July 30, 2003 – Samuel Cornelius “Sam” Phillips was born on January 5, 1923 in Florence, Alabama and a graduate of Coffee High School. As a youngster he was intensely exposed to blues and became interested in music by African workers on his father’s cotton farm.
He became an important record producer, label owner, and talent scout throughout the 40s and 50s, and played an important role in the emergence of rock and roll as the major form of popular music in the 1950s.
He is most notably attributed with the discoveries of Elvis Presley and Johnny Cash and is associated with several other noteworthy rhythm and blues and rock and roll stars of the period.
Sam was also founder of Sun Records, the studio that was vital to launching the careers of Elvis Presley, Carl Perkins, Johnny Cash, Jerry Lee Lewis, B.B. King, Howlin’ Wolf, Rufus Thomas and numerous other significant artists. As well as owning the Sun Studio Café in Memphis, he and his family founded Big River Broadcasting Corporation which owned and operated several radio stations in the Florence, Alabama, area, including WQLT-FM, WSBM, and WXFL.
In 1986 Sam was part of the first group inducted into the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame and his pioneering contribution has been recognized by the Rockabilly Hall of Fame, being the first ever non-performer inducted. In 1987, he was inducted into the Alabama Music Hall of Fame on the same merits. He received a Grammy Trustees Award for his lifetime achievements in 1991.
In 1998, he was inducted into the Blues Hall of Fame, and in October 2001 he was inducted into the Country Music Hall of Fame.
He died of respiratory failure at St. Francis Hospital in Memphis on July 30, 2003 – only one day before the original Sun Studio was designated a National Historic Landmark. He was 80.
On October 21, 2016, it was announced that Leonardo DiCaprio will portray Sam Phillips in the forthcoming film based on Peter Guralnick’s book “Sam Phillips: The Man Who Invented Rock ‘N’ Roll”