Gregory Barnes

Ever since I was a child, I was around musical artistry. I played drums for my mother's gospel group. Whether R&B or gospel, musicians knew each other, and organically created a “music scene.” 

One of my fondest moments of Milledgeville’s music scene came at my first concert experience. You see, one of Motown’s male quartets came to Milledgeville when I was very young. What I remember most about the concert was not Motown’s act but the group that opened for them, the Mighty Chevelles. I was blown away with them because of their musicianship and flare on stage. I became a fan. I vividly remember leaving the concert thinking that the Mighty Chevelles were just as good as that Motown act. Years later, I realize that they were and that they are a part of a “sound” that flowed through middle Georgia.  

Yes, middle Georgia had a sound.

Fast forward to a few years ago. I was in a meeting stressing to local historians the need to celebrate the critical and or commercial success middle Georgia’s music scene, as it has influence music around the world. Of course, I was rebuffed and accused of being partial. Their responses encapsulate why Georgia African-American history need to be stressed; in music and other areas. Regional African-American history devaluation continues. I realized, especially in the matters of arts, business, civil rights, if there is no intentional effort to memorialize the hardships and achievements of heroes of color in the middle-Georgia region, a treasure trove of history will be lost! 

So yes, the music made in Milledgeville and the surrounding area, had a “sound.” It can be found in the field recordings of inmates created by John Lomax and Huddie “Lead Belly” Ledbetter at the Georgia State Penitentiary in 1934, and the sounds of Gloria Walker and the Chevelles, who sang their soul music all the way to the Apollo Theatre. From the funk of Black Gold” by the Mighty Chevelles to Pep Brown’s smooth delivery, and the blessed voices of the Piney Grove Gospel Singers of Milledgeville. Yes! Milledgeville and the surrounding area have impacted the world in many ways, with music being no exception. The Middle Georgia region was crucial in the formation and evolution of rhythm & blues and soul music. The seminal Georgia artists Little Richard, Ray Charles, Otis Redding, and James Brown would introduce to the world new, exciting sounds, with local juke joints such as the Ebony Lounge, Shadey Rest, and the Do-Drop-In being incubators for some of the greatest musical artists in history, who influenced the course of American music. 

I am proud to announce that on April 18, during the ArtHealthy Festival, GC’s Ina Dillard Russell Library Special Collections department will be one of our vendors, for two reasons;

  1. For a preliminary preview of their “Soul of Georgia” exhibit- The exhibit will touch upon the historical progression of musical forms, from spirituals to gospel and the blues, and rhythm & blues to soul.. and the impact and contributions made by Milledgeville, the surrounding region, and the state of Georgia to these music genres… (The goal is) to generate community awareness of the importance of the historical context that music is made within, while at the same time, educating the community on the talent that sprung from it and how the area was an eye witness to the evolution of music. (T)he exhibit will discuss the Chitlin’ Circuit by locating and highlighting the juke joints of Milledgeville and Baldwin County and discussing their importance in providing an incubator for the artists who influenced the course of R&B, defining what soul music would become. And:
  2. A Music History Harvest Day — Their goal is to stress to the community the importance and value of sharing their stories, pictures and paraphernalia about artists and personalities that assisted in developing “the sound” of middle-Georgia. For those with stories, pictures, and paraphernalia to share:
  • You provide photos, documents, and other our artifacts;
  • They will scan your property and immediately give it back and provide you with a digital scan; or
  • They will record (or set up a time to record) your oral history; then
  • They will ask your permission to use the digital scan for the “Soul of Georgia” exhibit or other projects to be shared with the Digital Library of Georgia.

That’s it. You take the original back home. Listen, February is coming to a close, and I hope the conversation for the importance of a regional African American Cultural Center will not. As I paraphrase a quote from Martin Luther King, it is of utmost importance that our children’s clouds of imagination are free to embrace that, “all things are possible” rather than a future relegated to subservience. Children in the region need to be immersed in the accomplishments of African Americans in middle-Georgia so that they may learn to identify, understand the African American plight. Without community assistance in endeavors like these, this will not happen.

Finally, let me end with this: According to Gateway Macon, Oliver Hardy of Laurel and Hardy fame, is one of Milledgeville’s most popular celebrities. On that same list is a young man named Melvin “Fish Scales” Adams of the group Nappy Roots. He is a product of the public school system made-good. Shouldn’t he be celebrated as such?

It is important to me to also plug the History Harvest Day at Elbethel Baptist Church, March 8, from noon to 2 p.m.., in collaboration with the Georgia College Library. 

 — Gregory Barnes is a local entrepreneur, activist and pastor and is the executive director of CREATE Inc. He can be reached at greg@createwithus.org. Contributer Evan Leavitt is the Library Facilities Manager and point of contact for the “Soul of Georgia” Exhibit Georgia College & State University.

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