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Brittany Howard is a 2018 Yellowhammer Woman of Impact

The list of 2018 Yellowhammer Women of Impact includes the governor, business leaders, philanthropists, entrepreneurs and educators.

But it is quite possible that the woman who has touched the most lives is Brittany Howard, a 29-year-old Alabama native who is a founding member of the musical sensation Alabama Shakes.

It took about two years for the band to reach international stardom after playing James Brown covers. Their debut album in 2012, “Boys & Girls,” was still at the top of the iTunes and Amazon sales list a year later. It went gold and as of 2015 had sold 744,000 copies.

“Hold On,” Rolling Stone magazine’s No. 1 song of 2012, has been viewed almost 27 million times on YouTube.
The band has won four Grammys, been nominated for four others and has appeared on “Saturday Night Live.”

As told in a 2013 Rolling Stone story, Howard was delivering mail when the band took off. Reared in Athens by a mother who loved Elvis Presley — she had a collection of the King’s albums and no other artist — and a dad who dug Motown, she dealt with her share of adversity. That includes her parents’ divorce, the death of her older sister, vision problems and the loss of the family home to fire.

Eventually, she hooked up with bandmates Zac Cockrell, Heath Fogg and Steve Johnson during high school.

Someone posted a photo of Howard, from a bar, on record producer and music blogger Justin Gage’s Facebook page in 2011. Gage told the Los Angeles Times in 2016 that he listened to a pair of songs from the band and then emailed Howard and asked if he could listen to more music.

Gage was blown away and posted a song on his blog, Aquarium Drunkard. He told the Times that he wanted to sign the band.

“But I made the mistake of posting that song on Aquarium Drunkard,” he said. “The response was insane. By noon there were already 40 comments … Within two weeks the band told me, ‘Yeah, we’re not going to do that record with you.’ They ended up getting a high six-figure deal and sold 2 million records worldwide.”

Howard told National Public Ratio’s “Fresh Air” in 2016 that Athens was a “slow-placed place” to grow up.

“And that’s a good place to stay forever, you know what I mean?” she said. “It’s a good place to raise your kids, raise your grandkids, take care of your parents. It’s just a really nice, peaceful town.”

Howard also downplayed the significance of her mixed-race heritage. She said her rural upbringing, growing up in the woods, helped keep her isolated from racism and did not feel negative repercussions from the fact that her mother is white and her father is black.

“My mom’s white. My grandma’s white,” she told host Terry Gross. “My dad’s black. My grandma’s black. You know, they’re just people. I love them — never really had to experience that kind of prejudice growing up.”

Howard may have had confidence in the band’s abilities, but she told Rolling Stone that she still was taken aback by its meteoric rise.

“I mean, we never expected the Grammys; we never expected to do world tours,” she said. “All we did was go into the studio, because we wanted to be like a real band and have an album, and then it turned into all this.”

@BrendanKKirby is a senior political reporter at LifeZette and author of “Wicked Mobile.

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