The warmly lit room of the Lyndon House Arts Center was crammed full with people of all ages with some lining the walls and spilling out into the hallway on Thursday, Jan. 9 for the African American Music Heritage in Athens: an Evening of Presentations.
“I can still see some spots open,” said program supervisor Didi Dunphy as she encouraged the standing members of the crowd to have a seat.
The event was hosted by the Lyndon House Arts Center and the Athens Cultural Affairs Commission and featured speakers Gregory Hull, Art Rosenbaum, and Mary Helen Hoque, who took a deep dive into the contributions of African American music to the local history as well as the different genres and artists that originated in Athens.
The event was held in celebration of the planned Athens Music Walk of Fame, which was approved on the Athens-Clarke County Mayor and Commission’s consent agenda in late 2019. The public art project will circle the Georgia Theatre, 40 Watt Club and Morton Theatre.
According to Jamie Bull a program leader at the Lyndon House, the project will highlight “exceptional musicians” in Athens and is expected to grow in the future.
Gregory Hull, the director of worship and the arts at Hill Chapel Baptist Church, was the first to present. From the beginning Hull roped the crowd into the presentation by asking them to sing a church song in a traditional African American style.
“I make a choir anywhere I go,” Hull said.
Throughout his presentation, Hull mentioned several artists from the past and present including the Hull Family Singers, a group that includes four generations of family members from the Hill Chapel Baptist Church.
A native of Athens, Hull stressed how important is for people to know and recognize the different talents and the diversity that has come from the community.
“It's so rich,” Hull said. “I’m just proud of all of the talent that was born via this town.”
Patrice Green, a special collections librarian at the University of Georgia, found the presentation to be excellent and informative because she doesn't hear a lot about black American folklife or the contributions they have made to Athens’ music history.
“The Athens music scene as [the presenters] mentioned in their presentations didn’t spring up out of nowhere,” Green said, “it's something that African Americans have been involved in since they’ve been here.”
Since he was young, Rosenbaum was fascinated by traditional folk music or music passed down through generations. In 2008 he was awarded a Grammy for Best Historical Album for his music collection “Art of Field Recording Volume I: Fifty Years of Traditional American Music Documented By Art Rosenbaum.”
Rosenbaum, an artist and retired UGA professor, finished off the event by presenting audio recordings of musicians Joe Rakestraw and Neal Pattman who attended and performed at the Smithsonian Folklife Festival.