Georgia‘s musical history is diverse and substantial; the state’s musicians include Southern rap groups such as Outkast and Goodie Mob, as well as a wide variety of rock, pop, blues, and country artists such as Ray Charles, Otis Redding, James Brown, and
The state’s official music museum is the
Georgia Music Hall of Fame, located in Macon, Georgia from 1996 until it closed in 2011.
Colleges such as the University of Georgia and Columbus State University have extensive music departments.
Georgia’s folk musical traditions include important contributions to the
shape note singing, and
African American folk music
The “ring shout” is an African American musical and dance tradition that is among the oldest surviving African American performance styles in North America.
The ring shout tradition is rare in the modern Southern United States , but it still found in McIntosh County, Georgia, where black communities have kept the style alive. The McIntosh County ring shout is a counterclockwise ring dance featuring clapping and stick-beating percussion with call-and-response vocals. The ring shout tradition is strongest in Boldon, Georgia (also known as Briar Patch), where it is traditionally performed on New Year’s Eve.
The Georgia Sea Island Singers are an important group in modern African American folk music in Georgia. They perform worldwide the Gullah/Geechee music of the Georgia coast and Sea Islands, and have been touring since the early 1900s; the folklorist and musicologist Alan Lomax discovered the Singers on a 1959-60 collecting trip and helped to bring their music to new audiences. The Georgia Sea Island Singers have included Bessie Jones, Emma Ramsey, John Davis, Mayble Hillery, and Peter Davis.
Fife and drum blues has been documented in west central Georgia.
The Freedom Singers are a group that formed in 1962 in Albany to educate communities about issues related to the Civil Rights Movement through song.
Multi-instrumentalist Abner Jay, born in Fitzgerald, performed eccentric blues-infused folk music as a one-man band.
The Sacred Harp, first published in 1844, was compiled and produced by Georgians Benjamin Franklin White and Elisha J. King. They helped establish a singing tradition also known as Sacred Harp, fasola, or shape note singing. The Sacred Harp system use notes represented by different shapes according to scale degree, intended to make it easy for people to learn to sight-read music and perform complex pieces without a lot of training. Established in 1933, the Sacred Harp Publishing Company, located in Carrollton, Georgia, publishes the most widely used 1991 edition of The Sacred Harp. Hugh McGraw of Bremen, Georgia, served as the company’s executive secretary from 1958–2002 and helped encourage Sacred Harp’s recent resurgence in popularity. A Georgia-based music label, Bibletone Records, has reissued a 28-cut CD of Sacred Harp music originally released as LPs by the publishing company.
American folk music revival
Folksinger/songwriter Hedy West, active in the American folk music revival and famous for her song “500 Miles“, was born in Cartersville.
On June 14, 1923, the country music recording industry was launched in Atlanta when Fiddlin’ John Carson made his first phonograph record for Okeh Records Company representative Polk C. Brockman. Carson’s recordings of “The Little Old Log Cabin in the Lane” and “The Old Hen Cackled and the Rooster’s Going to Crow” sold over 500,0000 copies and opened the eyes of record company executives to the market for “old-time” country music. Along with Carson, Gid Tanner and His Skillet Lickers and Georgia Yellow Hammers made Atlanta and North Georgia an early center of old-time string band music.
In the 1960s, guitarist Chet Atkins, born in Luttrell, Tennessee but raised in Hamilton, Georgia, drew on jazz and pop music to help create the smoother country music style known as the Nashville Sound, expanding country music’s appeal to adult pop fans. Country music superstars Alan Jackson, Trisha Yearwood, and Travis Tritt are natives of Georgia. Other successful country music acts from Georgia include Norman Blake, Jerry Reed, Brenda Lee (who had a #1 Hot 100 hit with “I’m Sorry” in 1960), Billy Currington, Cyndi Thomson, Jennifer Nettles of Sugarland, Daryle Singletary, Doug Stone, John Berry, Rhett Akins, Mark Wills, the Zac Brown Band, and Lady Antebellum, as well as up and coming stars Jason Aldean, Brantley Gilbert, Luke Bryan, Thomas Rhett, Cole Swindell (attended Georgia Southern University, Kip Moore, Lauren Alaina, and Jessie James. Other notable country musicians from Georgia include Corey Smith (graduated from UGA) and Tabby Crabb from Sumter Co., who worked with the original Urban Cowboy Band, Randy Howard, Hank Cochran, Keith Urban, and many others in Nashville. Georgia country music superstars with a #1 album on the Billboard 200 chart include Atlanta-area musicians Alan Jackson with 3 #1 albums like Drive in 2002, and Zac Brown Band with 3 like You Get What You Give in 2010 (Zac Brown attended the University of West Georgia); Jason Aldean with 4 consecutive #1 albums like the country rock Night Train in 2012 to 2018, Luke Bryan (from south Georgia, he attended Georgia Southern University) with 3 like Crash My Party in 2013, Thomas Rhett with Life Changes in 2017, and Sugarland with 2 #1 albums like The Incredible Machine in 2010.
Ma Rainey, from Columbus, was among the earliest professional blues singers and one of the first generation of such singers to record.
Piedmont blues artist Blind Willie McTell was born in Thomson.
Country blues singer and guitarist Peg Leg Howell was born in Eatonton.
Singer Ida Cox was from Toccoa.
Singer and guitarist Kokomo Arnold was born in Lovejoy’s Station.
Singer Lucille Hegamin was born in Macon.
Singer Trixie Smith was born in Atlanta.
Blues pianists from Georgia include
Thomas A. Dorsey, born in Villa Rica,
Big Maceo Merriweather, born in Atlanta,
Barbeque Bob was from Walnut Grove.
Singer and guitarist Curley Weaver was born in Covington.
Charley Lincoln was born in Lithonia.
Harmonicist Eddie Mapp was born in Social Circle.
Harmonicist Sonny Terry was born in Greesboro.
Buddy Moss was born in Jewell.
Singer and guitarist Blind Simmie Dooley was born in Hartwell.
Songwriter and one-man band Jesse Fuller was born in Jonesboro.
Bumble Bee Slim was born in Brunswick.
Country blues artist Precious Bryant was born in Talbot County.
Jump blues singer and musician Billy Wright was born in Atlanta.
Singer and guitarist Robert Cray was born in Columbus..
Singer and guitarist Cecil Barfield was born in Bronwood.
Big band swing bandleader and pianist Fletcher Henderson and his younger brother arranger Horace Henderson were born in Cuthbert.
Stride pianist and composer Mary Lou Williams,
avant-garde jazz alto saxophonist Marion Brown, and
singer Jean Carne were born in Atlanta.
Big band bandleader and trumpet player Harry James was born in Albany.
Bebop saxophonist James Moody,
hard bop saxophonist
Sahib Shihab, and
singer Irene Reid were born in Savannah.
Trombonist J.C. Higginbotham was born in Social Circle.
Tenor saxophonist and arranger Teddy McRae was born in Waycross.
George Adams was born in Covington.
Singer Joe Williams was born in Cordele.
Bebop saxophonist for Miles Davis and The Jazz Messengers, Hank Mobley was born in Eastman.
Jazz bassist Jimmy Garrison who performed with John Coltrane, Alice Coltrane, and Ornette Coleman was born in Americus.
Rhythm and blues
Augusta native James Brown and Macon native Little Richard “The Architect of Rock and Roll” started performing in Georgia clubs on the Chitlin’ Circuit, fused gospel with blues and boogie-woogie to lay the foundations for rock & roll and soul music, and rank among the most iconic musicians of the 20th century.
Ray Charles was also born in Georgia; Charles helped to invent the soul genre by borrowing elements of rhythm and blues, country, jazz, gospel, and blues. Ray Charles (d. 2004) had 3 #1 hits on the Billboard Hot 100, including “Georgia on My Mind” in 1960 (which is the official state song of Georgia). Ray Charles won another Grammy for Album of the Year for his 2004 Genius Loves Company.
Atlanta native Chuck Willis was a blues, R&B, and rock and roll singer and songwriter active from 1950-58. In the 1960s,
Atlanta native Gladys Knight proved one of the most popular Motown recording artists
Otis Redding, born in the small town of Dawson but raised in Macon, defined the grittier Southern soul sound of Memphis-based Stax Records.
Gladys Knight “The Empress of Soul” had a #1 hit on the Billboard Hot 100 with “Midnight Train to Georgia” in 1973.
Otis Redding (d. 1967, buried near Macon) had a #1 hit on the Hot 100 with “(Sittin’ on) the Dock of the Bay” in 1968.
The earliest Atlanta-based music maven, Bill Lowery, started the careers of Ray Stevens, Joe South, Jerry Reed, and countless others, and created the first Georgia-based springboard for such talent, National Recording Corporation, sporting not only a record label, but a recording studio and pressing plant. Lowery would later work with the likes of Billy Joe Royal, Mac Davis, Dennis Yost & The Classics IV, and The Atlanta Rhythm Section, giving Atlanta national relevance with his Lowery Music group of publishing companies, one of the world’s biggest music publishers. Noted session and touring drummer, Michael Huey, started his career at Bill Lowery studios.
Tommy Roe, from Atlanta, had 2 #1 Hot 100 hits, including “Dizzy” in 1969.
The Allman Brothers Band, founded in Jacksonville, Florida, moved to Macon at the urging of their manager, Phil Walden, who had previously managed Otis Redding. The Allman Brothers had a #2 hit on the Billboard Hot 100 with “Ramblin’ Man” in 1973. Their album Brothers and Sisters went to #1 on the Billboard 200. Gregg Allman (d. 2017), his brother Duane Allman (d. 1971), and Berry Oakley (d. 1972) are buried in Macon. Walden’s Macon-based Capricorn Records, spearheaded the rise of Southern rock, and the success of the Allman Brothers paved the way for other Southern rock bands, including
South Carolina-based Marshall Tucker Band and
Lynyrd Skynyrd, also founded in Jacksonville.
Georgia has also produced a number of Southern rock groups throughout the last three decades, including
Black Crowes (who had a #1 album on the Billboard 200 in 1992),
Confederate Railroad, and
The city of Athens, Georgia, home to the University of Georgia, has been a fertile field for alternative rock bands since the late 1970s. Notable bands from Athens include
The B-52’s (had a #4 Billboard 200 album with Cosmic Thing in 1989,
Fred Schneider attended the University of Georgia),
Cartel, Of Montreal, and
Athens is also home to the Elephant 6 Recording Company, an indie collective whose members include The Apples in Stereo and Neutral Milk Hotel. R.E.M. had 2 #1 albums on the Billboard 200, including Out of Time in 1991. R.E.M. had 6 #1 songs on the Alternative Songs chart in the late 80s and 90s.
Michael Stipe attended the University of Georgia.
Acoustic rock/folk duo the Indigo Girls got their start in Decatur (they both attended Emory University in Atlanta
Collective Soul (had 7 #1 songs on the Mainstream Rock chart in the 90s) and
September Hase began in Stockbridge and Tifton, respectively.
Rock pianist Elton John spends some time living in Atlanta
singer-songwriter John Mayer (“Why Georgia“) lived in Atlanta after dropping out of the Berklee School of Music in 1998.
Indie rock and hard rock band Manchester Orchestra had a #13 album on the Billboard 200 in 2014 with Cope.
Georgia has contributed to the ska scene with the bands Treephort, 50:50 Shot, and The Taj Motel Trio.
Ska punk has seen a recent revival in Georgia with the regional ska festival, the Mass Ska Raid, taking place for the first time in 2008.
Along with Louisiana and the rest of the Southern area, there is a strong heavy metal music scene in Georgia
Mastodon (had a #6 album on the Billboard 200 in 2014),
Thrash metal band Tetrarch are from Atlanta.
Neon Christ are a notable band from the Atlanta Hardcore scene.
Several Christian rock musicians have come out of Georgia, including
Amy Grant, who was born in Augusta,
Third Day (Had a #6 album on the Billboard 200 in 2008),
Casting Crowns (Had 2 #2 albums on the Billboard 200, like in 2007),
Bebo Norman, and
Cat Power (Chan Marshall) was born in Atlanta and got her start there.
The 2000s saw the rise of Atlanta indie rock bands
Pop rock singer songwriter Phillip Phillips, who won the eleventh season of American Idol in 2012, was born in Albany. He had a #4 album on the Billboard 200 in 2012.
Atlanta hosts the annual 2-day Music Midtown festival since 1994 (Atlanta’s Collective Soul played there in 2000 and 2017, Atlanta’s Manchester Orchestra played there in 2011, Atlanta’s Ludacris performed there in 2001 and 2012), Shaky Beats Music Festival (an EDM festival since 2016) and Shaky Knees Music Festival (a 3-day rock festival since 2013), and hosted the Tommorowworld EDM music festival from 2013-15. Atlanta also hosts the SweetWater 420 Fest each April at Centennial Olympic Park. There was the Atlanta International Pop Festival (1970) with Macon’s The Allman Brothers Band.
Atlanta-based OutKast proved one of the first commercially successful hip hop groups from outside of New York or Los Angeles. In the 1990s and 2000s, Atlanta became the leading center of urban music. Artists like Lloyd (had a #2 album on Billboard 200 in 2007), T.I., TLC (Left Eye is buried in Lithonia, GA), Monica, Usher, 112, Ludacris (attended Georgia State University), YoungBloodZ, OutKast, Goodie Mob (Gnarls Barkley with CeeLo Green had a #4 album on Billboard 200 in 2006) (as well as the Dungeon Family music collective which both are members of) and producers like Organized Noize, L.A. Reid, and Jermaine Dupri “Welcome to Atlanta“, the latter of whom founded the successful record labels LaFace and SoSo Def, have blurred musical boundaries by blending R&B singing with Hip-Hop production. More recently, Atlanta is also known as a center of crunk music, an electric bass-driven club music whose most visible practitioner has been Atlanta-based producer/hype man/rapper Lil Jon.
Kris Kross– (“Jump” in 1992), TLC 4 #1s on the Billboard Hot 100- (“Waterfalls” in 1995, and 2 #2 songs like “Baby-Baby-Baby” in ’92), Silk (group)– (“Freak Me“), Monica 3 #1s (like “Angel of Mine“), Usher (9 #1s), Outkast 3 #1s, Ludacris from College Park 5 #1s- (“Stand Up“), Ciara– (“Goodies“), D4L– (“Laffy Taffy“; Shawty Lo died in ’16), T.I. “The King of the South” from Bankhead 3 #1s- (“Whatever You Like“), Soulja Boy– (“Crank That (Soulja Boy)“), B.o.B.– (“Nothin’ on You“), Migos from Lawrenceville- (“Bad and Boujee“), and Childish Gambino-(“This Is America” in 2018) all had a #1 single on the Billboard Hot 100 from the early 90s to 2018. Also, rappers Lil Jon and Young Jeezy were featured on Usher’s #1 Hot 100 singles: “Yeah!” in 2004 and “Love in this Club” in 2008. Usher also had 4 consecutive #1 albums on the Billboard 200 from Confessions in 2004 to Looking 4 Myself. The R&B group 112 were featured on Puff Daddy’s #1 Hot 100 song “I’ll Be Missing You” in 1997. Rapper Yung Joc was featured on T-Pain’s #1 Hot 100 song “Buy U a Drank“. R&B singer Sleepy Brown from Savannah was featured on Outkast’s #1 Hot 100 song “The Way You Move” in 2004. In addition, Atlanta rapper 2 Chainz had a #1 album on the Billboard 200 in 2012: Based on a T.R.U. Story. And ATL rapper Future has had 6 consecutive #1 albums on the Billboard 200 including the trap music album DS2 in 2015. 21 Savage from DeKalb County had a #1 album in 2019.
Additional notable musicians from Georgia include: “What Kind of Fool (Do You Think I Am)” from 1964 by R&B group The Tams, “Take Your Time (Do It Right)” ’80 by Post-disco group The S.O.S. Band, “Mr. Wendal” ’92 by Arrested Development (group), “Whoomp! (There It Is)” ’93 by hip hop and Miami bass duo Tag Team, “My Boo” ’96 by R&B and Miami bass group Ghost Town DJs, “Da’ Dip” ’97 by hip hop and Miami bass rapper Freak Nasty, “Bring It All to Me” ’99 by R&B girl group Blaque, “Where the Party At” ’01 by hip hop soul group Jagged Edge, “Don’t Mess with My Man” ’02 by R&B singer Nivea from Savannah, “Georgia” ’05 by Southern hip hop group Field Mob, “Watch Me (Whip/Nae Nae)” by Silento in 2015, “Crush” ’98 by pop singer Jennifer Paige, “Lullaby” ’98 by pop rock singer Shawn Mullins, “Crazy for This Girl” 2000 by pop rock twin brothers Evan and Jaron, “People Are Crazy” ’09 by country singer Billy Currington from Savannah, Hey! Album “Freak of the Week” ’98 by pop rock band Marvelous 3 (with Butch Walker), “Not an Angel” ’07 by Post-hardcore band City Sleeps, “Bartender Song (Sittin’ at a Bar)” ’08 by rap rock and country rock group Rehab, Sugar “Giving It All Away” 2010 by psychedelic rock band Dead Confederate from Augusta, and Southern Gothic “Felicia” from 2010 by psychedelic rock and hip hop band The Constellations.
Modernist composer Wallingford Riegger was born in Albany. Singer/composer Roland Hayes was born in Curryville. Opera singer Mattiwilda Dobbs was born in Atlanta. Opera singer Jessye Norman is native to Augusta. Opera singer Jamie Barton is from Rome, GA. Composer/arranger Hall Johnson was born in Athens. Composer Lena McLin was born in Atlanta. Famous music director Robert Shaw spent much of his time living in Atlanta directing the Atlanta Symphony Orchestra and Chorus.
Notable Georgian classical groups include the Atlanta Symphony Orchestra, the Atlanta Chamber Players, the Atlanta Symphony Chorus, Atlanta Opera, the Georgia Boy Choir, the Atlanta Boy Choir, Georgia Symphony Orchestra, New Trinity Baroque, the Atlanta Symphony Youth Orchestra, Atlanta Ballet, and the Gwinnett Ballet Theatre, as well as symphonies in the cities of Columbus, Macon, Augusta, and Savannah.
The Great American Songbook
Lyricist Johnny Mercer, whose works include the Academy Award-winning song “On the Atchison, Topeka and the Santa Fe” and other entries in the Great American Songbook of pop music (like “Moon River“) standards, is a native of Savannah and buried there. Mercer co-founded Capitol Records.