By Ron Bernthal
Otis Redding’s early 1960’s song, “These Arms of Mine,” was his first big hit and brought the Georgia-born musician fame and respect. But his magical rise to stardom was short-lived…he died in 1967 at the age of 26. In 1981 Redding became the eighth musician inducted into the Georgia Music Hall of Fame. A few of the others who came before him included Ray Chalres, Johnny Mercer, Ray Stevens and Bill Lowery.
By 1989 the list of Georgia musicians who were inducted sounded like a who’s who of American music…James Brown, Harry James, Little Richard, Joe Williams, Gladys Knight, George Puckett and others. The only problem was that there was no real Georgia Music Hall of Fame. No physical building to house the artifacts and gold records and costumes and photographs that Georgia musicians, and their friends, family and fans all around the state, were ready to donate to a central location.
That changed in 1996 when the Georgia Music Hall of Fame opened its doors for the first time in Macon, Georgia, a mid-size city in the center of the state, about 75 miles south of Atlanta. Macon already had a reputation for being a music town, it was the home of Capricorn Records, founded by Phil Walden, and it was where the Allman Brothers Band, Marshall Tucker, and Wet Willie, all Georgia musicians, would record many of their top hits.
Little Richard was born in Macon, and grew up singing gospel in the city’s churches. Redding, Bessie Smith, James Brown, Ma Rainey and Little Richard all performed in Macon’s historic Douglass Theater, located across the street from the Hall.
“We wanted to provide visitors with a full, invigorating experience,” said Joseph Johnson, curator of the Georgia Music Hall of Fame & Museum, as it now called. Johnson was hired when the Hall opened and the property reflects his tastefully eccentric outlook towards music. Not just content to display the artifacts and mementos of the more famous Georgia musicians, Johnson salutes the lesser known names as well with detailed information on the state’s old time blues, gospel, and folk musicians. He is also planning to tackle various music periods in the state’s history, from the Civil War era to the Big Band years.
The three story Georgia Music Hall of Fame& Museum documents the careers of many Georgia musicians and singers through actual recordings, videos, instruments, photos, performance costumes, and lots of unique memorabilia. Next year the Music Hall is going to celebrate its 10th anniversary with several special events that Curator Johnson says are still under wraps. “We will be doing some things that are going to be very, very big, with national exposure,” Mr. Johnson said.
The Georgia Music Hall of Fame & Museum is located at 200 Martin Luther King, Jr. Blvd. in Macon, GA 31201, approximately 75 miles south of Atlanta. (Phone: 888-GA-ROCKS; Web site- www.gamusichall.com; Hours: Monday-Saturday, 9:00 a.m. to 5:00 p.m, and Sunday, 1:00 p.m. to 5:00 p.m., closed Thanksgiving Day, Dec. 25 & 26, and January 1 & 2; Admission $8.00 adults , $3.50 for ages 4-16 years)