This article appeared in the September 2016 issue of the Georgia's Cities newspaper.
Many know the names: James Brown, Ray Charles, The Allman Brothers, Otis Redding and Little Richard. These big-time musicians—and several hundred others—have called Georgia home. Cities across the state celebrate 2016 as “The Year of Georgia Music,” declared by Gov. Nathan Deal and the Georgia Department of Economic Development. This year, events from songwriting contests to festivals commemorate Georgia’s musical heritage and give tourists even more reasons to visit and make a positive economic impact on local economies.
Artists, whether living or dead, have helped put Georgia on the map. Tourists from around the world pose with the life-sized statue of Savannah native son Johnny Mercer in Ellis Square, and also visit the marker at his birthplace and his grave in Bonaventure Cemetery.
Visitors make a trip to Albany to experience and learn more about the city’s rich music history. The Albany Civil Rights Institute, where on select Saturdays the Freedom Singers, led by Civil Rights activist Rutha Harris, brings the pride of the Civil Rights Movement to life for both residents and tourists.
“Albany is the epicenter of the music created from the Civil Rights Movement and is the birthplace of the SNCC Freedom Singers,” said Albany City Manager Sharon D. Sudaban. “Our most famous and iconic native, Ray Charles, left his impact on the music industry and is still lauded as the original multi-platinum cross-over artist, composer, songwriter and singer who pioneered soul music by combining rhythm and blues with gospel.”
Music put Albany on the map long ago and the city embraces its heritage. “We are so proud to be associated with Ray Charles,” said Albany Mayor Dorothy Hubbard. “The life-sized rotating statue of Ray Charles at his piano in Riverfront Park is the centerpiece of our downtown revitalization.”
Music Attracts Tourism and Ties Communities
Augusta is best known as the hometown of James Brown, the Godfather of Soul, but the city continues to provide American music with a host of accomplished musicians.
“Augusta’s rich music history has been shaped by individuals and groups alike,” said Augusta Mayor Hardie Davis. “While most people associate Augusta with the Masters Golf Tournament, the city has been home to some of music’s most notable figures. Country stars like Charles and Josh Kelley along with Dave Haywood, who make up the legendary band Lady Antebellum, put us on the country music charts.”
Music has been beneficial to Augusta in many ways. “Earlier this year, some of the original members of the James Brown band performed during our James Brown Festival, said Augusta Commissioner Sean Frantom. “It was such a unifying event for the community.”
He added, “Stars like Christian singer Amy Grant, renowned opera singer Jessye Norman and jazz greats Wycliffe Gordon and Sharon Jones, called the female James Brown, all have Augusta connections. With stars like these, Georgia’s music scene will remain Super Bad.”
Music is threaded throughout the history of Macon- Bibb County, from Otis Redding to Little Richard to the Allman Brothers Band. “Music is also a central part of our current growth,” said Macon Mayor Robert Reichert. “Music continues to bring us together as a community, giving us a way to bridge all socioeconomic lines and find common ground.”
The community enjoys a variety of musical offerings including perfoemances by Macon native and acclaimed concert violinist Robert McDuffie, musical history tours, outdoor concerts in the park and the installation of pianos for the public to use free of charge.
In the 1980s, Athens was the epicenter of alternative rock with groups like the B52s, Love Tractor and Pylon to new wave, pop and American Punk. The annual AthFest each summer brings international visitors to the college town.
Though Elvis was born in Tupelo, Miss., the city of Cornelia in Habersham County hosts The Big E Festival annually at the Everything Elvis Museum. This year’s event is Nov. 11-12. The highlight is the Elvis Tribute Artist Competition.
“From gospel music to country to classical, people in Habersham grew up surrounded with music,” said Cornelia Mayor J.C. Irby. “Part of this could stem from our historic Piedmont College’s award-winning music department. In fact, Piedmont College President Dr. James Mellichamp performed an organ concert this summer at Westminster Abbey in London.”