Ge­or­gia on my mind in Nashville

The Covington News - - Education - Clif­ford Brew­ton

Ge­or­gia was re­ally on my mind in Nashville, Tenn., when Rachael, my wife, and I had the priv­i­lege of trav­el­ing once again to the home of coun­try mu­sic. And to my dear friends up North and out west who have the idea that we can never leave Ge­or­gia, I’ll say: “We made it as far as Nashville.”

But even in Nashville we found a whole lot of Ge­or­gia, and that’s why I say, Ge­or­gia was on my mind in Nashville.

The big thing is the Ry­man Au­di­to­rium. And it might be prop­erly named the “Sam Jones Au­di­to­rium.” The Ry­man Au­di­to­rium was born dur­ing a tent re­vival in the 1880s, when the Methodist evan­ge­list, Sa­muel Porter Jones, was preach­ing. The Ge­or­gia preacher was ac­claimed at that time as “the great­est evan­ge­list in the world.”

In 1885, Nashville was the host city to a re­vival cam­paign led by Sam Jones. The meet­ings were held in a tent seat­ing eight thou­sand peo­ple. Jones de­nounced the liquor traf­fic with mas­ter­pieces in word paint­ing. Over­flow crowds at­tended.

At­tend­ing one evening, was Thomas Green Ry­man, a river­boat cap­tain and owner of one of the big­gest saloons in town as well as sev­eral steamships, which nav­i­gated the Cum­ber­land River, all of which sold liquor.

Ry­man had come with sev­eral rowdy com­pan­ions to poke fun, heckle the preacher and dis­rupt the meet­ing.

But, the plan was shat­tered when Ry­man was con­verted.

He de­cided im­me­di­ately to sup­port Jones’ min­istry. He con­ceived the idea of a build­ing to re­place the tent, which could be used to ac­com­mo­date the swelling crowds com­ing to hear the preacher. It was Ry­man’s way to show ap­pre­ci­a­tion.

Ry­man led a cam­paign to raise funds for the build­ing. The task was not too dif­fi­cult, since the meet­ings al­ready held by Sam Jones had re­sulted in over ten thou­sand con­verts and new mem­bers in churches within one hun­dred miles of Nashville.

In 1892, the build­ing was com­pleted and named the Union Gospel Taber­na­cle.

When Tom Ry­man died in 1904, Sam Jones con­ducted a memo­rial ser­vice with an over­flow crowd of four thou­sand. Jones sug­gested chang­ing the name of the taber­na­cle to Ry­man Au­di­to­rium.

Amens were loud and over­whelm­ing in num­ber, and from that day the build­ing bore Ry­man’s name. What’s more, it was called for many years the Jones-Ry­man Au­di­to­rium; it be­came the city’s cen­ter for en­ter­tain­ment and meet­ings, at­tract­ing world-wide fame.

In 1897, the Con­fed­er­ate Vet­er­ans As­so­ci­a­tion held its na­tional con­ven­tion in Nashville, and be­cause of the sen­ti­ment con­nected with Sam Jones’ fa­ther and sev­eral other mem­bers of the fam­ily who fought in the CivilWar, the vet­er­ans col­lected funds and erected the Con­fed­er­ate Gallery.

But the most im­por­tant as­pect of the Sam Jones legacy in Nashville was the mag­nif­i­cent de­vel­op­ment of the Grand Old Opry at the Ry­man.

The Grand Ole Opry is the great­est coun­try mu­sic show in the world; it is the set­ting for the only ra­dio pro­gram in the world that has never had a sum­mer re­place­ment or missed a per­for­mance.

Broad­cast ev­ery Fri­day and Satur­day night on WSM ra­dio, the Opry has the largest cast and plays to the largest au­di­ence of any ra­dio show in the world.

The sig­nif­i­cant thing about the Ry­man, I be­lieve, is the fact that for a pe­riod of thirty-one years, it had its great­est in­flu­ence on Amer­i­can mu­sic, and its place in his­tory will al­ways be the show that launched hun­dreds of ca­reers.

The Opry first started as the WSM Barn Dance in 1925. As larger crowds filled the stu­dio, sev­eral moves re­sulted, and in 1939 the Opry was opened in the War Memo­rial Au­di­to­rium with an ad­mis­sion charge in an ef­fort to keep at­ten­dance down; but it didn’t work, as more peo­ple came. In 1943, to ac­com­mo­date the crowds, the Ry­man be­came its new home, a build­ing which could seat three thou­sand. Most of the seats were filled each Satur­day night. With no air con­di­tion­ing, on a sum­mer night the heat would soar to one hun­dred de­grees.

But the Ry­man be­came the land­mark of coun­try mu­sic, and in 1971, be­cause of its his­tor­i­cal sig­nif­i­cance, it was listed on the Na­tional Reg­is­ter of His­tor­i­cal Places.

As Rachael and I walked through the Ry­man on Sun­day af­ter­noon, we saw many pic­tures of fa­mous singers who had per­formed there.

Then, stand­ing there gaz­ing into the bal­cony, I could al­most hear HankWil­liams whin­ing, “I got a feel­ing called the Blues.”

We walked slowly back to the last pew of the au­di­to­rium and took a seat.

I could imag­ine how it was when the place was packed with peo­ple sit­ting spell­bound as they lis­tened to the pow­er­ful ap­peals of the evan­ge­list from Cartersville, ad­mon­ish­ing them to “quit your mean­ness and fol­low Christ.”

In the 1960s WSM de­cided to move the Opry to a new home and built a $15 mil­lion Grand Ole Opry House ad­ja­cent to Opry­land USA.

The Opry House is equipped with the largest tech­ni­cal fa­cil­i­ties for ra­dio, tele­vi­sion and stage pro­duc­tion and is the largest ra­dio broad­cast stu­dio in the world.

The Ry­man has re­ceived an $8.5 mil­lion re­fur­bish­ing by its owner, Gay­lord En­ter­tain­ment Com­pany, and now tops the list of tourist at­trac­tions in Nashville.

Leav­ing Nashville, I could not help but think of Sam Jones with deep ap­pre­ci­a­tion.

He left his mark on Nashville without ques­tion, but that’s not all; the evan­ge­list also left his mark on New­ton County.

His min­istry— prob­a­bly the first and only in Amer­i­can his­tory — in­spired one com­mu­nity to change the name of their town.

Ac­cord­ing to Kenneth Krakow, in his book, Ge­or­gia Places and Names, New­born was orig­i­nally known as Cross­roads or Sand­town,— set­tled in 1834 by Ru­fus Broome of North Carolina, who be­came the post­mas­ter of the first post of­fice in what was then Jasper County

Sam Jones be­gan his early min­istry as pas­tor of the New­born Methodist Church 1878-79; his dy­namic preach­ing, filled with vivid sto­ries and heart-wrench­ing emo­tional ap­peals, made such an im­pact, that a spir­i­tual re­newal and re­birth was felt in the church and en­tire com­mu­nity.

As a re­sult, the res­i­dents there adopted a new name for their town: New­born— to honor the re­li­gious con­cept of be­ing “born anew” as preached by Sam Jones. On De­cem­ber 15, 1894, New­born was in­cor­po­rated as a town in New­ton County.

Around the turn of the last cen­tury, a new sanc­tu­ary was built. Shortly af­ter­ward, Jones was in­vited to re­turn in 1903 to preach in a se­ries of evan­ge­lis­tic ser­vices and to preach the ded­i­ca­tory ser­mon for the new build­ing. The meet­ings were held in the ar­bor ad­ja­cent to the sanc­tu­ary. At­ten­dance reached up to 800.

Those of us who love Ge­or­gia — and his­tory— must be proud of “a good thing done when its time had come”; and what Sam Jones gave will al­ways be on our minds.

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