direct his administrative team to assess how the music industry could further enhance the Rocket City’s economy and quality of life.
Huntsville’s music scene, uniquely and equally inspired by its Southern surroundings and high-tech innovation, plays a leading role in the City’s long-term strategy for smart growth.
With this in mind, Huntsville set out to answer this central question: how could the City known for its stellar rocket propulsion propel itself to the forefront of the music universe? The goal – to create a more dynamic music environment, from education to creation, production and performance, in a way that strengthened Huntsville’s growing economy.
The City partnered with international consulting group Sound Diplomacy in late spring 2018 to find the answers and to create the road map to achieve this goal.
Sound Diplomacy completed its directive, conducting an extensive Music Audit that assessed the strengths and opportunities of Huntsville’s music offerings. Concluded in August 2019, the plan has been called “the most innovative music strategy in the United States.” The Rocket City’s bold commitment to music affirms the role of the arts in supporting a vibrant economy, sustaining a healthy community and building a well-rounded City.
The audit paved the way for the creation of the Huntsville Music Board, a governing body tasked with implementing and prioritizing the road map provided by the audit to nurture the City’s growing music industry.
The implementation of the multi-year music plan is still in its infancy, but work is already under way.
One of the first steps in the plan was for Mayor Battle to appoint the Music Board, a first-of-its-kind in Huntsville and the State of Alabama. To ensure the board represented the varied interests and needs of the music community, the Mayor asked for candidate recommendations from music industry leaders and Council Members, and he opened up nomination process to allow interested candidates to self-submit applications.
The inaugural nine-member Music Board was officially appointed by Mayor Battle at the January 23, 2020 City Council meeting. One of the Board’s first priorities is 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.
The Music Board held its first meeting in March of 2020 and looks forward to collaborating with the community as it builds the processes and structures to grow the City’s music industry over the coming years.
Brett Tannehill is the current chairperson for Huntsville Music Board. He was chosen for the Board partly based on his experiences as a journalist, producer and musician. Those skills are put to work everyday at WLRH 89 Public Radio, where Brett directs operations and programming. Brett’s favorite part of radio is the unique opportunity it provides to shine the spotlight on Tennessee Valley news, music, and community conversations. WLRH’s weekly local music show, Valley Sounds, was named Podcast of the Year by the Alabama Broadcasters Association. The Public Radio Hour has been honored for broadcast excellence in public affairs reporting. Brett is also an Edward R. Murrow winner, and won the UNITY Award for excellence in reporting on diversity issues. He’s also a father, a ‘retired’ landscaper and currently volunteers at Hay Nature Preseve’s Native Plant Garden. When there’s nothing else to do, he enjoys sitting on the porch, hitting golf balls, playing drums and the occasional game of MarioKart.
Celese Sanders is the founder and Executive Director of the Encore Opera Huntsville. She is a trained classical singer with a focus in opera and has also performed in many musical theater performances. Celese owns and manages an accounting/bookkeeping firm, serves on multiple nonprofit boards for other performing arts organizations, and was appointed as a member of the Huntsville City Music Advisory Board.
Chuck Rutenberg is currently serving at the Huntsville Music Board’s vice chairperson. He has lived, worked and played music in Huntsville since 1977. This singer-songwriter continues to perform as a solo act and with other bands, including The Woodpickers and Reverie. Chuck also worked at FAME Studios in Muscle Shoals, AL and has extensive experience in navigating the business side of music. He’s a partner in Muscle Shoals Records and the FAME Music Group. In his day job, Chuck is the owner/operator of BIZFORCE Technologies, which specializes in IT service design, management and maintenance. Chuck is also married and has two children.
Codie Gopher is an independent researcher of modern culture based in his hometown of Huntsville, Alabama. With over 20 years of experience in the music creative zone, Codie is working to bridge the gaps economically, as well as with sustainable opportunities for his community, to enhance the quality of life for the next generations of creators. Being involved with Huntsville generated music projects, acknowledged by the likes of Forbes, The New York Times, SPIN, National Geographic, NPR, and other national and international publications, the idea of Huntsville making future strides in Music Tech is not impossible in his eyes. The key in his research is understanding the festiveness of the minds which are cultivated in the city, and how said cultivation impacts the world. Creating music inside the territory of Cummings Research Park and reaching over 90 million homes is proof Huntsville has what it takes to strive in Urban Tech. Between 2014 -2018, Codie helped to curate the first Hip Hop Exhibit at the Alabama Music Hall of Fame in Tuscumbia, Alabama, which opened in August 2018. This project documented the body of work, plus the influence Alabama Hip Hop has had on the world of music, and pop culture. He is a self-published author and believes culture is a key component to the future of his community. Codie understands music education, mixed with a thriving entertainment economy is viable and doable.
Raised in the counterculture, Crickett Hoffman was exposed to diversity through arts and music. She started attending concerts as a baby and never stopped. Music became a bigger part in her life when her husband DJ A-Twist was featured in the documentary Rootsy Hip. Crickett started working in booking and artist management, and later helped found a creative community called The Kind Society, which celebrated diversity within the Hip Hop Culture and launched a series of community events. Crickett is also a founding member of Hip Hop Live and CodeName Underground, which also host music events and artist gatherings. Crickett is also part of Huntsville’s Women in Music team, the Community Leader Coalition, and is a member of the Huntsville Music Board.
Deqn Sue is alternative pop with a sharp lyrical edge bursting with message and humor. This Alabama native is a deft song maker whose quick lyrical and sonic turns create surprise. She’s had her music featured with T-Mobile and in TV series, ‘Orange is the New Black to name a few. Time Magazine dubbed her the ‘Queen of Quirk’ and with hints of Funk, R&B, Pop and even vaudeville, she transcends style, spinning words and sounds purely engaged in the now
Singer/Songwriter, Consultant, CEO/Director of Purple19. Judy has a passion for connecting people to music and musical relationships and has either performed or curated concerts in the Huntsville area since she was in high school. Purple19’s mission is to create connections, foster professional development and inspire creativity among local musicians (Music Biz Mondays.) She curates and hosts SheWrites – a local songwriter series, and is the featured events coordinator for Women in Music Weekend.
Mario Maitland is an award-winning musician, sound engineer, sound designer and producer, and is also one of the Tennessee Valley’s top arts education instructors. He is founder and operator of The Maitland Conservatory, which focuses on providing real world performance and production training for young people, and interactive programs in the Huntsville City School system that teach classroom lessons through music creation and performance. The Conservatory is also an important training ground for upcoming podcasters seeking to tell stories about their communities. Most recently, Mario launched an outreach effort called “The Industry Summit”; a conference which connects aspiring artists and creatives with industry professionals.
Mark Torstenson is co-owner and manager of The Fret Shop, a locally owned music store specializing in quality string instruments and accessories. He holds a BA of Music Performance from The University of Alabama/Huntsville and has performed in the Huntsville area for over 30 years. He also serves on the board of the Microwave Dave Music Education Foundation and is a committee chair for the Huntsville Council PTA. When he is not playing guitar with Mambo Gris Gris you may find him advising his 2 teens on the ins and outs of playing in a band as they start musical careers of their own.