Wayne was born in Central Georgia to Leva Mae and Charles "Bud." Although his father was a deacon in a church, "Bud" sold moonshine and owned a nightclub. His mother Leva Mae was much more church mannered as a faithful member of New Hope Baptist Church. Wayne first started to sing in public as a member of the youth choir at New Hope Church. In retaliation for those who picked on him for a birth defect which affected the way he walked, Wayne became a precocious prankster.
Like many children of his day, Wayne was raised in the church. He turned to Gospel music as a way of dealing with the pain of being poor and the widespread prejudices he faced in his youth. As he grew older, Wayne became enthralled with Brother Joe May and Sister Rosetta Tharpe, two gospel legends of the mid 20th Century, who made frequent trips to Middle Georgia, including many right here in Dublin.
Although his educational skills were somewhat lacking, he more than made up by excelling on the saxophone in the high school band, playing the piano and singing.
Joe was probably born in northeast Georgia to his sixteen-year-old mother, Susie Behling, and his twenty-two-year-old father. Joe grew up in a tiny shack as poor as poor could be.
Joe's family moved throughout South Carolina and eventually to Augusta, Georgia. Joe's childhood was plagued with adversity. After growing up living in a brothel and enduring his parent's constant fighting, Joe took to the streets and left school by the end of the sixth grade.
Joe too developed a talent for music. He won a singing contest at a local theater at the age of eleven. To make ends meet, Joe entertained the soldiers at a nearby infantry camp during World War II. He even tried his hand at boxing.
It was in the late 1940s at the age of sixteen when Joe's life took a drastic turn for the worse. He was arrested and convicted of robbery and sent to juvenile prison. While he was incarcerated, Joe turned to God. Along with three fellow cell mates, Joe formed a Gospel quartet. After leaving prison, Joe turned more and more to Gospel music and odd jobs to make ends meet.
Wayne's career path was much more clear. After his father was murdered in 1952, he was forced to be the family's bread winner. So Wayne decided to do what he knew best and that was to sing and play music. He formed not one, but two, bands; the Tempo Toppers and the Upsetters. And the rest, as they say, was history.
In 1955, the Upsetters struck gold with three major hit songs. Wayne moved to Hollywood where he played and sang in two movies.
Then unexpectedly at the zenith of his popularity, Wayne renounced his sins and declared that he was a born-again Christian. He gave up a highly successful career, married a wonderful woman and set out on a mission to preach the Gospel from the pulpit and sing God's praises from the stages and concert halls of America.
It was during the autumn of 1960 when Wayne brought his hand clapping, foot tapping hallelujah praising message of faith and hope in the love of Jesus Christ to Dublin. Wayne booked the courtroom of the Laurens County Courthouse The event, held at 8:00 p.m. on September 27, 1960, was free to the public. Transportation was arranged to carry persons from the Scottsville, Telfair and Southside neighborhoods for a 20-cent round trip ticket. Wayne returned for an encore service on the 5th Sunday in October. It is quite possible that Wayne came to town many times in his early years for unpublished performances and to visit his brother Johnny, who worked in Dublin's bus station for many years.
Twenty three-year-old Joe and his band performed at the Senior Prom of the Oconee High School Class of 1956. The band, the Famous Flames, had just released their first rhythm and blues million seller, "Please, Please, Please." Like Joe, Wayne too, may have played at several venues in Dublin. Some old timers say that they both did.
Both Joe and Wayne would eventually claim the same hometown and rocket to the top of their fields as icons of American popular music. Joe is better known by his full name of James Joseph Brown, or simply James Brown. His fellow Maconite Wayne was a mega star in the early days of Rock and Roll. He shortened his real name from Richard Wayne Penniman to just "Little Richard."
Little Richard, a member of the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame, was one of the most influential artists from the early days of Rock and Roll. He has received major awards from the Rhythm and Blues Foundation and the Grammys. He has been inducted in the Georgia Music, the Blues, the Rhythm and Blues, the Songwriters, the NAACP Image, the Louisiana Music, the Music City, the Apollo Theater, and the Grammys Halls of Fame.
As Rolling Stone Magazine's 8th greatest artist of all time, three of Richard's songs, "The Girl Can't Help It," "Long Tall Sally," and "Tutti Frutti" are ranked among the magazine's top 500 greatest songs.
James Brown recorded sixteen number 1 singles on Billboard's Rhythm and Blues charts. However, he never reached number 1 on the Hot 100 charts. He has been honored as a member of the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame and the Songwriters Hall of Fame and is generally regarded as one of the greatest rhythm and blues singer of all time and according to the editors of Rolling Stone Magazine, the 7th greatest artist among its Top 500 artists.
There is a rumor floating around that James Brown had close ties to Laurens County. The speculation is that one of Brown's brides or significant others was from the Dudley-Montrose area. With no proof as to the authenticity of that story, I will leave it as just a little known, but speculative, urban legend.
So now you know a little more about the stories of the two poor Macon boys, who as young men spent a small part of their early formative years of their careers here in Dublin along their way to the top of the music charts as the 7th and 8th greatest rock and roll artists of all time.