Macon is a diverse city with a surprisingly rich cultural history. Many Mercerians, unfortunately, do not know much about this history. This may be because they are unfamiliar with the area, or they could be new freshmen who are fearful of crossing the bridge into Macon. Even if you are afraid to venture into Macon, there are a few people from its history that you should be aware of.
The most obvious Maconite a Mercerian should recognize would likely be Mercer’s very own alumna, Nancy Grace. Grace is a former prosecutor turned television host and a self-proclaimed proponent of victims’ rights. She is a polarizing figure whose comments in the media have won her as much praise as they have condemnation. Did you know that she was born and raised in Macon? She studied English at Mercer and intended on being an English professor. It was not until the murder of her fiancé, Keith Griffin that she went to law school. She has been the host of multiple television shows and has never been one to hide her opinion on a subject. This quality has led her to be a notable media personality.
Most people think that the Allman Brothers Band were from Macon, but this is not entirely true. Greg and Duane Allman originally formed the band in Jacksonville. They did operate from Macon for quite some time though. This was due to their signing with Macon’s Capricorn Records label. Despite the fact that The Allman Brothers Band are now known as one of the most influential rock bands of all time, their early work with Capricorn was not productive. It was not until the release of their “Live at Fillmore East” album that they became a hit. “Live at Fillmore East” is considered to be one of the greatest live albums ever recorded, and the version of their song “Whipping Post” from the album is also considered to be one of the greatest songs in rock history. It was during their involvement with Capricorn that they were based from Macon in The Big House. The Big House was where they would stay while in town and have other artists visit the area. It is now the official Allman Brothers Museum and is well worth visiting.
Richard Wayne Penniman is better known by his stage name, Little Richard. That’s right; Macon was the birthplace of the man that most people believe invented rock and roll, the music genre that defined a century. Think about that for a moment, our humble city produced the man who would go on to inspire countless other performers and contribute to the creation of one of the largest genres of music. It is difficult to even imagine the numerous accomplishments that can be credited to Little Richard. His frantic piano style and raspy vocals set him apart from any major artist that came before him. That, coupled with his charismatic performances, led him to becoming one of the first real music idols. Without him, there would most likely not have been an Elvis Presley or a Michael Jackson. His impact is definitely still around today.
Little Richard inspired another Maconite to pursue a career in music: Otis Redding. If Little Richard created rock and roll, Otis Redding perfected soul. Redding was born in Dawson, Georgia but moved to Macon at age three. His family struggled so Redding eventually quit school to help provide for the family. Through it all, Redding nurtured a love for music. He credited Little Richard as an inspiration for his love of music. Eventually Redding would get his big break by performing with Little Richard’s backup band. Redding went on to become one of the most acclaimed performers in history. His career never slowed before his tragic death in the plane crash that killed most of his band. He was 24 years old. “Dock of the Bay” was recorded just three days before the crash and was released after his death. It was the first posthumous album to reach number one on both the Billboard Hot 100 and R&B charts.
Much of Macon’s music history is due to the existence of Capricorn Records, which went under in the late 1970’s due to financial problems. Co-founder Phil Walden personally knew and aided singers like Redding and the Allman Brothers before and after the dissolution of his label. He went on to be the agent for Lynyrd Skynyrd and various other musicians. He even gave various actors their starts, such as Billy Bob Thornton. It could be said that Phil Walden was one of the most important people to ever live in this town. Without him, groups like the Allman Brothers probably would never have achieved the success that they did.
Now you see that Macon isn’t such a scary place after all. It has a wondrous and rich cultural history that is well worth exploring.