One of Roland Robert Hayes’ first memories is hearing his legendary uncle Roland Hayes sing.
“The first time I heard him sing I was six-years-old,” Robert Hayes said. “He was at the Calhoun High School Auditorium. That was 1942. He had a beautiful voice.”
Roland Hayes was the first African American to rise to the top of classical music. He was born in Gordon County on June 3, 1887 on a plantation where his parents were once enslaved. Hayes traveled the United States and Europe, singing in seven different languages to kings and queens alike. He died in 1977 and though his legacy is still kept alive by the Roland Hayes Museum in Calhoun and surviving family members, some in the community worry that his memory is growing faint among younger generations.
To help remedy that and bring national recognition to the renowned tenor, members of the Roland Hayes Museum Committee are working to petition the U.S. Postal Service to honor Hayes on a commemorative stamp.
“We have been at this for 20-years, but now we are trying to get all of Gordon County involved,” said Georgetta Frazier, chairwoman of the Roland Hayes Committee. “We’re doing a petition campaign, hoping to get petitions sent here to the Harris Arts Center then mail all the petitions as a mass mailing, which will hopefully be far more impressive on the stamp advisory committee (than individual petitions).”
Frazier and the committee hope to get as many petitions as they can by June 3 (the tentative deadline) from Gordon County residents, along with friends, family, history buffs and anyone interested in the endeavor so the advisory committee will take notice.
Frazier said when they spoke to the advisory committee in the past they had never heard of Hayes.
“One of the problems is when Roland Hayes was in his prime there was not a lot of recordings,” Frazier said. “And you’re looking at him being gone since 1977. Not a lot of people know of him or of the racial barriers he broke down. It’s hard to impress them with someone they don’t know.”
Frazier said it is important for the community to get involved because Hayes was an important figure in not only the history of Gordon County, but in U.S. history as well.
For Robert Hayes, Roland Hayes was more than a trendsetting singer. He was a genuinely good person who always cared for his family and community.
“He was a lot of fun,” Robert Hayes said. “He always loved to talk to the children. He would always get around us and play games. No matter what we were doing, from loading hay or making cane syrup, he would be there helping too.”
Hayes was an institution in classical music, a barrier breaker and a friend to those he met, Frazier said.
“Why not bring national attention to him,” Frazier said.
If you would like to participate in the petition drive, pick one up at the Harris Arts Center or the chamber of commerce in downtown Calhoun or visit the website.