The seventh production of “Tales of the Altamaha” at the Blue Marquee Theater in Lyons, Ga. was another huge success. The “Tales” based on the writings of T. Ross Sharpe, a native-born Toombs County attorney who grew up on the Altamaha River, portray life on the Altamaha around the turn of the century.
Playwright Laurie Jo Upchurch and the cast of the Tales of The Altamaha do a tremendous job of capturing the spirit of those times on the Altamaha. I knew “Colonel” T. Ross Sharp personally and he was a good friend of my dad. Somehow, across the years he acquired the title “Colonel”. However, T. Ross was never a “Colonel”. During the American Civil War when southern lawyers joined the Confederate Military, they were automatically given the rank of colonel—a title that often stuck with them for the rest of their lives.
T. Ross was an astute university-educated lawyer who, having grown up on the Altamaha, was well acquainted with the folkways and temperament of his peers and neighbors. His eloquent skills as an attorney allowed him to manipulate the mentality of the people to his advantage in the courtroom and made him one of the most widely known defense attorneys in Georgia. His writing of the “Tales of the Altamaha”, which he did with exceptional literary skill, came in the evening years of his career. Some of T. Ross Sharpe’s antics would probably not be suitable for presentation in “Tales from the Altamaha”. Moreover, a lot of the tales from the Altamaha, he did not write.
On Tuesday night, the Blue Marquee Theater had a standing-room-only crowd. People were chatting anxiously. There was excitement in the air. Hundreds of people were present to see this show that has become one of the biggest events in Georgia.
B. J. and I took my sister, Flo, with us. She has not missed a show since the “Tales” began. She, too, knew T. Ross and his family, as they were neighbors in Lyons, Ga. Their families often socialized together. T. Ross and the Sharpe family were some of her favorite people in years gone by.
Soon, the tempo began to pick up as the River Rat Band and Laurie Jo began picking and singing some lively music. There are some great musicians and singers in the cast of the “Tales”. Their skills and talents put the hit production over the top. B. J.’s cousin Glen Outler is a member of this noted band. Diane McBride lifted our spirits with her singing and acting. Lovely Laurie Jo was over the moon with her acting and singing. She brought the house down with her renditions of some of the great country classics. My favorite was “Country Road take Me Home”.
I could particularly relate to the part in the show about “singing schools” since my dad was one of those “singing professors”. Dad graduated from Adger M. Pace’s School of Music in 1914. Adger M. Pace, a native of Eastman, Ga., studied music at the London Conservatory of Music and returned to Georgia to become one of the main progenitors of what we know today as “Gospel Music” which has risen to great heights in the music world.
Adger M. Pace was appalled at the lack of music skills in country churches so he undertook to train musically inclined people to teach “singing schools” in these local churches where people could not afford long, drawn-out expensive music studies. The belief was that by using the “Rudiments of Music” with shape notes, a perceptive “singing professor” could instill enough basic skills in a congregation in two intensive study weeks to give them a good working knowledge of singing.
My dad taught singing schools in churches in south Georgia for years. He taught many people to learn to recognize and sing notes that they would have never learned otherwise. Well-liked singers such as the Statlers, the Jordanaires, the Oak Ridge Boys, the Chuckwagon Gang, the LeFevres, and more recently, the Gaithers and a lot more, early on came under the influence of these “Singing Professors”. I even went to some of my dad’s singing schools.
Also of keen interest to me were the references in the “Tales” to Thomas Edward Watson September 5, 1856 - September 26, 1922. He was generally known as Tom Watson and was one of the most outspoken and celebrated southern political leaders of his day. He was born in Thomson, Ga., the county seat of McDuffie County. After attending Mercer University, he became a schoolteacher. At Mercer University, Watson was part of the prestigious Georgia Psi Chapter of Sigma Alpha Epsilon Fraternity. Watson later studied law and was admitted to the Georgia Bar in 1875. He joined the Democratic Party and in 1882 was elected to the Georgia Legislature and in 1920 to the U. S. Senate. There is a bronze likeness of Tom Watson on the Capitol Grounds in Atlanta, Ga.
Yep, the “Tales from the Altamaha” was another hit this year. I am looking forward to being there next year.