LaFayette Haynes has had a song in his heart for most of his life.
He started spinning records for dances at old Ballard-Hudson High School when he was 16 years old, and he later took his records with him to high school gyms and fraternity parties all over the state.
He remembers when Little Richard was a nobody in the music industry, driving around town in an old, beat-up car, and when Otis Redding used to drop by his great-aunt’s house for a taste of her peas and collards. She lived on East Thomas Street, and they tore the place down to make way for the Macon Coliseum.
LaFayette grew up emulating one of his local heroes on the radio, Hamp “King Bee” Swain. His stepfather, a man named Zeter Slappy, helped him buy some DJ equipment, and LaFayette later paid him back.
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He would pretend he was on the radio, playing bootleg copies of records from an open upstairs window and broadcasting to everyone within earshot of the neighborhoods around Fort Hill.
He worked as a bellhop at the Holiday Inn until April 1967, when he opened his own record store on Cotton Avenue behind City Hall, across from where Capricorn Studios would open its doors two years later.
He called it LaFayette Records. That same year, he walked over to the studios of WIBB and was hired as a DJ. He became a legend among the black disc jockeys in an era when they were often as popular as the artists whose songs they played. He picked up the nickname “Laughing” LaFayette Haynes because he was always happy when the “on air” sign was glowing.
LaFayette now spends and spins his days at Old School Records on Second Street. He opens the door at 9 a.m. six days a week, and stays until the last customer closes the door behind him.
He turned 68 last month, with no signs of slowing down on the turntable of life.
“People tell me if I didn’t come down here to work every day, I would probably die,” he said.
The store is small, and the aisles are narrow, with vinyl records stacked high on every table. There are 33-rpm albums of Stevie Wonder and The Temptations and a row of 45-rpm records against one wall. There are boxes of 8-tracks and cassettes, too. Folks drop by to get their fix of Chuck Berry, James Brown and Marvin Gaye.
“I have customers who have been with me since the beginning,” he said. “They’ve grown old with me.”
Some folks still call him Laughing LaFayette, but he won’t be laughing much Sunday. It’s a sad day for the Macon music scene he has been part of for almost a half a century.
The Georgia Music Hall of Fame will turn off the lights for the last time Sunday afternoon.
June 12, 2011. The day the music died.
LaFayette remembers when it opened 15 years ago, on Sept. 22, 1996, a month after the Summer Olympics came through Atlanta.
There was a lot of fanfare. Little Richard came back for the dedication. The 43,000-square-foot facility provided the first bookend for the city’s museum district. The Georgia Sports Hall of Fame -- the largest state sports museum in the nation -- would open for business a block away three years later.
“I was excited about the music hall of fame,” LaFayette said. “It was a great thing for Macon. I wanted it here, and thought people from everywhere were going to come see it.”
That never happened. The museum, for a number of reasons, failed to attract, generate and maintain a level of local and statewide interest and enthusiasm. The tour buses didn’t touch bumpers in the parking lot, as some predicted. The locals went once or twice and never went back. Some never went at all.
There were times when it all seemed to be one giant waste of space. I always wondered if it might have worked if we had developed something like a Music Row in Nashville, Tenn., or Beale Street in Memphis, Tenn. Make it a destination, with lots of other entertainment options, and give folks a reason to never want to leave.
By virtue of Macon’s rich musical heritage, the hall certainly belonged here, deserved to be nurtured here, and a band of solid citizens and elected officials gave it their best shot to try and keep it here.
“I don’t know if it was the economy, ... if people just don’t have the money or just don’t care,” said LaFayette. “It’s a sad day. I wish it would stay, but I don’t see it making it anywhere else, either.”
Laughing LaFayette will still keep bringing music to his tiny record shop. He will stock it, play it, share it and sell it.
Eight blocks away, they’ll begin scattering everything that has been collected under one roof to other places. It’s like separating siblings from the same family and sending them to different foster homes.
“It doesn’t seem like this could be happening,” LaFayette said. “But it’s real. And, when it’s gone, we’re sure going to miss it.”