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Kenny Leon

In his eleven years as the Alliance Theatre’s artistic director, Leon pushed its subscribers beyond the safe, feel-good fuzzies of Driving Miss Daisy—the longest-running play there before he took over in 1990—to multiethnic stagings of bold dramas, comedies, and musicals, including the groundbreaking first run of the Elton John–composed Aida. Overall subscriptions may have dropped during that period, but nonwhite subscribers rose from 3 percent to 20 percent, and by his tenure’s end, the Clark Atlanta alum had beefed up the Alliance’s endowment and brought the theater national prominence. He left the Alliance in 2001 and in 2003 started True Colors Theatre Company to stage plays by minorities of all kinds. His commitment to diversity caught the eye of Broadway, and he began commuting to the Great White Way for his 2004 Tony-winning revival of A Raisin in the Sun. Last year the Vinings resident and avid golfer received a Tony Award nomination for best director for his revival of August Wilson’s Fences, starring Denzel Washington. He’s lately moved behind the camera to direct episodes of ABC’s Private Practice. Next up: directing Halle Berry’s Broadway debut in the MLK-themed The Mountaintop.

Robert Shaw

When he arrived as musical director of the Atlanta Symphony Orchestra in 1967, Shaw set out to turn Atlanta’s part-time orchestra into a full-time one. He added thirty-three players and founded the symphony’s chamber and orchestra choruses. A micromanager, Shaw coaxed nuance from each syllable and, taking cues from his minister father, lectured his singers on the spiritual depths of text. His insistence on performances that mingled Bach, Mozart, and Beethoven with avant-garde twentieth-century composers rankled ASO board members, who tried to oust him in 1972. (An outcry from ticket holders, who said they’d subscribe only if Shaw conducted, changed their minds.) Shaw’s direction earned the orchestra six Grammy Awards before he retired in 1988—plus nine more Grammys for his subsequent recordings as music director emeritus and conductor laureate, a post he held until he died of a stroke while visiting his son at Yale.

Fay Gold

Through her eponymous gallery, opened in 1980, Gold brought blue-chip contemporary artists such as Cindy Sherman and Jean-Michel Basquiat to Atlanta and guided regional artists such as Radcliffe Bailey, Zoe Hersey, and Rana Rochat to national prominence. The art doyenne suffered a blow last year with the loss of husband Donald. But this irrepressibly hip grandma—who has counted bad-boy artist Robert Mapplethorpe among her buds—carries on. Hard at work on her autobiography, Basquiat’s Cat, Gold just wrapped a buying trip to NYC’s Armory Show. She’ll also be leading an art tour of Berlin this fall. Gold may be out of the gallery racket she imprinted with her épater la bourgeoisie moxie, but she’ll never be out of art.
John Portman

50 Most Influential Atlantans: John Portman

With futuristic vision and unfettered ambition, John Portman shaped the Downtown Atlanta skyline. The Georgia Tech architecture grad dreamed up the second-tallest hotel in the western hemisphere, the cylindrical Westin Peachtree Plaza.

Jimmy Carter

No matter your opinion of Carter’s four years in the White House, there’s no denying his imprint on the city of Atlanta.

Coretta Scott King

Her husband grew up in the heart of Auburn Avenue, the center of black America. She grew up on a cotton farm in rural Alabama. That made all the difference.

Joseph Lowery

Lowery, a Presidential Medal of Freedom recipient, is nothing if not outspoken.

Manuel Maloof

Maloof was the blustery barkeep who established a beer-soaked bunker for Atlanta’s Democratic establishment while he carved out his own political career governing the formerly Republican enclave of DeKalb County.

Jesse Hill

Jesse Hill had his finger in every pie during the civil rights era, from the AUC student sit-ins to the election of Maynard Jackson.

Bill Lucas

Bill Lucas died too young to be remembered for accomplishments in terms of records. Still, he had lived long enough for Florida A&M football coach Jake Gaither to gather his emotions and call Lucas “one of God’s great men.”

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