Beyond Graceland: American Singers and Their Small Town Roots
Elvis Presley wasn't the only star from a small town. Read on for other towns that pay homage to their American legends.
Photo By: Augusta Convention and Visitors Bureau
Photo By: MCT
Photo By: Jeff Greenberg
Photo By: Georgia Department of Economic Development
Photo By: Jeff Greenberg
Photo By: Ronald Martinez
Photo By: Winchester-Frederick County Convention and Visitors Bureau
Photo By: West Tennessee Delta Heritage Center
Photo By: Raymond Boyd
Photo By: Raymond Boyd
James Brown, Augusta, GA
Augusta, Georgia may win the prize for its hometown efforts to honor the “Godfather of Soul.” For example, while many towns erect statues, Augusta went a step further by equipping its James Brown statue with a camera that takes your picture, then sends it to the Greater Augusta Arts Council site. Over at the Augusta Museum of History is a comprehensive exhibit on Brown’s life, including costumes, concert footage and personal photos. Elsewhere around town, the Soul Bar hosts regular tributes and cover artists. On the food scene, grab the new Godfather of Stout (a habanero milk stout) this winter at the Riverwatch Brewery. Or channel Brown by eating his favorite dishes at TBonz Steakhouse — while sitting in his booth. And be sure to keep an eye out for murals painted on electricity boxes (pictured).
Gregg Allman, Otis Redding and Little Richard, Macon, GA
Legendary Southern rock frontman Gregg Allman of the Allman Brothers Band didn’t grow up in Macon, but he and the band lived there for a few years in what’s dubbed The Big House, now a destination museum (pictured). Here you can find tons of memorabilia, from instruments and hand-written lyrics to photos and clothes. Pop over to H&H Soul Food Restaurant, where the band were once regulars. Visit Rose Hill Cemetery, where Gregg Allman, (along with his brother Duane and band mate Berry Oakley) are buried, with Rock Candy Tours. The tour also points out photo shoot locations for album covers. But Macon isn’t just known for the Allman Brothers. Otis Redding grew up here, and you can visit his life-size bronze statue in Gateway Park, plus a tiny museum at the Otis Redding Foundation. And last, but by no means least, Little Richard is also from Macon, and you can still check out the Macon Auditorium where he got his start at 14.
Hank Williams, Georgiana and Montgomery, AL
Hank Williams is considered one of the first stars of country music, churning out hit after hit until his untimely death at just 29. But you can still visit the Hank Williams Boyhood Home & Museum (pictured), where he lived for four years. It’s filled with original photos, paintings, instruments and newspaper clippings, along with modern-day tributes. Over in Montgomery, Alabama, you can also visit the larger Hank Williams Museum, a 6,000-square-foot space filled with his awards, clothes, horse saddle and more. In fact, the museum even has the 1952 blue Cadillac where he spent his final hours.
Ray Charles, Albany, GA
Musical genius Ray Charles pioneered soul music, and his hometown of Albany, Georgia created a fitting tribute with a next-level statue. Anchoring Ray Charles Plaza, the life-size sculpture of Charles eternally plays a grand piano on a rotating pedestal. But that’s not all. There’s also a performance aspect that coordinates his music with a water feature.
Dolly Parton, Sevierville, TN
There’s a lot happening in the country music star’s hometown of Sevierville, Tennessee. A bronze statue of her turned 30 this year, and the town has been celebrating this fact with ongoing Parton-inspired events. Although Dolly’s Homecoming Parade and Mountain Soul Vocal Competition have passed, you can still catch a special exhibit on her statue through the end of the year.
Buddy Holly, Lubbock, TX
Though Buddy Holly died at just 22 in a tragic plane crash (along with Ritchie Valens and The Big Bopper) his legacy lives on in his hometown at the Buddy Holly Center. The small museum maintains a collection of artifacts (his record collection, guitars) and presents a short video about his life. You can also tour the neighboring house, which used to belong to one of Holly’s bandmates. There’s also a Buddy Holly statue across the street on Crickets Avenue — named after Buddy Holly’s band.
Patsy Cline, Winchester, VA
Country singer Patsy Cline is another performer who died much too young at the age of 30, and, like Buddy Holly, also in a plane crash. Known as the first solo woman to be inducted into the Country Music Hall of Fame, her hometown of Winchester, Virginia, never forgot her, and fans can still visit the Patsy Cline Historic House where she lived from 1948-53. Take note that it’s closed in winter, but will be reopening in April. Fans can also visit Granny’s for fried chicken, just like Cline did. For even more, the Winchester-Frederick County Visitors Center offers a year-round exhibit, “Becoming Patsy Cline,” while the town holds an annual Patsy Cline music festival/block party.
Tina Turner, Brownsville, TN
Once upon a time the eight-time Grammy winner was called Anna Mae Bullock, and attended class in a one-room schoolhouse. Today that schoolhouse is the Tina Turner Museum, (part of the West Tennessee Delta Heritage Center), and Tina Turner herself contributed its contents, down to the display cases. In addition to her costumes and awards, fans can even view her high school yearbook (normally many people’s worst fear). Don’t miss the annual Tina Turner Heritage Days, held this year from Sept. 21-23 by the West Tennessee Delta Heritage Center.
Willie Nelson, Abbott, TX and Nashville, TN
Even though the Willie Nelson and Friends Museum is in Nashville, you can still learn about Willie Nelson’s roots in Abbott, Texas. You can also gape at the wall lined with his gold, platinum and silver records; his customized pool table; and the original guitar he used while debuting at the Grand Ole Opry in 1963.
Chuck Berry, St. Louis, MO
Chuck Berry’s hometown of St. Louis pays proper homage to the rock and roll legend. You’ll find his statue across from famed Blueberry Hill, where he regularly performed for almost 20 years. You can still catch a show while enjoying its famous burgers, but the true highlight for Berry fans is that the restaurant claims to own the largest collection of Berry memorabilia in the world — including his iconic Gibson-350T guitar.