Arts, Music

Atlanta Soul Artist William Bell Receives The NEA National Heritage Fellowship

Soul artist William Bell was one of the original musicians to sign on with Stax Records in the 1960s.
Soul artist William Bell was one of the original musicians to sign on with Stax Records in the 1960s.
Credit Ginette Callaway

The NEA National Heritage Fellowship is our nation’s highest honor in the folk and traditional arts. It recognizes the recipients’ artistic excellence and supports their continuing contributions to our nation’s traditional arts heritage.

Legendary soul singer and songwriter William Bell is among the distinguished nominees who will receive the award tonight at 8. He joined “City Lights” host Lois Reitzes to discuss his lifelong career and how it felt to be the recipient of this honor.

Bell’s career started in the 1960s with Stax Records, the legendary recording label that has signed artists like Otis Redding, Booker T. Jones and Albert King.

“We were doing music that talked about life and talked about the struggles of life, and people just readily identified with it,” said Bell. They had developed what was known as the “Memphis Sound.”

Bell felt that this was distinguishable from other music groups because of its blend of everything they were exposed to. “We had a couple radio stations. One Black and one white one that all of people would listen to. But on those two stations, we heard R&B. We heard gospel. We heard jazz. We heard rockabilly. Then we heard country. Our influences were varied,” he said.

Bell moved to Atlanta in the 1970s and has since considered it his “adopted home.”

He now works with young musicians, mentoring them in the craft of soul music. He is a big supporter of the Stax Music Academy in Memphis. “I think it is very uplifting that there are a lot of talented youngsters out there with great musical talents and voices that are coming along,” said Bell.

“In working with them, I’ve had some of the Stax kids on the road [with me], so they can get an idea of working and performing in front of a live crowd.” He continued, “I think soul music is alive and well in the youngsters, and they put a different spin on it because this is their generation, just like we put a spin on B.B. King and Bobby Bland’s generation.”


For more information on the NEA National Heritage Fellowship, visit the official press release virtual presentation guide.

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