What does Mitch McConnel and one of the Munchkins from the original 1939 film "The Wizard of Oz" have in common? They were both born in an area in extreme northwest Alabama known as "the Shoals" In fact, lots of notable and famous people were born in the Shoals. Comprised of 4 main cities: Florence, Sheffield, Tuscumbia and Muscle Shoals, this quaint area brimming with southern charm also includes several smaller towns and rural areas: Killen, Leighton, Cherokee, Russellville and many more - all nestled close to the Tennessee River - and all a part of the Shoals. While there are many more notables with close ties to the Shoals, here is a list of well-known persons actually BORN in the Shoals:
▪︎ Mitch MConnel (1942 - ) Sheffield
Raised in nearby Athens, Al. Senator, Kentucky since 1985. House majority leader: 2015 - 2021 and House minority leader since 2021.
▪︎ Fred Thompson (1942 - 2015) Sheffield
Politician and actor. Senator, Tennessee. Acting credits include: Hunt For Red October, Days of Thunder, Die Hard 2, and TV's Law and Order.
▪︎ Oscar De Priest (1871 - 1951) Florence
Son of former slaves. Civil rights activist. First African-American elected to Congress in the 20th century. Representative, Illinois.
▪︎Emmet O'Neal (1853 - 1922) Florence
34th Govenor of Alabama from 1911 - 1915
▪︎ Bobby Denton (1938 - ) Cherokee
Senator of Alabama 32 years, Recording Artist. Known as the "Singing Senator." Appeared on the Dick Clark Show in 1958 singing "Back to School."
▪︎W.C. Handy (1873 - 1958) Florence
Known worldwide as the "Father of the Blues."
His birthplace in Florence is a museum dedicated to his life and music and each year, the area celebrates his life and music with the W.C. Handy Music Festival.
▪︎ Adam Lazzara (1981 - ) Seffield
Singer, songwriter, musician. Lead singer of the rock band Taking Back Sunday
▪︎ Spooner Oldham (1943 - ) Center Star
Award winning musician, songwriter and mrganist. Session musician at the infamous Fame Recording Studio where he played on hits by various artists including Aretha Franklin, Percy Sledge and Wilson Pickett. Co-writer if hit songs himself such as "Cry Like a Baby" and "I'm Your Puppet.".
▪︎ Percy Sledge (1940 - 2015) Leighton
R&B, Soul and Gospel singer and performer. Best known for the song "When A Man Loves A Woman"
▪︎ Sam Phillip's (1923 - 2003) Florence
Record producer and founder of Sun Records and Sun Studio in Memphis, Tenn. Best known for his role in launching the career of Elvis Presley.
▪︎ Lefty Bates (1920 - 2007) Leighton
Chicago Blues guitarist. Worked with legends such as Buddy Guy, Etta James, and John Lee Hooker.
▪︎ Mac Mcanally (1957 - ) Red Bay
Award winning singer-songwriter, producer and musician. Has over 10 studio albums and 8 singles to his credit as an artist.
▪︎ Arthur Alexander (1940 - 1993) Sheffield
Singer and songwriter known as a pioneer of "Country Soul" music. Written songs covered by such musical greats as The Beatles, Bob Dylan, The Rolling Stones, George Jones and many more.
▪︎ Donnie Fritts (1942 - 2019) Florence
Well known session musician, songwriter and recording artist. Prolific list of accomplishments working with artists such as Willie Nelson, Waylon Jennings, John Prine and producer Jerry Wexler. Keyboard player for Kris Kristofferson over 40 years.
▪︎ Willie Ruff (1931 - ) Sheffield
Jazz musician, music scholar, educator. Yale professor from 1971-2017. Founder of the Duke Ellington Fellowship at Yale.
▪︎ David Hood (1943 - ) Sheffield
Bass player, studio musician, original member of the Muscle Shoals Rhythm Section. Cofounder of Muscle Shoals Sound Studios. Bass player/studio musician on some of the most well known artist's albums in music.
▪︎ Patterson Hood (1964 - ) Muscle Shoals
Singer, songwriter, cofounder of the band Drive By Truckers. Son of bassist David Hood. Patterson also writes articles for several publications.
▪︎ Jimmy Johnson (1943 - 2019) Sheffield
Session guitarist and record producer. Part of the famous Muscle Shoals Rhythm Section.
▪︎ Donna Jean Thatcher Godchaux-MacKay (1947 - ) Florence
Singer, musician, songwriter, background and studio vocalist. Member of the Grateful Dead from 1972 - 1979. Background vocals recorded for several major artists on various projects including Elvis, Percy Sledge, Boz Skaggs, Cher and many others. Currently with her own band the Donna Jean Godchaux Band.
▪︎ Alecia Elliot (1982 - ) Muscle Shoals
Country music singer and actress. Released "I'm Diggin' It" on MCA Nashville in 2000. Also started in the TNBC series "All About Us."
▪︎ David Briggs (1943 - ) Killen
Keyboard player, arranger, composer. Known as one of the "Nashville Cats": an exclusive group of top studio musicians. Played on recordings and on tour with Elvis from 1966-1977. Worked with many of the top names in the music business including: Elvis, Dean Martin, Johnny Cash, George Harrison and many others. Owner of 2 Nashville studios over the years: Quadrafonic and House of David.
▪︎ Marsha Thornton (1964 - ) Killen
Singer, recording artist, signed to MCA Records with 3 albums to date. Best known for the single: "A Bottle of Wine and Patsy Cline."
▪︎ Buddy Killen (1932-2006) Florence
Record producer and publisher. Former owner of the largest publisher of country music, Tree International Publishing, before it was sold to CBS Records in 1989. Also the former owner of Trinity Broadcasting Network.
▪︎Jerry Carrigan (1943 - 2019) Florence
Drummer, record producer, original member of the Muscle Shoals Rhythm Section. Session player in Nashville over 30 years. Played on albums recorded by a wide variety of artists: Elvis, Johnny Cash, George Jones, Henry Mancini, Johnny Mathis, and the Boston Pops Orchestra just to name a few.
▪︎ Lee Clayton (1942 - ) Russellville
Born Billy Schatz, musician, composer, songwriter and artist in rock and country genres.
Written songs recorded by Waylon Jennings, Willie Nelson, and the Highwaymen along with his own recordings.
▪︎ Kenny Mims (1953 - ) Muscle Shoals
Musician, record producer, composer. Has produced projects for Kenny Roger's and Marty Robbins. Guitar player for Tanya Tucker, Hank Williams, Jr. and Kenny Rogers.
▪︎ Herschel Sizemore (1935 - ) Sheffield
Bluegrass musician and composer, mandolin player. Expansive career in bluegrass music. Best known for his composition, "Rebecca," which has been covered by many artists. Featured in the documentary film "Mandolin in B," about his life and music.
▪︎ Chris Tompkins (1980? - ) Muscle Shoals
Prolific songwriter - written/co-written 16 number one hits including "When He Cheats" recorded by Carrie Underwood. Got his first songwriting gig with a publisher at age 22. In his teens, he was in a garage band with Jason Isbell.
▪︎ Walt Aldridge (1955 - ) Florence
Musician, singer-songwriter, engineer at Fame Studios 17 years. Best known for country songs such as "No Getting Over Me" recorded by Ronnie Milsap and "Modern Day Bonnie and Clyde" recorded by Travis Tritt.
▪︎ Sterling "Bozo" Bose (1906 - 1958) Florence
Jazz musician. Primary instruments were the trumpet, coronet and trombone. Played with music greats of his era such as Glenn Miller, Tommy Dorsey, Benny Goodman and many more.
▪︎ Roger Briggs (1952 - ) Florence
Pianist, conductor, educator, internationally recognized composer. Briggs has conducted recordings with the London Symphony Orchestra, and the Prague Symphony Orchestra among others. His piano works are widely known and played internationally. He also wrote music for the video game Civilization III.
▪︎ Jason Isbell (1979 - ) Green Hill
Singer-songwriter, performer, guitarist, recording artist. Most well known for his music with his band: Jason Isbell and the 400 Unit. Isbell was also a member of the Drive-by Truckers several years. He has cut 8 albums and won 4 Grammy Awards.
▪︎Norbert Putnam (1942 - ) Florence
Bass player, record producer. Played bass on recordings by Elvis Presley, Roy Orbison, Linda Ronstadt, and the Nitty Gritty Dirt Band just to name a few. On the recording "Wake up, Baby," Elvis is referring to Putnam when he says "Wake up, Putt." As a record producer, Putnam worked on projects with big names such as Jimmy Buffet, Joan Baez, Dan Fogelberg, and John Hiatt.
▪︎Jason Jamar Allen (1983 - ) Muscle Shoals
American Football Cornerback. Miami Dolphins, Houston Texans, Cincinnati Bengals
▪︎ Harlon Hill (1932 - 2013) Killen
Football player with 9 seasons in NFL: Chicago Bears, Pittsburgh Steelers, Detroit Lions.
▪︎ Don Jones (1990 - ) Town Creek
NFL football player: Miami Dolphins, New England Patriots, New Orleans Saints, Cleveland Browns, Houston Texans, San Francisco 49'ers.
▪︎ Josh Willingham (1979 - ) Florence
Major league baseball player: Florida Marlins, Washington Nationals, Oakland Athletics, Minnesota Twins, Kansas City Royals
▪︎ Heinie Manush (1901 - 1971) Tuscumbia
Pro baseball player: Detroit Tigers, St. Louis Browns, Washington Senators, Boston Red Sox, Brooklyn Dodgers, Pittsburgh Pirates. Baseball Hall of Famer.
▪︎Frank Manush (1883 - 1965) Tuscumbia
Major league baseball player: Philadelphia Athletics. Brother of Heinie Manush.
▪︎Gary Weaver (1949 - ) Florence
NFL linebacker: Oakland Raiders, Green Bay Packers.
▪︎ Patrick Hape (1974 - ) Killen
NFL fullback and tight end. Played for the Tampa Bay Buccaneers, Denver Broncos and the Houston Texans.
▪︎ Bill Yoast (1924 - 2019) Florence
Football coach. His life story became a best selling book and was later adapted into a movie: "Remember the Titans."
▪︎ Jeff Brantley (1963 - ) Florence
Major League Baseball player and All Star, 1990. Played for the San Francisco Giants, Cincinnati Reds, St. Louis Cardinals, Philadelphia Phillies, Texas Rangers. Currently broadcaster for the Cincinnati Reds.
▪︎Byron Franklin (1958 - ) Sheffield
NFL wide receiver. Played for the Buffalo Bills and the Seattle Seahawks.
▪︎ Frank Nunley (1945 - ) Lexington
NFL linebacker. Nickname "Fudge Hammer." Played for the San Francisco 49'ers.
▪︎ Robert Woods (1950 - ) Rogersville
NFL offensive tackle. Played for the New York Jets and the New Orleans Saints.
▪︎ Aaron Sears (1984 - ) Russellville
NFL guard. Played for the Tampa Bay Buccaneers.
▪︎ Dominique Croom (1991 - ) Cherokee
Football wide receiver. Undrafted free agent 2013 Cleveland Browns, practice squad member Atlanta Falcons.
▪︎ Deion Belue (1991 - ) Tuscumbia
Football cornerback for Alabama. Signed as undrafted free agent with Miami Dolphins 2014. Also signed by Pittsburgh Steelers, Jacksonville Jaguars, Edmonton Eskimos of the Canadian Football League.
▪︎ Leon Douglass (1954 - ) Leighton
7 season professional NBA player including All-American 1975. Transitioned into coaching career afterwards.
▪︎ Dennis Frank Homan (1946 - ) Muscle Shoals
NFL wide receiver. Career history includes: Dalls Cowboys, Kansas City Chiefs, Birmingham Americans, Birmingham Vulcans. All-American 1967.
▪︎ Richard Lee James (1947 - ) Sheffield
Pro baseball player. First #1 draft pick for the Chicago Cubs in June, 1965.
▪︎ Ozzie Newsome (1956 - ) Muscle Shoals
NFL tight end for the Cleveland Browns. Former general manager and currently working behind the scenes as executive vice president of player personnel of the Baltimore Ravens.
▪︎Wimp Sanderson (1937 - ) Florence
College basketball coach, Alabama and Arkansas. 1987 National Coach of the Year, and Southeastern Conference Coach of the Year in 1987, 1989 and 1990.
▪︎Ed West (1961 - ) Colbert County
Professional Football player. Nicknamed "Toolbox." Never drafted but played 14 seasons and over 200 games in the NFL for the Greenbay Packers, Philadelphia Eagles, and Atlanta Falcons.
▪︎ Thomas Burrows (1994 - ) Florence
Pro Baseball player, pitcher, Atlanta Braves. In the 2016 MLB draft, Burrows was selected by the Seattle Mariners then traded to the Braves.
▪︎ Dennis Condrey (1952 - ) Florence
Professional wrestler in the 1970s - 80s including World Championship Wrestling and Jim Crockett Promotions. Condrey won several championships over the course of his career.
▪︎ Al Romine (1930 - 2015) Florence
Played football for the NFL, Canadian Football League, Ontario Rugby Football Union, and the American Football League. After retiring, he became the head coach for the Huntsville Rockets.
▪︎ Oscar Streit (1873 - 1935) Florence
Major League Baseball player, 2 seasons. Pitcher for the Boston Beaneaters and the Cleveland Broncos.
▪︎ Randall Lee Tate (1952 - 2021) Florence
Pro baseball player, pitcher for the New York Mets
▪︎ Larry Woods (1948 - ) Rogersville
NFL, defensive tackle. Played for the Detroit Lions, Miami Dolphins, New York Jets, and Seattle Seahawks. Played in 6 NFL seasons.
▪︎ Ron Billingsley (1945 - 2017) Florence
NFL defensive tackle. San Diego Chargers, Houston Oilers.
▪︎ Malcolm Armstead (1989 - ) Florence
Professional basketball player, naturalized Kosovan-Romanian citizen presently plays for Kavala of the 2nd Greek division.
▪︎ Whitney Bodie (1987 - ) Florence
Pro Women's basketball. Selected by the Sacramento Monarchs in 2009.
▪︎ Julienne Kirchner (1991 - ) Florence
Olympic freestyle swimmer for the Marshall Islands 2008 where she has a dual citizenship.
▪︎ Freddie Roach (1983 - ) Florence
Former linebacker for the New England Patriots and current defensive line coach for Alabama.
▪︎ Lamonte Turner (1997 - ) Florence
Professional basketball player for the Polish League. Played College basketball with the Tennessee Volunteers.
▪︎ Gustav Hasford (1947 - 1993) Russellville
Journalist, novelist, poet, U.S. Marine and war correspondent during the Vietnam War. Author of "The Short Timers" (1979), a semi-autobiographical novel on which the film "Full Metal Jacket" was based.
▪︎ Wayne Greenhaw (1940 - 2011) Sheffield
Journalist and author. Penned 22 books. Known for his influential works on civil rights, in particular.
▪︎ Beverly Barton (1947 - 2011) Tuscumbia
Birth name: Beverly Marie Beaver. Prolific writer and author known for her Romantic Suspense Novels including the Harlequin Romance Series: "The Protectors." Authored over 30 contemporary romance novels in her career.
▪︎ Steven Ford Brown (1952 - ) Florence
Author, journalist, rock music critic, publisher and translator of poetic works. Founder, senior editor of The Official Tomas Tranströmer website, the 2011 Nobel Prize Laureate from Sweden. Brown's works have been featured in The Rolling Stone, The Christian Science Monitor, and Harvard Review among others.
▪︎ Joey Manley (1965 - 2013) Russellville
Author, webcomics publisher, and web designer.
His innovative subscription model in webcomics changed the industry. Manley is known especially for his LGBT fiction and comics.
▪︎ Douglass A. Foster (1952 - ) Sheffield
Author known for his scholarly works on Christian church history. Especially known for his articles on the Stone-Campbell Restoration Movement.
▪︎ Hank Klibanoff (1949 - ) Florence
Author, journalist, professor. 2007 Pulitzer Prize winner for the book "The Race Beat: The Press, the Civil Rights Struggle, and the Awakening of a Nation" that he wrote along with Gene Roberts. Was managing editor of the Atlanta Journal- Constitution and also was a reporter at one time for the Boston Globe. He is currently director of the journalism program at Emory University.
▪︎ Jonathon Rosenbaum (1943 - ) Florence
Author and international film critic. Having authored over a dozen books on film and cinema, he is best known for his book "Movie Wars: How Hollywood and the Media Limit What Movies We Can See "(2002) An interesting fact: Rosenbaum grew up in the famous "Rosenbaum House" designed by Frank Lloyd Wright which is now a museum in Florence.
▪︎Helen Keller (1880 - 1968) Tuscumbia
Author, advocate of the disabled, activist, lecturer. Having become deaf and blind due to illness as an infant, Keller learned to read, write and speak with the help of her teacher, Anne Sullivan. She went on to earn a college education and author 14 books. For the remainder of her life, Keller championed human rights, the rights of the disabled, and inspired people around the world. Her birthplace, Ivy Greene, is a museum and each year the Helen Keller Festival is held in her honor in her hometown of Tuscumbia, Alabama.
▪︎ Jesse Marsh (1907 - 1966) Florence
Cartoonist, comic book artist, and animator. First artist to work on early Tarzan Comic Books rather than newspaper comic strips. Also did animation for the Pluto character for Walt Disney.
▪︎ Margaret Pelligrini (1923 - 2013) Tuscumbia
Best known for her role as a "Munchkin" in the 1939 film: "The Wizard of Oz." She was also a dancer and Vaudeville performer.
▪︎ Sonequa Martin-Greene (1985 - ) Russellville
Actress best known for her role as Michael Burnham, the main character of Star Trek: Discovery and Sarah William's on The Walking Dead series.
▪︎ John Baragrey (1918 - 1975) Haleyville
Prolific actor of the stage, film and early television. Cast in dozens of early dramatic TV series of the 1950's and early 1960's. Worked on projects with well known stars such as Rita Hayworth, Jane Wyman, Bette Davis and others.
▪︎ Anderson Lawler (1902 - 1959) Russellville
Actor and film producer with a career spanning from the 1920's through the 1950's. Cast in over 25 films of the early talking picture era. In the late 1940's through the 1950's his work shifted to film and stage production.
▪︎ Adam Berry (1983 - ) Muscle Shoals
Paranormal Investigator, actor, singer, performer. Best known for the SyFy Channel's "Ghost Hunters Academy" reality show competition where he won a team member spot with TAPS (The Atlantic Paranormal Society). He then gained his own paranormal reality series "Kindred Spirits. Adam is also well known as a performer in musical theater and cabaret.
▪︎ Mark Thompson (1955 - ) Florence
Radio personality and actor. Best known for the long running and nationally syndicated "Mark and Brian" Morning Show. Hosted the TV series "Adventures of Mark and Brian" on NBC. He has also appeared in several movies including "Jason Goes to Hell: The Final Friday (in the Friday the 13th series) and "The Princess Diaries."
▪︎ Amelda Fowler (1886 - 1964) Florence
Supporting film actress in the 1930s. Best known for "Party Girl" in 1930, Fifteen Wives in 1934
▪︎ Estelle Harrison (1894 - 1964 *date of death unverified) Florence
Silent era movie actress. Best known for parts in short films by Gaylord Lloyd and Harold Lloyd
▪︎ Rece Davis (1965/66? - ) Muscle Shoals
ESPN/ABC TV sports journalist, commentator. SportsCenter and College GameDay anchor/host. Also lead host at ESPN for international soccer.
BUSINESS, DIGITAL MEDIA, FASHION
▪︎ Jeffrey L. Briggs (1957 - ) Florence
Video game designer and developer.
Founder, former President and CEO of Fixaris Games
▪︎ Austen Alexander (1992 - ) Florence
Fitness Motivator, producer of videos, commercials, and marketing tools for social media and other online platforms. Founder of AMA Marketing and "The Battle Bunker."
▪︎ Joshua Heath Scott (1982? - ) Russellville
Owner and creator of JHS Pedals, guitar effects products sold worldwide and based in Kansas City. Along with running the company, Scott does lectures, live events and YouTube videos on music technology.
▪︎Fran McKee (1926 - 2002) Florence
First female promoted to rank of Rear Admiral in the U.S. Navy. One of the two first women privileged to attend the Naval War College. Pioneer for women in military roles and a lifelong proponent of Veterans. Inducted into the Alabama Women's Hall of Fame 2007.
▪︎ Richard H. Jackson (1866 - 1971) Florence
Four star Admiral in the U.S. Navy. Commissioned ensign by a special act of Congress for his bravery during the 1889 Apia cyclone. In 1926, he was Commander of Chief of Battle Fleet.
▪︎ Wilson D. Watson (1922 - 1994) Tuscumbia
Marine, Medal of Honor recipient for his bravery in WWII at Iwo Jima where he eneabled his platoon to advance by killing 60 enemy soldiers on his own. He was shot 7 times in doing so and hit with shrapnel in his shoulder.
▪︎ Don Leslie Michael (1947 - 1967) Florence
U.S.Army. Posthumously awarded the highest military decoration: the Medal of Honor for his actions in the Vietnam War. Michael solely destroyed a Viet Cong bunker for his battalion but was fatally wounded afterwards.
▪︎ John Hood (1859 - 1919) Florence
U.S. Navy Rear Admiral. Served in the Spanish-American War and WWI. The destroyer: USS John Hood was named in his honor in 1943.
▪︎Frank Walker (1899 - 1976) Florence
Rear Admiral U.S. Navy. Survivor of Pearl Harbor noted for his service in the Solomon Island Campaign.
▪︎Dorrit Hoffleit (1907 - 2007) Florence
Senior Research Astronomer, Yale University.
"Bright Star Catalogue" main editor. For her lifetime of study and contributions to astronomy and mentorship of many future astronomers, she was awarded the George Van Biesbroeck Prize by the American Astronomical Society in 1988.
▪︎ Harryette Mullen (1953 - ) Florence
Professor of English at the University of California, Los Angeles. Influential poet, short story author, literary scholar, recipient of several national awards in writing. Best known for using humor and unique "wordplay" as she critiques cultural issues such as globalization and consumerism.
▪︎ Miriam DeCosta-Willis (1934 - 2021) Florence
Educator, writer, activist. Initially denied admission to Memphis State University, she eventually became their first African-American faculty member. She has authored over a dozen books in her lifetime.
Know someone else born in the Shoals who left their mark on the world? Include him/her in the comments! While I tried to include everyone, I'm sure there are more! After all, the Shoals is a special place! Follow me on Newsbreak for more local and national content!