Thursday, May 31, 2018

Breath & Imagination-Roland Hayes Comes Home

~Reviewed by Doc Lawrence
Roland Hayes

Georgia native Roland Hayes was once a concert headliner in Europe and American cities like New York and Boston. His story about childhood in Calhoun, Georgia and Chattanooga, Tennessee is in part one of survival and a path to success. Art Station Theatre’s production of Daniel Beaty’s musical play, Breath & Imagination, begins in rural North Georgia where Hayes and his mother, a former slave, struggle after the death of the father. From their humblest beginnings, the song-filled production becomes an interpretive tour de force of a young man’s rise to international acclaim as a classically trained vocal soloist.

What makes this production so compelling is the powerful blend of Hayes mother, “Angel Mo,'” portrayed by Atlanta’s  legendary song stylist/actress Theresa Hightower and a young man with a very bright future, Marcellis Cutler, who, for almost two hours literally becomes Roland Hayes. Ms. Hightower, a poplar fixture on prestigious performance stages throughout the South, joins the electric handsome Cutler in duets worthy of Gershwin’s Porgy and Bess. The play allows Ms. Hightower to glow as the quintessential African-American mother who will sacrifice flesh and blood for her son, regularly expressing her devotion and measured discipline with the best lines in the show. 

Marcellis Cutler and Theresa Hightower
Born in 1887 near Calhoun, Georgia, Roland Hayes’ parents were struggling tenant farmers on the same plantation where his mother had been a slave. His father, part Native-American, died when Hayes was 11, but told him “to use your breath and imagination and call the birds to you.”  Angel Mo’ moved the family to Chattanooga where young Roland quit school to work in a local iron foundry, suffering a serious injury leaving him unable to do hard labor.

Tragedy opened the door to fame and fortune. Nashville’s Fisk University and the Fisk Jubliee Singers counted Roland Hayes as a student and vocalist. A sensitive but demanding voice instructor, portrayed by Tony Hayes, leads him into the classics while encouraging him to embrace the wonders of his natural African voice. The result is miraculous. Roland Hayes became the first world-renowned, African-American classical singer, who headlined at Carnegie Hall, sang with the Boston Symphony and wowed Europe’s royalty. 

The play opens in 1942 with Roland Hayes, now successful, back in Georgia where he purchased the plantation where his parents worked the fields, and embarked on a worthy mission to establish a musical conservatory for students of all races. His wife and daughter were arrested for sitting in a “white’s only” section of a Rome, Georgia shoe store resulting in a beating of a protesting Hayes by a local Sheriff. Roland Hayes reflects back on his life, sharing his life’s story with us, while asking if it was safe for his family and students to continue to live and work under the evil potential of violent racism.

He spent the next 50 years living in Boston. The brooding, omnipresent sting of slavery and racism claimed more innocent victims.

Marcellis Cutler as Roland Hayes fulfills a destiny surely ordained by the universal powers of acting and singing. Look for this fast-rising star in many productions soon. 

Theresa Hightower is simply lovable as Angel Mo’ providing emotional connections ranging from good humor to despair. Her singing voice, authentic in every way possible, is perfect, helping to tell a story that needed telling. 

Through June 10.
Tickets:; (770) 469.1105

Roland Hayes recordings can be found on Amazon, YouTube and The Smithsonian.
“The Life of Christ.” 1954
“Negro Spirituals.” 1955
“The Art of Roland Hayes.” 1990
There are remembrances of Roland Hayes today in Calhoun, Georgia and the University of Tennessee/Chattanooga. His daughter, Africa, lives in Boston.

Friday, May 11, 2018

Angel From Alabama

Mother's Day 2018

“My latest sun is sinking fast, my race is nearly run
My strongest trials now are past, my triumph has begun
Oh, come angel band come and around me stand
Oh bear me away on your snow white wings to my immortal home.”

                             “Angel Band”-Emmylou Harris

By Doc Lawrence

Mothers are precious. I miss this wonderful woman, her laughter, her favorite songs and her Southern dinner table, particularly Sunday after church and on holidays. What a spread: fried chicken, meat loaf (we always had two meats), creamed corn, fried okra, congealed salad, whatever greens were in season, pole beans, field peas, macaroni and cheese and choices of desert ranging from coconut layer cake to peach cobbler. I still believe she made her lemon meringue pie just for me and to this day I've not had a dessert that could come close to matching its dazzling array of flavors and gently browned meringue.

The memories of those days together may be a little faded, but, in the words of one of her favorite hymns, "how they linger, ever near me, and the sacred past unfolds."

A child of the Depression and World War II, my mother represented the finest of the Deep South. Although she never said it, her role model had to be Scarlett O’Hara. Survival and accomplishment were embodied in a beautiful woman who faced fate squarely and despite unconscionable losses along the way including the death of her youngest child, moved forward to face life relentlessly. 

Her name was Carrie and true to the good manners of her time, she was addressed with respect as “Miss Carrie.” Cruel poverty denied her much formal education, but she loved to read and found time to read bedtime stories to me before I was in kindergarten. Saturdays were library days. Books, newspapers and magazines have been vital, enriching parts of my daily living thanks to her. Names like Celestine Sibley, Margaret Ann Barnes, Catherine Marshall, Harper Lee and Margaret Mitchell were on the dust covers of her books.

She departed this world before my first book was published, but she is the reason it happened.

She enjoyed working, earning some extra cash to keep her three children a little ahead with occasional extras. While I was a skinny teenager, she worked in the record shop at Rich’s, a legendary department store in Atlanta. She brought home promotional sample records, and I was introduced to then obscure names like Johnny Cash, Wanda Jackson, Bo Diddly, Jerry Lee Lewis, Ray Charles, Little Richard, Patsy Cline and Elvis. A new world of rhythm and harmony opened and I became a rocker, playing and singing with a good band in college. No one ever introduced me to the majestic music of Muddy Waters, Howlin' Wolf, Screaming' Jay Hawkins or John Lee Hooker. Their music was played loud and clear on those 45's Mom supplied regularly. 

I have never been happier.

It's possible that my mother attended all of Elvis’ concerts in Atlanta. One morning during the Dog Days of August, she called and informed me of his death. I still remember the sharp pain in her voice. 

A devoted Atlanta Braves fan, it was understood that she would never die during baseball season. Her time on earth ended during the December holidays while her beloved Braves were on vacation.

Like Emmylou Harris, Zelda Fitzgerald, Harper Lee, Helen Keller, Tallulah Bankhead and Truman Capote’s Aunt Sook, Mom was an Alabama girl. Born and raised in Sulphur Springs in the northeast corner of the state, Lookout Mountain forms a spectacular backdrop. I always thought it would be a wonderful place for a child.

I’ll visit her grave early Sunday morning to place roses. As the Georgia sun peeks through the pines, sometimes the air stirs a little. During moments of great peace, I listen carefully for the flutter of angel wings. 

Friday, May 4, 2018

Dinner With Mr. Jefferson

~Doc Lawrence

Dare 2 Pair Guests at the Stillwell House
STONE MOUNTAIN, GA- Jenny Hall, esteemed food columnist and kitchen magician, was in rare form on the evening inaugural of Dare 2 Pair, the intimate food and wine program with a bright future. A celebration of the food and wines inspired by Thomas Jefferson at Monticello included modern interpretaions of the third president’s dishes served alongside wines of the world ranging from Germany and France to Oregon and Georgia and many points in between.

It was planned to be just the way Jefferson entertained family, friends, dignitaries and often adversaries. Nothing builds bridges of understanding like a great dinner made from local ingredients served with wines chosen and poured with care. 

That spirit of openness and conviviality is an important part of Dare 2 Pair. Strangers become friends, neighbors have an opportunity to reach out to others, someone who loves fine dining and superb wines enjoyed in a vibrant environment but doesn’t care to dine alone, finds comfort and joy in our setting.

“No rules,” we all agreed. 

The 1820's Stillwell House
The 1820’s Stillwell House was perfect for the affair. A country inn, actually a highly regarded B&B, it is owned and managed by Mary and Ralph Stowall, whose restoration has been true to original materials and design. Located in Stone Mountain Historic Village, guests could feel the abundance of history, mirroring the menu crafted just for the occasion. 

Culinary Wizard Jenny Hall
Each dish, beginning with amuse-bouche to appetizer, soup, entree and dessert was prepared by über-gourmet Jenny Hall who interpreted some of the best recipes served by Jefferson at Monticello. Likewise, wines were numerous and greatly varied, another bit of Jefferson tradition. Unlike most restaurant wine dinners, pours were generous, beginning with the Champagne welcome, and wines from France, Germany, Australia, Oregon, California and Georgia were matched with dinner delights. Palates responded with joy.

Nothing was stilted or rigidly scripted. Guests enjoyed Jefferson lore ranging from his love of  Monticello’s garden products and his burning vision to establish America as a world leader in wine production. 

Champagne was Perrier-Joet and Veuve Clicquot, both NV Brut. Jenny’s Parmesan Wafers demanded ample flutes of quality bubbly.
The double-barreled appetizer was Jefferson Vermicelli and Cheese Pie accompanied by homemade Tomato Chutney along with Cream of Asparagus Soup with Jenny’s spectacular Cornbread triangles. Wines were King Estate Pinot Gris from the heralded Oregon winemaker and Georgia’s version of a French varietal, a terrific Petit , a wonderful white wine from heralded Tiger Mountain Vineyards in Rabun County.

Mary Stowell, sitting at the head of the banquet table observed, “you have to be here to really taste the magic in these combinations.”

The special recipe cornbread and soup accompanied by Pinot Gris became a reminder of the universality of wine represents. A New World wine based on an Old World grape interpreted through a food prism that harkened to a feast in early Virginia.

The main course featured another original, Chicken Orloff with Mushroom Rice Soubise Au Gratin, Green Pea Salad and glorious Petite Biscuits. This wide range of flavors and mysterious spices called for more than one wine. Indeed, the goal of Dare 2 Pair is to broaden the dining experience, never hesitating to offer multiple choices, recognizing that palates and preferences are designed by the universe to welcome variety. Gevrey-Chambertin, the red Burgundy favorite of Napoleon Bonaparte was poured in tandem with a magnificent 2015 Oregon Pinot Noir from King Estate.

It wasn’t a Waterloo moment-both were magncifcent-but it became a talking point, a matter of enlightenment for those who enjoy the lore of good wine. Legend has it that Bonaparte, on the eve of Waterloo, had one bottle too many of his favorite red wine, became sick in the saddle as the battle began and fell off his horse.

Our King Estate Willamette Valley Pinot Noir more than held its own as a well-balanced wonder of soft tannins and pleasant acicity. Guests ranked it equal to the French counterpart in both style and taste. 

No one fell on the floor.

Syrah from North Carolina’s esteemed RagApple Lassie, was also served with the entree. Each sip stimulated colloquy about this grape’s journey through the ages, which legend has it coming from the middle east and extending into France perhaps by the Romans and America through Jefferson’s influences. 

Adhering to the principle of no rules, a rare Red Slate Riesling from Germany’s Mosel proved refreshing and, like the fabulously accommodating Norton from Tiger Mountain, did not last long.

A pièce de résistance? Imagine a dessert with ingredients linked historically to a Monticello feast. The Fresh Walnut Fig Cake with  Browned Wildflower Honey Ice Cream served with chilled glasses of Mead, from Blue Haven Bee Company had to be fashioned by divine forces. The elixir of King Arthur and the Knights of the Roundtable, Mead, another Georgia product, blended seamlessly with Jenny’s closing masterpiece. A late harvest Sticky Fingers Chardonnay, Australia and Sandeman Tawny Port from Portugal eased the affair to a gentle conclusion.

One item was missing from every dish. “No gluten!” Jenny announced.

The Stillwell House sits on a hill overlooking much of Stone Mountain and is a short walk from the entrance to Georgia’s most popular park which attracts over six million visitors annually. The area is a wildlife refuge with songbirds, wild geese, deer and rabbits sharing space with people. History abounds with several Native American trails, a monument near where General Sherman’s Civil War “March to the Sea,” began and the lovely village is populated with granite buildings that have an ancient feel.

Stillwell is “country comfortable,” beautifully furnished, with amenities comparable to the best in Asheville other popular getaways. 

The Stillwell House will soon be featured on The Gourmet Highway, a popular segment in Marilyn Ball’s hit show, “Speaking of Travel,” on iHeart Radio Network. 

Upcoming Dare 2 Pair dinners have more that a few provocative themes. Let your mind ponder “Biblical Wines, Modern Cuisine.” Big plans are in the works including appearances on TV news and shows.

For information about attending or gift certificates, contact Virginia Hall: or Doc Lawrence:

Down South Today along with The Gourmet Highway and Dare 2 Pair enthusiastically recommends the Stillwell House for quality lodging while visiting the Atlanta region. You’ll make new friends, eat well and enjoy the best of the South. Contact them: @stillwellhouseBB