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Lisa Love's Soulful Mission for The Georgia Music Hall of Fame

Lisa Love’s Mission To Preserve The Georgia Music Hall of Fame
By James Calemine

My old friend Stanley Booth introduced me to Lisa Love one afternoon in Atlanta during the spring of 1998. I knew from that moment on she was a marvel--a big fan of great art and enduring artists. Later, I wrote for her publication The Georgia Music Magazine. Now Lisa oversees the venerable Georgia Music Hall of Fame. Her instinct always impressed me…

Since 1979, over 100 inductees have been named to the Georgia Music Hall of Fame. Some of the inductees include Otis Redding, Gram Parsons, The Allman Brothers Band, R.E.M., Widespread Panic, James Brown, Blind Willie McTell, Johnny Mercer, Chuck Leavell, Curtis Mayfield, Little Richard and Ray Charles. Located in Macon, Georgia, the indelible organization searches for ways to maintain this cultural reservoir in an anemic economy and Lisa Love intends to preserve Georgia’s music heritage.

Last week I interviewed Lisa, and I wanted her to give folks a clear perspective of why The Hall of Fame’s preservation enriches the State’s cultural history. This represents volume one of Swampland/Mystery And Manners' ongoing dialogue with Lisa Love.

James Calemine: Talk about Macon and why the GMHOF ended up there.

Lisa Love: Macon, Georgia has a distinctive place in America music history. You can easily make a case for Macon having helped birth soul music, rock-n’roll music and Southern Rock. Macon native Little Richard was washing dishing at the bus station and playing local clubs like Miss Ann’s Tick Toc before he burst onto the scene in 1955 and garnered hit after hit for Specialty Records. During the era of the mid-50s and early 60s, Macon was a thriving R&B center and during this period, James Brown also hung out here, working with local musicians and clubowner/agent Clint Brantley. An influential R&B disc jockey in Macon, Hamp “King Bee” Swain actually recorded the first demo of Brown’s “Please, Please, Please” in the studio at WBML radio and that demo soon led to Brown’s deal with King Records. Otis Redding was a part of the Macon scene, too, first performing with Little Richard’s band the Upsetters, then the Pinetoppers with local guitarist Johnny Jenkins. Redding and his manager, another Maconite named Phil Walden, guided his career forward, and although Memphis and Stax Records were central in Redding’s musical evolution, Macon was his heart and soul. After Redding tragically died, Walden co-founded Capricorn Records here, imported the Allman Brothers Band as his first act and with the addition of other artists on the label, including the Marshall Tucker Band and Wet Willie, Macon became the home of Southern Rock. When you look at all of these pioneering achievements, it’s an astounding contribution for one community to have made. It’s a unique and well-recognized heritage that positioned Macon as a natural location for the Georgia Music Hall of Fame.

JC: Talk about the current facility and what makes it special.

LL: The Georgia Music Hall of Fame is a beautiful building located right in the heart of downtown Macon. It’s surrounded by so much diverse history, with the Ocmulgee Indian Mounds just a mile away, the Tubman African American Museum across the street and the Georgia Sports Hall of Fame next door. But for music fans, it’s a cornerstone in an experience that might include a pilgrimage to Rose Hill Cemetery, where Duane Allman and Berry Oakley are buried, or a visit to the Otis Redding statue or a show at the Douglass Theatre, where Redding, Ma Rainey and Cab Calloway once played. It might (and it should!) include a soul food lunch at the H&H, a martini at the Tic Toc or live music at one of the venues downtown like the Hummingbird or the Cox Capitol Theatre. And come Dec. 5, the experience can include a visit to the Allman Brothers Band Museum, housed in the Big House, where most of the band members once lived. So like Memphis and Clarksdale, there’s so much history, but there’s also a vibrant and growing scene going on. 

While the museum has a fantastic collection and some truly incredible artifacts, for me, it’s the stories behind the artists that are so special. I want the Hall of Fame to be a museum that shares stories and not just displays artifacts. I am inspired and moved every day when I think about what poverty and adversity artists like Ray Charles, Brenda Lee, James Brown and so many others overcame to reach their dreams, to impact millions and then to give back so much to their communities. I love the story of Johnny Mercer sending a check to a bank in Savannah almost 30 years after his father declared bankruptcy to clear his debts. I could go on and in detail, story after story, of Georgia artists and when you put them all together, in the context of a “musical community,” it’s a heritage and a cultural asset that I could not be more proud of and more motivated to ensure that the stories are preserved and told for generations to come. But the cool part is, it is an ever-evolving history. Just this morning, I looked at the Billboard Country chart, and I saw that three of the top 5, Lady Antebellum, Luke Bryan and Zac Brown Band, are Georgia-grown (well, the two guys in Lady Antebellum are from Augusta) and I’m just thrilled. Georgia music creates a sense of identity for our state that unfortunately, most locals rarely recognize, which is too bad. I love feeling that as a Georgian, I belong to something that’s really universal and inclusive, which music is.

JC: Do you think alliances with The Big House in Macon or even Capricorn Studios may be in the future?

LL: Without a doubt. I have been a fan and friend of Kirk and Kirsten West for a long time and I will be right there in the front of the line at the Big House on opening day. What they’ve done as private individuals, corralling all these fans from around the world to support the founding of this museum, is amazing. We’ve partnered in the past already, the Hall of Fame helped support the Big House’s Stay and Play in Macon concert series at the Cox Capitol Theatre last year. But more importantly, we all acknowledge that collaboration is the key to our success and to the sustainability of our respective institutions. Kirsten and I are part of a growing group, the Macon Music Alliance, that envisions downtown Macon as an entertainment district and that hopes to solicit and encourage investment in creating a lively music-themed destination that is thriving day and night. Macon is a great place for creative individuals to live and we want to attract more artists and musicians – real estate prices are so affordable, the architecture is fantastic, there’s no traffic, lots of wonderful educational institutions, theatre, Symphony, opera, the Robert McDuffie Center for Strings, just so much, and the more we add live music, festivals and music-related business, the more we can create an economy that not only attracts tourists, but also helps create job opportunities for musicians and artists.

JC: How can people join or donate to the cause?

LL: The mission of the Georgia Music Hall of Fame is to celebrate the state’s rich music heritage through programs of preservation, exhibition, education and performance. Each year, we host special exhibitions, ongoing live music programs for kids, the Otis Redding Singer/Songwriter Camp and more. In addition, we provide support organizations outside of Macon like the Savannah Music Festival, AthFest, Gram Parsons Guitar Pull and many more. Earlier this year, we hosted an exhibition at Stone Mountain and presented music education programs during its Spring Break events. The point I’m trying to make here is that the Georgia Music Hall of Fame is an institution that engages people both in Macon and beyond our bricks-and-mortar. My goal is to grow an awareness of Georgia music that yields benefits for communities, organizations and musicians all over Georgia.

For individuals who want to help the museum achieve its mission, becoming a member is the very best way. Memberships begin at $30 and include annual free admission, store discounts and a subscription to our quarterly magazine, Georgia Music. The magazine is another way we try to expand awareness and promote our legends, landmarks and unsung heroes. You can join online at georgiamusic.org.

 JC: Anything else you’d like readers to know?

LL: As much as I want to encourage people to visit and support the Georgia Music Hall of Fame, I want to just as emphatically encourage support of your local music scene. Go out and see bands, pay the cover charge, buy a CD or a t-shirt, join a band’s Facebook page, buy a book by Stanley Booth or the late Paul Hemphill or Wayne Daniel, advertise in Stomp and Stammer, visit Joni Mabe’s bed and breakfast in Cornelia, buy your tickets now for the Savannah Music Festival, go see Ma Rainey’s house in Columbus, contribute to a local music scholarship, teach someone young how to play a song on guitar – create the community you want to live in and make sure it’s full of music...






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