“Isn’t this wonderful? I think we’re fortunate we were chosen to have it here!”
These were some of the comments floating around the Warren P. Sewell Memorial Library in Bremen during the opening of the Smithsonian’s traveling exhibit, “Georgia Harmonies: Celebrating Georgia Roots Music,” on Saturday.
“I love Joan Baez, and you can’t beat Bob Dylan,” said Ann Crim of Tallapoosa as she admired the folk icons.
Crim was just one of many who turned out at the opening of the exhibit, which was sponsored by the University of West Georgia Center for Public History, the Georgia Humanities Council and the Haralson County Chamber of Commerce.
Saturday’s event began the seventh stop on the Smithsonian’s 12-city travelling exhibition, which began last May in Calhoun and will wrap up in LaGrange in November. The Bremen show will run through March 23.
“I remember going to see Lester Flatt and Earl Scruggs in the 60s at Bowdon Junction when Lee Williams held concerts there,” said a former disc jockey who worked with Williams at the former WWCC radio station, co-owned then by Harold Shedd of Bremen, who became an iconic Nashville music producer.
Shedd was the keynote speaker at the exhibit’s opening, paying tribute to friends who are part of local roots music and to those who helped his personal rise to prominence.
“We took a ’41 Buick to Arkansas to explore the world of bluegrass music,” recalled Shedd, who named several local musicians among his early companions: Earl Rabun, Hugh Pointer, Harold McWhorter, J.W. Worthan, Willie Williams and Aldean Mathis. “Lee Williams was the guru of music promotion. That was the heyday of Buck and Lonnie Glosson and Wayne Rainey.” Glosson and Rainey sang together in the 1950s on WCKY, Cincinnati, which had a huge following in Georgia.
“In a business which has a 95 percent failure rate, I am fortunate to have had links to people that led me to Nashville,” Shedd said.
As a record producer, Shedd was instrumental in the careers of such stars as Johnny Cash, Louise Mandrel, Kentucky Headhunters, Mel Tillis, Toby Keith, Billy Ray Cyrus and Alabama, who had 21 consecutive No. 1 hits, a Nashville record.
Shedd praised Randall Redding of Mill Town Music Hall during the ceremony.
“What Randall has done here is remarkable, groundbreaking.”
Redding has been largely responsible for encouraging roots music at the local venue, which is working toward housing Shedd’s memorabilia in a gallery at Mill Town.
The Smithsonian display is interactive, allowing visitors to play spoons, the washboard and the “Diddley Bow,” a single-string semblance of a guitar. Visitors can also listen to the Grand Ole Opry on an old-timey radio, as well as listen to blues and “Negro spirituals.” There are also displays that trace the roots of “shaped note singing” and the “sacred harp,” southern gospel, string bands, bluegrass and country music.
“I enjoyed the rural roots display about Blind Lemon Jefferson,” said Gail White of Douglasville.
Jefferson (1893-1929) was one of the first great black rural blues singers, according to the display.
Artwork by local kindergarten through 8th grade students was also on display, featuring paintings of musical instruments, such as the guitar, banjo, fiddle and piano.
A ribbon cutting by Shedd, Redding, Mayor Sharon Sewell, Georgia Humanities Council President Jamil Zainaldin, UWG College of Arts and Humanities Dean Dr. Randy Hendricks, and Dr. Keith Hebert and Dr. Ann McCleary of the UWG Center for Public History officially opened the exhibition. Refreshments and a bluegrass concert followed at the First United Methodist Church. The concert featured local bands Bullsboro and Americana Express.
Other local sponsors of the exhibition are Bremen City Schools, Bremen Heritage House, Callie’s Alley and West Georgia Technical College.