Arts and Culture

As dictated by Mr. Eddie Lewis

 big_bopper2

This story takes place between 1950 and 1965. It centers on the role music played in the arts and culture of Swainsboro in my youth. My mother, Doris Lewis, worked at the Radio Station WJAT for 44 years, it was really the only job she ever had outside helping my father out at his business. I worked there, too, along with my 4 sisters. My sisters helped out as receptionists, my mother was the Bookkeeper, and I helped by selling concessions during the events held at the Nancy Auditorium. Even though the station WJAT had been named for Jack A. Thompson, the local DJ’s often said it stood for “Welcome Just Any Time”.

 

There were two main events held at the Nancy Auditorium: Home of WJAT. The first was the Record Hop which took place on Fridays at first and later happened on Fridays and Saturdays. The Record Hop was when WJAT would play the newest 45’s at the Nancy Auditorium on Moring Street and people would come from all over to listen and dance. The second event was the Peach State Jamboree, which took place on Saturdays. The Jamboree was hosted by WJAT Manager Johnnie Bailes ( as in the Grand Ole’ Opry’s Bailes Brothers). During this time, Mr. Thompson sold the station to Mr. Webb Pierce and Mr. Jim Denny. Mr. Pierce also owned Cedarwood Publishing which booked shows for the Grand Ole’ Opry. Mr. Pierce must have had some sort of arrangement where if he booked a group for the Opry then they had to also play the Nancy Auditorium in Swainsboro. Even the biggest names in County and lorettalynnWestern music played shows on Saturday nights in Swainsboro.

 

A short list of the performers I recall from that time are Loretta Lynn, Ferlin Husky, The Big Bopper, Bill Anderson, Merle Haggard, Lester Flat and Earl Scruggs, Jerry Clower, Minnie Pearl, Jim Ed Brown, Roy Acuff, Ray Price, Brenda Lee, Webb Pierce, Jerry Lee Lewis, Mel Tillis, The Lewis Family and Ernest Tubb. Hank Williams Jr. played his first concert, at age 8, singing “Lovesick Blues” during the Peach Tree Jamboree on March 22, 1958. It’s said that Elvis Presley wanted to play the Peach Tree for $50 but was turned down because he was too controversial. The crowds for the events were so large, between 1000 and 2000 people, that they had three full time officers out there: Joe Brown Hall, Tar Bucket Braswell, and George Woods. I remember meeting singers like Minnie Pearl when their show was over. I also remember the portrait of Mr. Pierce that hung on the wall as you first walked in the door.

 

The performers stayed at one of a few places when they came to Swainsboro: The Sisco Motel, Durden Hotel, The John C. Coleman Hotel, and the People’s Hotel. WJAT also did live broadcast from Sam’s Drive Inn on Sunday afternoons and all night Gospel Sing-percy-sledgealongs once a month. While the Peach State Jamboree was going on at the Nancy Auditorium, there would often be performances at the North Auditorium on Gumlog where performers like Percy Sledge and James Brown played. Mr. Webb Pierce in his lifetime had 96 singles, 54 Top Ten songs and 13 No.1 singles. I remember when he rode in the Pine Tree Festival in a car that had a saddle between the seats and door handles made of pistols. In 1959, a Nashville singer named Clyde Beaver moved to Swainsboro to become a disc jockey for WJAT. I remember once when President Eisenhower visited Augusta, GA to play golf, Mr. Beaver rode a mule from Swainsboro to Augusta with a Pine Seedling from the Pine Tree Festival to give to the President. I don’t know the President got it or not.