Located 75 miles south of Atlanta on I-75, Macon, Ga. likes to call itself the “Song & Soul of the South.” It’s a deserved moniker given the fact that Macon has long been a center of pop music history and African-American culture.
Rock ’n roll pioneer Little Richard Penniman is a Macon native. Macon officials allege that the rhythms for his legendary songs such as “Tutti-Frutti,” “Long Tall Sally,” “Lucille” and “Good Golly Miss Molly” came from hearing the trains roar past him as he worked as a cook in a local restaurant, the Tic Toc Room.
James Brown, who grew up in Augusta, Ga., recorded his first national hit, “Please, Please, Please” at a recording studio in downtown Macon.
But there’s little doubt the soul legend the city is most proud of is the late Otis Redding, who tragically lost his life in a plane crash in Madison, Wisc. at the age of 26. A bronze statue of Otis greets visitors at the entrance to Gateway Park, located on the banks of Ocmulgee River. His daughter, Karla, is in charge of the Big O Foundation, which provides funding for musical education. Big O’s office on Cotton Avenue also serves as a de facto Otis Redding museum where visitors can see videos, listen to his music, and understand why he is charter member of the Rock & Roll Hall of Fame.
Speaking of Rock & Roll Hall of Fame inductees, the Allman Brothers Band was discovered by Macon music impresario and Capricorn Records founder Phil Walden. The Allman Brothers Museum, also known as the Big House, houses all of their recordings, concert posters — including many of their New York appearances, especially those at the Beacon Theatre, where the band has had more performances than any other musical act — and rare photos.
The Allman Brothers Band founder, the late Duane Allman, worked as a dishwasher and short order cook at the H&H Restaurant, which is owned by “Mama Louise” Hudson. Even in the dreaded days of segregation, everyone in Macon found their way to the H&H to enjoy Mama Louise’s grits, barbecue ribs, collard greens, peach cobbler, and other delicacies. Mama Louise is still running the restaurant and can be found there almost every day.
The Tubman Museum, which will be moving to larger quarters next year, showcases artwork by black artists. Its highlight is its lengthy mural of prominent African-Americans from the 17th century right up until today.
The Douglass Theatre has just celebrated its 90th anniversary. In its heyday, the Douglass was home to plays and concerts as well as talent shows. The Douglass was also the first place where both Little Richard and Otis Redding performed publicly.
The Georgia Sports Hall of Fame is the Peach State’s answer to Cooperstown. This spacious new building honors the best athletes to come out of Georgia. Among the inductees of note to New Yorkers are former Knicks guard and current MSG Network sportscaster Walt Frazier (who is not referred to by his nickname “Clyde” here) and the late Donn Clendenon, who was a key part of the 1969 Miracle Mets and was named the MVP of the 1969 World Series.
Macon has several fine dining options. The city’s best known restaurant is the Downtown Grill, which is renowned for its steaks. It is here where Gregg Allman proposed to Cher in 1975. Thankfully the Downtown has lasted longer than their marriage. Another popular choice is the Rookery, which is known for its free range-chicken tenders and bison burgers.
There is no shortage of inexpensive lodging options in the area. The Homewood Suites in North Macon, located right off I-75, has spacious rooms, an outdoor pool, plentiful free parking, and a complimentary hot and cold breakfast buffet. It is also just an hour’s drive from Atlanta-Hartsfield International Airport.
For more information, contact the Macon Visitors’ Bureau at 1 (800) 768-3401 or log onto maconga.org.