Thursday, November 25, 2010

Don Byers’ Music Career Leads to Induction into Atlanta Country Music Hall of Fame

Don Byers of Blairsville will experience a highlight of his country music career on November 27 when he is inducted into the Atlanta Country Music Hall of Fame. This signal honor, received two days after celebrating Thanksgiving 2010, will be a time of thanks for him and his family and friends as this country music artist is recognized and honored for significant contributions to the corpus of country music.

William Wordsworth (1770-1850). English poet, penned some words that seem appropriate to the occasion of Don Byers’ honor and recognition:

“Another race hath been, and other palms are won.
Thanks to the human heart by which we live,
Thanks to its tenderness, its joys and fears,
To me the meanest flower that blows can give
Thoughts that do often lie too deep for tears.”
In the composition and performance of some of his country music songs, it seems to this writer that Don Byers has touched on the “tenderness…joys and fears” of the human heart, and has been able to capture in his music “Thoughts that do often lie too deep for tears.” That is one of the characteristics of country music: seeking out the depths of feeling of “the human heart,” and being able to express in both words and music some of the deep-seated emotions of the human condition. Hearty congratulations to this Union County citizen whose talents and productivity in country music are recognized.

Last week’s column saw the beginning of Don Byers’ career even in school years in Union when he was voted “most talented male” in the Class of 1960, Union County High. In his US Army stint, he joined up with others to form “The Strangers,” gaining notable popularity in Japan and in military venues.

Once out of the Army, he returned to Georgia and throughout the mid-sixties he began to play part-time in several Atlanta clubs. By 1970, his Atlanta showings had gone full-time and he joined the music union, appearing in several area nightclubs with the Blue Cockatoo his favorite. He met Tony Romano, a Hollywood stunt-man, actor and singer who assisted Don with recording “It’s Only a Paper World” and “A Few of the Things I Remember.” Both songs were played frequently on radio throughout the southeast.

He met and aligned with a “rockabilly” singer named Buddy Knox. It was Buddy who encouraged Don to take his instrument and introduce his talents to the right people in Music City, USA, Nashville and the famous “Grand Ole Opry.” By 1973 Don Rogers was living on Old Hickory Lake at Nashville in a houseboat, and touring in both the United States and Canada. Some of his musical associates with whom he played were Bobby Bare, Conway Twitty, Larry Gatlin, Del Reeves, Joe Stampley, La Costa and others. It was during this period that he wrote songs and music for Tree Publishing and Roger Miller Music, Next came his association with the Acuff-Rose Publishing Company who put up the necessary investment for studio production with the notable Welden Myrick band.

I asked Don what it was like being in Nashville. He replied, “I was sort of flabbergasted that I made it that far! The music business was run like a country store back then. I could stop on the street and have a chat with my hero Chet Atkins (a very laid-back and humble man), and did so quite often. Several of us hung out at a place called the Burger Boy Drive-In where Waylon Jennings and Tompall Glasser shot the pinball machines…I remember sitting there and jamming for hours with fiddle player Benny Martin. And I was being published by Acuff-Rose, the same folks who published some of my heroes: Hank Williams, Roy Orbison and Mickey Newberry.”

He mentioned, too, the feeling of camaraderie, the air of creativity, of someone sharing a “song gig” in progress, of the fellowship and excitement.

The year 1975 was likewise successful. He was associated with Tom Jennings, brother to the famous Waylon Jennings. They toured in the states and Canada and made their Great Britain debut. Byers says that “It’s Only a Paper World” was received well in Great Britain and had much air play there as well as in the United States. It was while touring Great Britain, Scotland and Ireland that Byers became interested in his family roots and genealogy, seeking out places where his ancestors originated.

By 1980 disco music had become the popular mode. Don Byers returned home, giving time and attention to other interests and especially to family. Although music has always been either a part-time or full-time pursuit, vocationally, Don went to college and studied social work, becoming a social worker for several years. He attributes much of his success to friends Mickey Newbury, songwriter, and Herb White (Georgia Public Broadcasting), both of whom encouraged him in his career. Through their interest, he continued to write songs and music and make recordings. In the 1990’s, he enjoyed sharing the stage with Georgia musicians Larry Jon Wilson and Gove Scrivenor, both with exceptional acoustical talents.

Don Byers playing instrument on lawn of Mock House, Museum Annex
Union County Historical Society, Blairsville, Georgia

When he came to retirement years, he returned with joy to the mountains. He has written Byers and Mauney family histories, served on the Board of the Union County Historical Society, and joined in musical entertainments at the Old Court House and on the lawn of the Mock House Annex. I asked him if he had ever written a song on the theme of our beloved mountains. He has done some on the theme of going home. Among them is the beloved “Blue Ridge Mountain Sunday Morning.”

He and his wife Nami enjoy their home on High View Drive, Blairsville. Their one son, Nick and his wife Jo Helen have two children. Branson, 15, and Olivia, almost 11. Don’s grandchildren attend Woodward Academy in Atlanta. Don expresses justifiable grandfatherly pride in their achievements, both of whom show musical promise. Branson is studying piano and Olivia is studying both piano and violin. Both grandchildren are budding artists. One of Branson’s creations was displayed in the High Museum of Art this year and Olivia, as well, shows great promise in artistic creations. This talent, Don notes, comes from their great grandmother, Japanese artist Mari Ishii.

Our heartiest congratulations are extended to Don Byers upon his reception into the Atlanta Country Music Hall of Fame.

c2010 by Ethelene Dyer Jones; published Nov. 25, 2010 in The Union Sentinel, Blairsville, GA. Reprinted by permission. All rights reserved.

Thursday, November 18, 2010

Country Music Artist Don Byers Tapped for Atlanta Counrty Music Hall of Fame

“Autumn leaves were falling
Down in Adams Park
We sat and watched the river
‘Til it was almost dark
And there were children playing
They never noticed you and me
Down in Adams Park
Where time was always free.”
------cDon Byers (used by permission)

Perhaps you’ve heard “Adams Park” played and sung by country music performers. Maybe you did not know that a Union County born-and-bred artist named Don Byers wrote both the words and the music to the song. Not only “Adams Park,” but many others, among which are “It’s Only a Paper World,” “A Few of the Things I Remember,” “Facing the Music,” “Forgotten Tracks,” “For What It’s Worth,” and “The Troubadour,” to name a few.

Recently Union County’s Don Byers received a letter notifying him of a signal honor coming his way on November 27, 2010. The letter read, in part:

“In recognition of your contributions and achievements in the Music Industry, the Awards Committee and the Executive Board of the Atlanta Country Music Hall of Fame have selected you to be honored at the 29th Annual Awards Celebration to be held at the Holiday Inn Select-Perimeter, 4386 Chamblee-Dunwoody Road, Atlanta, GA 30341 on Saturday, November 27, 2010.”
Established in 1982 by John L. (Johnny) Carson (1933-2010) and Phyllis A. Cole, the Atlanta Country Music Hall of Fame seeks yearly to recognize outstanding persons in the field of country music composition and performance. It is a distinct honor to be tapped for inclusion into the Hall of Fame. Awards have for twenty-nine years been given to many in Georgia who have contributed to this genre and have helped in perpetuation of our country folk ways and culture.

Our hats are off in salute and congratulations to Don Byers who is being recognized for his artistry, talent and dedication to country music. He hails from a long line of Union County people who have contributed much to the upbuilding of our county from early days to the present, and we’re sure, even into the future. He was born in 1943 in Murphy, North Carolina, son of Ralph C. Byers and Alice Mauney Byers. His parents brought Don up in the Ivy Log Community of Union County. Early on, he showed interest in and propensity for playing the guitar. He says of his legacy:

“One of my grandfathers was a fiddler and the other was a banjo player. My neighbor, Billy Burnette, taught me my first guitar chords about 1952 when I was nine. I began writing songs when I was about ten years of age. My country music heroes back then were Hank Williams and Chet Atkins.”
By the time Don Byers was in high school, he was playing for school events and teaming up with classmates to play and sing. He also wrote songs during his school years, but he says the words to most of them have been lost or otherwise not kept for posterity. When he graduated from Union County High School in 1960, he had been named by his peers, “Most Talented Male Student.”

He recalls that he played solo for school events and back-up for various singing groups. He and Patsy Colwell (Davenport Phillips) did duets—Don on guitar and Patsy on piano. His friend, Wendell Patterson and Don, with whom he still plays, were often paired with their stringed instruments arrangements. He remembers that he and Wendell provided musical accompaniment for a vocal group composed of singers Gwen Brown, Anita Collins and Kathleen Garrett. One of the most famous of the high school groups as they entered that momentous year of 1960 was “The Trio” with singers JoNeal Collins, Jackie Lance and Sandra Richards. In 1959, they won first place in the school-wide talent show. Little did those schoolmates/classmates or Don Byers himself realize that the honor would one day be extended to recognize him as a productive and notable member of the Atlanta Country Music Hall of Fame.

Straight out of High School, Don joined the Army. He soon found his niche in service as an entertainer.

Don Byers, US Army, 1961 in Zama, Japan

"The Strangers" Music Group - Japan, 1961
(l-r) Ray Lambright; Don Byers (kneeling); Tom Zawlock (drums); Tom Montgomery

In 1961 he became a member of the rock-and-roll instrumental group known as “The Strangers.” Don is quick to emphasize that his Army group was not the same as the later “Strangers” which featured the Merle Haggard band. At the tender age of 17, and in his army time, he was soon conducting interviews, playing in stage shows, providing music for dances, and otherwise taking his artistry in country music to wherever he happened to be stationed. He was in Japan for a stretch of time and noted that American country music was very popular there. He remembers that wherever “The Strangers” were booked, he often had to sign autographs for fans. That popularity was somewhat foreign to a shy, country-bred lad on his first major thrust out into the vast world of entertainment and meeting people of different cultures. His work in service was with the US Army Security Agency. He did classified work with the Navy and Air Force.

He states that the members of “The Strangers” —(Rockin’) Ray Lambright (Army), Tom (Monty) Montgomery (Navy), Thomas (Ski) Zawlocki (Navy) and himself, Don Byers (Army), who played for military and civilian clubs in the Tokyo and Yokohama area of Japan, were reunited about five years ago by internet. Ski from Washington state unfortunately died about two years after their internet reunion. Ray and Monty returned to their native state of Texas and both became ordained ministers of the gospel. Monty attended one of Don’s Old Courthouse on the Square concerts in 2008. These Army/Navy buddies like to say “we will always be friends, and will also always be “Strangers.”

[Next: Stay tuned for more on the life and career of Don Byers, Music Hall of Fame Awardee]

c2010 by Ethelene Dyer Jones; published Nov. 18, 2010 in The Union Sentinel, Blairsville, GA. Reprinted by permission. All rights reserved.

Thursday, November 11, 2010

Thomas Jefferson Hooper and Some of His Descendants (Great Grandson of Absalom Hooper, Sr, Revolutionary War Soldier – Part 4, Hooper Family)

Just about now I am seeing that to trace all the descendants of Absalom Hooper, Sr. (c 1764-1845), Revolutionary War soldier, and write even the barest sketch of them, would fill a good-sized book. We’ve focused on Absalom, Sr. and two of his sons, Absalom, Jr. and Andrew, who were in Union County, Georgia by the 1840 census. Today’s focus will be on a great grandson of the Revolutionary War soldier who had a distinguished name, Thomas Jefferson Hooper, named for that inimitable and intelligent third president of the United States, Thomas Jefferson (1743-1826, president 1801-1809). Descendants of Thomas Jefferson Hooper are still living within the area of Union and Towns counties today, and true to their forebears’ example, they continue to be productive citizens.

Thomas Jefferson Hooper was born November 1, 1845 in Jackson County, North Carolina. He would live until October 8, 1921 and be buried between his two wives in the Old Burch Cemetery in Towns County. He is listed as four years of age in the 1850 census of Union County, Georgia, not having reached his fifth birthday when the census taker visited the home of his parents to enumerate the household. His father was Benjamin Chastain Hooper (1812-1862) and his mother was Elizabeth Cathey Hooper (1815-1888). You might like to refer to the Cathey family articles written previously to see Elizabeth’s connections. Going back another generation, Benjamin Chastain Hooper’s parents were James and Mary Emaline Chastain Hooper, his mother a descendant of the noted Virginia settler, Pierre Chastain, ancestor of many who proudly claim this Chastain connection. James, father of Benjamin Chastain Hooper, was the first son of famed Absalom Hooper, Sr., Revolutionary War soldier.

When Thomas Jefferson Hooper went a-courting as a young man, he gained enough courage to go to the home of the Rev. Elijah Kimsey, a noted early preacher in the mountain area whose wife was Sarah Bryson Kimsey. Thomas Jefferson had caught the eye and favor of their daughter. Thomas Jefferson Hooper wed Araminta Caroline Kimsey (1846-1874) on Christmas Eve, 1865 when the Civil War was still a raw memory in the minds of many.

To Thomas Jefferson and Araminta Kimsey Hooper were born five children: (1) William (1866) who married Emma Stuart Coffey; (2) Violet Virginia (1869-1929) who married Warne Ketron Hedden (son of the Rev. Elisha Hedden and Juanita Caroline Butt Hedden); (3) Georgia Ann (1871-1921) who married Col. Sylvester M. Ledford; (4) Ollie Araminta “Minnie” (1872-1946) who married David Henry Puett; and (5) Mary Caroline known as “Callie” (1874) who married John H. Davis. Araminta died September 6, 1874, possibly from complications from childbirth when Callie was born. Thomas Jefferson Hooper was thus left with five small children.

He found himself another good wife, the second being Sarah Elizabeth Clementine Ellis (1852-1939), daughter of J. C. and Elizabeth Ellis, whom he married August 22, 1876. In addition to helping Thomas Jefferson rear the first five children, Sarah and he had five children, making him ten altogether: (1) James Lafayette (1881-1954) who married Eva Elinora Barrett; (2) Martha Elizabeth (1884-1937) who married Walter E. Warren; (3) Noah Franklin (1887-1942) who married Julia Kelley; (4) Maggie (1890-1961) who married Charles Colwell; and (5) Richard (1895) who married Ezra Willa Mae known as “Billie” Wood.

Thomas Jefferson Hooper moved his family into the town of Hiawassee, Georgia. There he established the Hooper Hotel, a stately and Victorian-designed landmark that received guests and served notable food for several years. In the town he also helped to establish the Bank of Hiawassee and set up and outfitted a mercantile store. He was elected to and served in the Georgia Legislature from Towns County in 1911-1912. Mr. Hooper was also a trustee of the Hiawassee Academy; an outstanding mountain boarding school founded by Dr. George W. Truett and Dr. Fernando Coello McConnell, cousins, and noted Baptist ministers.

Focusing now on the first son of Thomas Jefferson Hooper and Sarah Ellis Hooper, James LaFayette Hooper (Sr.), born March 1, 1881 (died April 8, 1954), he attended Hiawassee Academy, graduating in 1902. He went to the Atlanta College of Pharmacy and became a licensed pharmacist, working first in Cornelia, Georgia, and then opening Hooper’s Drug Store in 1911 in Buford, Georgia. He married the love of his life, Eva Elinora Barrett, daughter of Forrest C. and Mary Holcomb Barrett of Nacoochee Valley, Georgia on May 2, 1909. The couple returned to Hiawassee in 1914 and opened the Hooper’s Drug Store there. It proved to be one of the most continuously-operated businesses in the town, with the founder’s son, James LaFayette Hooper, Jr. (1914-1982) who graduated from the Southern School of Pharmacy in 1937, succeeding his father as owner and pharmacist. Later a grandson, Representative Ralph Twiggs, Jr. owned and operated the store, succeeded by purchaser Charles Nicholson.

James LaFayette Hooper, Sr. and Eva Barrett Hooper had four children: (1) Faye who married Ralph J. Twiggs, Sr.; (2) James LaFayette, Jr. who married Mary Richardson; (3) Gussie who married J. Walter Moore; and (4) Sarah who married Dr. John H. Carswell.

The legacy of serving the community has continued in the Hooper descendants.

We have only to trace the progeny of Absalom Hooper, Sr. through many generations to see that various regions of North and South Carolina, Georgia, Tennessee and other states have benefited from the genuine hardiness, community spirit, work ethic, public service and church and educational support from those who hark back to the stalwart young man (Absalom, Sr.) who served his country well beginning in 1776 in our War for Independence. As we observe Veterans Day on November 11, we have opportunity to reflect on this heritage and salute those who have stood faithfully in the gap to win and preserve freedom from then until now and into the future.

c2010 by Ethelene Dyer Jones; published Nov. 11, 2010 in The Union Sentinel, Blairsville, GA. Reprinted by permission. All rights reserved.

Thursday, November 4, 2010

Andrew Hooper, Fourth Child of Revolutionary Soldier Absalom Hooper, Sr. (Part 3 – Hooper Family)

Andrew Hooper was the fourth of twelve children born to Absalom, Sr. and Sarah Salers Hooper, and one of the three Hooper brothers who settled in Union County, Georgia by 1840.

Andrew Hooper was born about 1792 and died in 1849. His place of birth is held to be Pendleton District, South Carolina. He grew up in Haywood County, North Carolina where his parents moved when he was young. It was there he met and married Dicie (sometimes spelled Dicey) whose maiden name is unknown.

Like his father before him who had served in the Revolutionary War, Andrew also heard the call of his country during the “unpleasantness” known in the annals of US history as the War of 1812 against Great Britain. His term of service was short, from February 16, 1815 when he volunteered until March 12, 1815 when he was honorably discharged. His army pay for the twenty-six days was $6. 93. However, as will be seen later, he had another recompense coming after his death.

It is not known precisely when Andrew Hooper migrated to Union County, Georgia to settle along Fodder Creek in what became Towns County in 1856. Andrew and his wife Dicey were residents and in the Union Census of 1840, having in their household himself and his wife who were listed as between 40-50 years of age with six children. Ages and genders of the children were two males between 10-15, one male between 20-30, one female between 5-10 and two females between 15-20. It is assumed that Andrew Hooper was a farmer at Fodder Creek. He may have assisted his brother Absalom, Jr. with his grist mill.

The known children of Andrew and Dicey Hooper were:

(1) Jonathan Hooper (1820-1880 ?) who married Lucinda Barrett (believed to be part Cherokee) in Union County on February 9, 1854 with William Burch performing their ceremony. After Towns was formed from Union County, Jonathan and Lucinda moved to the head of Byers Creek in Towns and made a living by sawmilling and farming. Jonathan was a cripple, small of stature. They had Millie Ann, Robert Richard, Jonathan “Pink”, Icey (or Dicea, after her Grandmother Hooper), Green Berry (died as infant), Mary Ollie, Gus, and Ulysses Allen. After Jonathan’s death, Lucinda married a Rizley.
(2) Sarah Hooper (1821-?) married Noah Shook and had children Mary, Jonathan, Permelia and Rebecca by 1850, with additions and/or name changes of Adaline, Dicea and Sarah (listed in 1860 census).
(3) Matilda Caroline Hooper (1824-1911) married William Burton Rogers on November 5, 1843. They lived in the Cynth Creek section of Towns County and at their deaths were interred in the Lower Hightower Cemetery. Children of this couple were Disa Manerva, Jonathan Burton, Melton Augustus, Martin W., Christopher Columbus, Freeman H., Elihu Montgomery, N. Leander, and David.
(4) William J. Hooper (1828-1878) married Jemima Hooper, his first cousin, daughter of his Uncle Absalom Hooper, Jr., in Union County, GA on August 16, 1851 with M. L. Burch, justice of the peace, performing the ceremony. William enlisted in the Confederate Army in May, 1864 with Young’s Battallion, Company 1, Hampton’s Brigade. He was seriously wounded at Lovejoy Station when Sherman was marching through Georgia. Although surviving, his wounds troubled him the rest of his life. By 1870, Jemima Hooper and her widowed sister, Hannah Hooper Gilbert and children, were living in the widowed Jemima’s household.
(5) Andrew Green Hooper (1829-1898) married Martha Talitha Berry. Their children were Dicie Rebecca, John Chapman, William Alonzo; Margaret Haseltine, Louisa Arah, Highley Al, and Andrew Young. Andrew, like his brother William, enlisted in the Confederate Army, Company D, 24th Regiment. He survived the war. His widow Margaret received a Confederate pension after his death.
(6) A female child was listed in the 1840 census without a name, born between 1830-1835. No further information is found on her.
A short time after Andrew Hooper’s first wife Dicey died in 1847, he married Mary Cantrell on July 2, 1847. Mary Cantrell may have been a widow, bringing some of her own children to live in Andrew’s household. The 1850 census has some children not quite identifiable by names of children of Andrew and his first wife Dicea. These were Mary, 29; Nancy, 12, Jane 9; Sarahan 6, Mahala 4, and John 1. It is known, however, that two of these were identified as “minor children” of Andrew Hooper and received a land grant on June 30, 1857 for their father’s service in the War of 1812. It could be that Mary Mahalia (known as “Polly”) may have been a child born to Andrew and Dicey, and that her mother died at childbirth. At any rate, children 7 and 8 of Andrew Hooper were:
(7) Mary Mahalia “Polly” Hooper born in 1846 or 1847. She married David Nicholson.
(8) John Harley Hooper (1849-1912), son of Andrew and Mary Cantrell Hooper married Martha Evaline Brewster. Their seven children were Jane, Martha Ann, Mary Etta, William Luther, John, Georgia and Lula.
Andrew Hooper and his family joined the lure of new lands in the 1830s and became a part of growing Union County sometime between 1834 and 1840. Numerous descendants still reside within the mountain region near where their ancestors took up residence.

c2010 by Ethelene Dyer Jones; published Nov. 4, 2010 in The Union Sentinel, Blairsville, GA. Reprinted by permission. All rights reserved.