Theres more to December than Christmas when you come from Macon.
Dec. 10, 1967, was a day that will never be forgotten. For the Reddings, the Waldens and just about anyone who loved Otis Redding, it was among the darkest of Decembers. When news arrived that Reddings plane had crashed, and that at 26 years old, Reddings life was over, many wondered how soul music would survive without him. But here we are, 45 years later, loving and listening to the same classic, incomparable music by Redding, which lives on even without him -- and with no other ever like him.
Weve all heard Reddings joyful, jingling version Merry Christmas, Baby. But a personal favorite of mine, one that can make you weep with joy, gladness and even sadness is his version of White Christmas. Hear his trademark plea on May your days, may your days be merry and bright, and listen to his honesty, passion and the sincere rawness in his voice.
I remember six years ago when the Godfather of Soul slipped away on Christmas Day after battling complications from pneumonia. Augusta may claim him, but we reserve the right to share him since James Brown got his first big break on WIBB radio while living in Macon full-time. His original Christmas classic, Santa Claus, Go Straight to the Ghetto is another personal favorite, a reminder of often forgotten parts of town, where another big star, like Brown, could one day emerge.
As for the one who inspired and blazed a path for Redding and Brown, on Dec. 5, 1932, Richard Wayne Penniman entered this world to ram-shackled beginnings as the third of 12 children, born to a bootlegging father and a deeply religious mother. Growing up in Macons Pleasant Hill neighborhood, it was obvious Penniman skipped to a different beat. He found that calling at the Macon City Auditorium, where, as a young lad, he was pulled onto the stage by guitar-toting gospel superstar Sister Rosetta Tharpe.
From there on, his fate was solidified -- he was, and would always be, an entertainer. He went on to be the next big thing to come out of Macon. With something as simple and complex as Wop-bop-a-loo-bop, Little Richard Peniman changed American music and became the worlds Architect of Rock n Roll.
This year, we celebrate Little Richards 80th birthday. Macons living historic figure and most colorful ambassador -- who loudly and proudly proclaimed he was from Macon, no matter who was asking -- received some special well-wishes from his hometown. One of the most touching came from a group of Vineville Academy school children who sent him a moving and grooving video dance tribute (check it out on YouTube). And local businesses, encouraged by musicologist Ben Sandifer, collected birthday cards. I cant find a Christmas carol by Little Richard. So, instead of a song suggestion, lets dedicate one to him. How about For Hes a Jolly Good Fellow? After all, nobody can deny: Macon wouldnt be the same without him. Happy birthday, Sir Penniman.
Jessica Walden is the director of communications for the College Hill Alliance and co-operator of Rock Candy Tours. You can reach her at 955-5997 or email@example.com.