Originally created 09/22/96

State-Funded Museum Highlight's Georgia's Musical Heritage



MACON, Ga. (AP) - Step into the new Georgia Music Hall of Fame and you enter a perpetual music festival. A world of vivid neon signs, glitzy costumes and busy soda jerks is punctuated by the frenetic singing of Little Richard, the sophisticated picking of Chet Atkins and the inspirational songs of Wendy Bagwell.

The Hall of Fame, built with $6.6 million in state funds, is a pet project of Gov. Zell Miller, who has wanted a state music museum for years. One of his books, "They Heard Georgia Singing," was re-issued to coincide with the museum's opening Sunday.

"This is a dream come true," Miller said. "This is going to be one of the great tourist attractions of this state. It's going to give us a chance to showcase our stars and our rich musical history to the world."

Sixty-three Georgia musicians, ranging from Duane Allman, leader of the Allman Brothers Band, to Robert Shaw, music director emeritus and conductor laureate of the Atlanta Symphony Orchestra, have been inducted into the Hall of Fame.

Others include Little Richard, the '50s rock 'n' roll star who wrote "Tutti-Frutti" while working as a dishwasher in the Macon bus station; Ray Charles, the world-renowned rhythm and blues singer from Albany; and Fiddlin' John Carson, who cut the first successful country music record in Atlanta in 1922.

The museum has thousands of artifacts, ranging from the sheet music of singer-songwriter Johnny Mercer of Savannah to a replica of the first hymnal assembled in North America, by Charles and John Wesley in Savannah.

They are displayed in a musical village that features a jazz and swing club, a rhythm and blues review, a country cafe, a rock 'n' roll record store, a gospel chapel, a theater and a '50s-style drug store.

"Georgia is rich in music and rich in talent," said Joseph Johnson, the museum's curator of music and popular culture. "Probably the only state that could rival Georgia for home-grown musicians is Texas."

Strolling through the village on a sidewalk lighted by street lamps and red, blue and yellow neon signs, visitors can browse through Georgia's musical history from Colonial days to the present. The recorded narration in some areas is in the style of a radio disc jockey.

The displays include a sequined dress worn by jazz singer Lena Horne, an Atlanta native; one of Ray Charles' concert jackets; a baby-blue Wayne Cochran jump suit; a record company mixing board and an assortment of guitars made by Gretsch, a Savannah based company.

CD players mounted at strategic locations play the music of featured artists, and the chapel has a video highlighting Georgia's contributions to gospel music. Thomas Dorsey of Villa Rica is credited with creating the first modern gospel music by combining religious and popular styles. He wrote more than 1,000 songs, including some of today's standards.

The three-story, 43,000-square-foot museum is among nine projects, including the $269 million World Congress Center in Atlanta, that the state has backed to attract tourists and prime the economic pump.

Among them is an $8.4 million Sports Hall of Fame, which will be located about a block from the Music Hall of Fame in the heart of Macon's revitalized historic district.

Conceived as a $10 million project, the music museum has received grants and donations of more than $2.2 million, including $475,000 for children's exhibits. The city of Macon provided the land.