Editor’s Journal: What happened to the Georgia Music Hall of Fame is shameful

The museum closed its doors after 15 years due to infighting, a lack of financial support from the state, and a really, really poor location

What happened to the Georgia Music Hall of Fame?
Vintage music memorabilia from the Georgia Music Hall of Fame now sits in storage at the University of Georgia.

Photograph by by Jason Thrasher

A year before the Georgia Music Hall of Fame opened in 1996, I did a signing in Macon for my book Midnight Riders: The Story of the Allman Brothers Band. One of the people in line asked if we could speak privately; he had something he wanted to give to me.

He waited around for an hour until I was finished. Then we were led into a back room at the bookstore. He earnestly told me he had worked at the local coroner’s office in his youth, and was there when Duane Allman died from a motorcycle crash in 1971, at the tender age of 24. He pulled out a yellowed and battered official “Office of the Coroner” envelope. “I’ve had this for years and didn’t know what to do with it,” he said as he handed it to me. “I think you’re the person who should have it.”

I opened the envelope. It contained items that left no doubt about the authenticity of his story. Among them was a worn Gibson heavy-gauge guitar pick. “It was in Duane’s pocket when he died,” the man said.

I reverently held the pick in my hands; for me, it was a holy artifact. It was worn and covered with scratch marks from plucking against guitar strings. It seems a safe assumption that Duane had used it when the band recorded tracks for the Eat a Peach album in the weeks before his death. When I got home, I made sure to play each of my guitars with that pick in the hope that some of its mojo would rub off. Then I gave it to Hewell “Chank” Middleton, who was close friends with both Duane and Gregg Allman and seemed the appropriate person to possess it.

When I went to the Hall of Fame Museum for the first time, I walked up to the Allman Brothers display and half gasped: There it was, Duane’s guitar pick. A plaque noted that Chank had loaned it to the Hall of Fame, and I thought: Yes, what better home for it?

Except it no longer has a home. As detailed in Jerry Grillo’s engrossing story, published in our May 2024 issue, the museum closed its doors after 15 years due to infighting, a lack of financial support from the state, and a really, really poor location.

Every time I stopped by the museum, it was a ghost town. As Grillo reports, state and city officials decided to build the Hall of Fame on the I-16 side of Macon, a highway that leads to Savannah and is one of the loneliest stretches of interstate I’ve ever traveled. The museum hoped to lure in tourists driving on I-75 to and from Florida, but I-75 passes through the other side of Macon, and few people ventured off their chosen path.

There were also political tugs-of-war with folks in Atlanta who hadn’t wanted the museum to be in Macon in the first place. And, as Grillo details, the Hall of Fame, shockingly, had nothing to do with the selection of its inductees. That was determined, in part, by politicians on a state legislative committee.

Seriously? Can you imagine the inductees of the Rock & Roll Hall of Fame in Cleveland being determined by members of the Ohio state legislature? Stupid is as stupid does.

It’s shameful that the Georgia Music Hall of Fame was allowed to have such an ignominious death. It was a beautiful facility, thoughtfully designed and smartly executed. The exhibits were breathtaking, with iconic items that had belonged to Little Richard, James Brown, Ray Charles, Otis Redding, the Allman Brothers, Chet Atkins, Brenda Lee, Jerry Reed, and so many others. To go there was to be awestruck by the breadth of this state’s deep and rich musical history.

It’s inexcusable that the Hall of Fame hasn’t been reestablished somewhere else, like Atlanta or Athens. All of those glorious and holy artifacts are now hidden away in cardboard boxes in storage at UGA, rather than being on public display with the regal splendor they deserve.

I suppose Duane Allman’s guitar pick is now stashed away in one of those boxes, if it’s not lost (which tends to happen with guitar picks). Hey, guys, can I have that back?

Read the full story: What Happened to the Georgia Music Hall of Fame?

This article appears in our May 2024 issue.