Beginning in February in Haralson County, more than a dozen concerts and singings will help celebrate the music indigenous to the west Georgia area. “New Harmonies” is part of Museum on Main Street, a collaboration between the Smithsonian Institution and state humanities councils nationwide. Support for Museum on Main Street has been provided by the U. S. Congress.
The actual exhibit will be on display at the Warren P. Sewell Library in Bremen Feb. 9 through March 23.
The highlight and focus of the exhibit will be on Georgia’s unique musical traditions and how roots music has touched and shaped many Georgia communities. According to Dr. Keith Hebert, a University of West Georgia history professor, co-director of the university’s Center of Public History, and coordinator the Bremen leg of the tour, roots music is “the baseline for the development of American music. All music that has developed in America originated from the roots music examined in (the New Harmonies) exhibit.”
The different types of music that are part of the exhibit are numerous and varied: Native American, sacred, string bands, bluegrass, country, Southern rock, traveling shows, the blues, folk, work and protest, and the “new traditions” music introduced by Georgia’s immigrant population.
“New Harmonies” strives to preserve and explore these roots, and Ann McCleary plays a big role in their effort. McCleary is the state scholar for the program, a UWG history professor and co-director of the university’s Center of Public History.
“Every state is required to engage a scholar to help generate the regional humanities content for the exhibit,” McCleary said. “Through the Center for Public History, we have helped work with all of the communities to develop program and exhibit ideas and to assist with marketing. We researched and wrote the ‘Georgia Harmonies’ catalog, a 24-page publication about Georgia roots music. And we created much of the content for the website. Over the past year, graduate research assistant Sarah Foreman and I have been traveling to all of the communities across the state to provide additional guidance and support.”
From the research and work done by scholars like McCleary and Hebert, as well as staff from the Smithsonian and the Georgia Humanities Council, the “New Harmonies” exhibit was created. Of the 30 Georgia communities who applied to host the exhibit, only 12 were chosen through a competitive selection process. The city of Bremen was among those 12.
The city plans to be an accommodating host, as multiple concerts and music events will be hosted at Mill Town Music Hall, schools, and surrounding churches in the area from Feb. 1 through March 24 – many with free admission.
Bremen itself has a unique musical history and tradition that made it an ideal stop for the “New Harmonies” tour. Notably, Bremen is the home of Hugh McGraw, an influential figure in the world of sacred harp music. Each year, the region hosts several Sacred Harp singings, including one every November at the Holly Springs Primitive Baptist Church in Bremen.
“We are delighted to welcome the world, so to speak, to Bremen,” said Bremen Mayor Sharon Sewell. “This is a tremendous opportunity to showcase our music heritage in partnership with the great Smithsonian. It is also a great opportunity for our people to reconnect with our history and reclaim it, as well as exhibit the current music abilities that are core to the west Georgia area. As we display our music, we also have the opportunity to share our town with hundreds of visitors to the west Georgia area. We are most honored to have been chosen to be the site for this event.”
“New Harmonies: Celebrating American Roots Music” has been made possible in the west Georgia area by the Georgia Humanities Council in partnership with the Atlanta Symphony Orchestra, the Center for Public History at the University of West Georgia, and the Georgia Department of Economic Development.
Katie Allen Ross, contributing reporter for West Georgia Living magazine, contributed to the article.