Honoring a Musical Pioneer – the Roland Hayes Museum at the Harris Arts Center
I’m a student of history. Whenever I travel through towns, small and large, I like to spend a few hours learning about the unique history and cultural legacy of the area.
A friend of mine in Gordon County, Georgia suggested I visit the Roland Hayes Museum at the Harris Arts Center. It was an educational, and entertaining, way to learn about this musical pioneer.
Roland Hayes was born in 1887 in Curryville, Georgia. Roland’s parents were tenant farmers on land where his mother had once been a slave. As a young boy, Roland became immersed in traditional gospel music and learned them at the feet of church elders. His life was transformed when he heard a recording of Enrico Caruso. From that time forward, Roland created new arrangements of the timeless songs, touring churches and performance halls around the country.
In 1932, his sold-out performance at the prestigious Hollywood Bowl in Los Angeles was instrumental in exposing traditional gospel music to a broader audience. Newspaper accounts noted of his popularity outside of the United States, where his talent transcended language barriers. For instance, Hayes sang gospel songs for Russian workers and peasants that “moved his audience to tears” despite them not understanding English.
Hayes was posthumously recognized (he died at age 89 in 1977) for his trailblazing talent by being inducted into the Georgia Music Hall of Fame. In 1995, an official State Historic Marker was placed in his honor at the Calhoun Civic Auditorium.
The Harris Arts Center, located in Calhoun, GA, created a small museum dedicated to this musical pioneer. The museum features photographs, papers, and memorabilia dedicated to telling Roland’s story and his triumph in bringing traditional gospel music to a global audience.
I called ahead to get a guided tour, which gave me extraordinary insight into his live, his music, and his legacy. As a teacher, I appreciate that school groups are welcome and that teacher guides are available. This museum is a complete and thoughtful look at a uniquely talented man.
The Harris Arts Center
During my visit I learned about the Harris Arts Center, which houses the Roland Hayes Museum. The Arts Center is in the old Rooker Hotel, built in 1935. To save the treasured building from destruction, the Rooker was transformed into a celebration of the arts as the headquarters of the Arts Council.
The Harris Arts Center opened in 2000 as a 10,000 square foot facility featuring an art studio, a dance studio, a visual arts gallery, music classrooms, and the Roland Hayes Museum. An expansion in 2003 doubled the size of the center, adding the 225 seat Ratner Theatre and additional gallery space.
The Harris Arts Center is an exciting, vibrant home to the Calhoun Community Chorus, the Calhoun Little Theatre, music guild and visual arts guild. It is also a source of inspiration and education, with classes in dance, music, and visual arts offered to children and adults.
The Harris Arts Center is a great place to learn, create, and grow. The Roland Hayes Museum offers an authentic and inspirational look at a singularly talented man, while offering access to unparalleled educational opportunities and experiences.
My journey through small-town America was greatly enriched by this stop in Gordon County, Georgia. When you are looking for education, inspiration, and enrichment, stop by the Harris Arts Center and get your fill.
The Harris Arts Center
212 South Wall Street
Calhoun, GA 30701