The letter “L” in John L. “Johnny” Carson’s name officially stood for nothing.
His middle name was a simple initial, “L” — which to family and friends meant “legendary”
and “loving,” a community leader of his beloved Cabbagetown.
Like President Harry S. Truman, whose middle name was also an initial, and who
was the nation’s chief executive when the man everyone called Johnny was
fighting in the Korean War, Mr. Carson was a staunch friend of the underdog who
held fast to his principles.
Mr. Carson, 77, who became a national leader of the country music industry and who helped in
the founding of the Georgia Music Hall of Fame, died July 27 of heart failure at
Grady Memorial Hospital, not too far from the three-room shotgun house in Cabbagetown
where he was born and raised in what then was a gritty mill village.
The music industry pioneer and philanthropist was inducted into the Georgia Music Hall of Fame
last fall, culminating a long career as a country and western entrepreneur and artist
that started when he was 10.
That’s when his legendary grandfather, Fiddlin’ John Carson, considered the
father of commercial country music, gave Mr. Carson his first fiddle. RCA recording artist
“Moonshine Kate” Carson was an aunt, so family members say country music
was always in Mr. Carson’s blood.
A graduate of the old Roosevelt High School, Mr. Carson played center on the football
team, and was a member for the rest of his life of the Roosevelt High School Second Thursday
Lunch Bunch, which included many teammates.
Just two weeks ago, he breakfasted with one of them, Gary Gaddis, 75, who says “we had
a wonderful time because that’s the kind of guy he was. Those of us in the Lunch Bunch
are really going to miss him.”
Mr. Carson’s son, John Carson, 50, says his dad “always championed starting artists and the cause
of Cabbagetown. He organized many festivals in the community over the years, and my
sister and I will always remember how as young children he took the role of ‘Mr. Mom’ while
our mother worked at night.”
Mr. Carson attended John Marshall Law School, Emmanuel Bible College and the Georgia State
College of Business Administration, now Georgia State University.
He also was a Sunday school teacher, church deacon and union leader in Decatur. Mr. Carson
also founded or co-founded the Atlanta Country Music Hall of Fame, into which he was
inducted in 1996, Fiddlin’ John Carson Products Inc., Fiddlin’ John Carson Awards, the Atlanta
Music Country Academy and the Atlanta Society of Entertainers.
“He was a dynamic personality and had the ability to make you like him in only a few
minutes,” Mr. Carson’s son says.
He began booking bands on his return from Korea and since 1970 has been giving fiddles to
“deserving students” at Cabbagetown festivals.
He helped raise more than $2 million to assist a variety of causes, including
musicians in need, the Special Children’s Christmas Fund and Children with AIDS.
He founded the Atlanta Country Music Academy in 1986 to provide free music classes for
Bobbie Bailey, president of the Georgia Music Hall of Fame, says Mr. Carson “was certainly
one of the nicest people in the music industry, always helping young artists. He helped a
lot get their start.”
In addition to his son, Mr. Carson is survived by a daughter, Cindy Donegan, a number
of grandchildren, and also his widow, to whom he was married for 57 years, and who asked
not to be named. A public funeral is scheduled for today at noon at A.S. Turner & Sons
in Decatur. Burial is private.
(Note: Some news media sites
require user registration to read articles and/or to send you 'targeted' email