Exhibit brings music to life at National Archives

By Joel Hall


Musicians whose work has made people laugh, cry, think, or change are often immortalized through art. The Art and Music exhibit, which premieres today at the National Archives Southeast Region in Morrow, illustrates how famous and regular people alike are all touched in some way by the federal government.

The exhibit, a first-of-its-kind collaboration between Arts Clayton and the National Archives, features musically-themed two- and three-dimensional artwork by Georgia artists alongside actual draft cards, court records, census records, and other documents attached to famous musicians. The exhibit will be on public display at the National Archives until April 30.

"It shows that the federal laws and mandates apply to everybody," said Jim McSweeney, regional administrator of the National Archives. "Typically, when you think of Frank Sinatra, Louis Armstrong, and Duke Ellington, the last place you would think you would find them is at the National Archives, but they're here.

"There are a lot of personal, family stories here," he said. "We wanted to do something to attract the regular citizen. We thought music had a universal appeal."

Near the entrance of the exhibit are the official 1930 U.S. Census entries of Benny Goodman, John Coltrane, and Dizzy Gillespie. Each entry contains information including the number of dependents in their household, their occupation, and whether or not they owned a radio.

Spread throughout the exhibit are the draft cards of James Brown, Elvis Presley, Otis Redding, Ronnie Van Zant of Lynyrd Skynyrd, and others. There is a picture of Bob Dylan and Joan Baez in their early 20s playing at the 1963 March on Washington, where Martin Luther King, Jr., gave his famous "I Have a Dream" speech.

The exhibit also shows musicians caught up in the legal system. Documentation from a Pensacola, Fla., lawsuit shows Cole Porter suing a cafeteria for unwarranted use of his songs "I Love Paris" and "A Wonderful Guy." A Macon, Ga., court record shows testimony given by Gregg Allman of the Allman Brothers Band which help send his road manager Scooter Herring to prison for 75 years for selling drugs.

Visitors will also get to learn about and listen to the music of rural Georgia from the 20th Century. A collection of sacred harp, banjo, and fiddle tunes collected by the University of West Georgia will play in the background while visitors walk through the exhibit.

In addition to historical information and photographs, the exhibit includes music-inspired art spanning the mediums of oil on canvas, sculpture, and photography. All of the art on display will also be on sale, with the proceeds benefiting the artists and Arts Clayton.

Karen Powers, Arts Clayton gallery manager, said the collaboration provides something "new and different."

"This is a rare opportunity to see fine art paired with educational and historic information," she said. "I have never put anything together or seen anything like this exhibit. My hope is that this will bring a lot of exposure to the National Archives because it is one of the jewels of Clayton County and the Southern Crescent."

The National Archives Southeast Region is located at 5780 Jonesboro Road in Morrow and is open Tuesday through Saturday, from 8:30 a.m., to 5:30 p.m. For more information, call (770) 968-2100.