Roland Hayes (1887-1977)
The tenor Roland Hayes was the first African American man to win international fame as a concert performer. Hayes was born in Curryville, near Calhoun in Gordon County, on June 3, 1887, to Fanny and William Hayes, who were former slaves. When Hayes was eleven his father died, and his mother moved the family to Chattanooga, Tennessee.
Hayes then moved to Louisville, Kentucky, where he found a job singing at a silent movie theater. He had to sing offstage so that people could hear his voice but not see his skin color. While Hayes was in Louisville, the president of Fisk University invited him to be the lead tenor for the Fisk Jubilee Singers' tour in Boston, Massachusetts. He accepted the invitation, and the trip changed his life.
In 1920 Hayes performed his first European concert in London, England.
Hayes married Helen A. Mann, and they had a daughter, Afrika. Hayes and his wife maintained residences in Brookline, Massachusetts, and in Curryville, Georgia, where they owned a 600-acre farm. Hayes's mother had been a slave on the farm, and Hayes had been born there.
An unfortunate racial incident involving Hayes's family occurred in Rome, Georgia, in July 1942 and made national newspaper headlines. After Hayes's wife and daughter sat in a whites-only area of a shoe store, they were thrown out of the store. Hayes later confronted the store clerk, and he and his wife were arrested by the local police. Hayes was also beaten. About a week later, in response to the incident, Governor Eugene Talmadge warned blacks who didn't agree with segregation "to stay out of Georgia." Talmadge promised, "We are going to keep the Jim Crow laws and protect them." Although Hayes claimed that he was not bitter, he and his family left Georgia not long afterward and eventually sold their farm in 1948.
In 1962 Hayes gave a concert at Carnegie Hall to celebrate his seventy-fifth birthday and raise funds for the American Missionary Association College Centennials Fund. He spent his later years encouraging young musicians by serving as a mentor, giving freely of his talent, time, and financial resources to help them. He also taught at Boston University and received many honorary doctoral degrees and numerous awards,
In 1991 the Georgia Music Hall of Fame inducted Hayes posthumously. In 1995 the Georgia Department of Natural Resources erected an official historic marker in Hayes's honor in Calhoun. The city of Calhoun chose to place the marker on property adjacent to the Calhoun Civic Auditorium because Hayes had performed in the old auditorium that had once stood there. The site is now designated as the Roland Hayes Park, and State Highway 156 West in Calhoun is named the Roland Hayes Parkway. In 2000 the Roland Hayes Museum opened in the Harris Arts Center in Calhoun, where concerts are held annually in his honor.
"Beaten in Georgia, Says Roland Hayes: Negro Singer Asserts He and Wife Were Put in Cell after a Store Dispute," New York Times, July 17, 1942.
Robert C. Hayden, Singing for All People: Roland Hayes, A Biography (1989; reprint, Boston, Mass.: Select Publications, 1995).
MacKinley Helm, Angel Mo' and Her Son, Roland Hayes (Boston, Mass.: Little, Brown, 1942).
Alan Rich, "A Bouncy Seventy-Five: Roland Hayes, Despite His Age, Gives Concerts, Teaches and Reminisces," New York Times, June 3, 1962.
Charles Walston, "Twenty-Minute Standing Ovation," Atlanta Constitution, June 7, 1992.
Joanne M. Owens, Calhoun
A project of the Georgia Humanities Council, in partnership with the University of Georgia Press, the University System of Georgia/GALILEO, and the Office of the Governor.