Emma Kelly won millions of hearts here and throughout the world. Her music was magic and her “ear” was magnificent. She was a favorite at clubs and cabarets across the Southeast for many years. She played at parties and weddings in Bulloch and surrounding counties and even had the honor of entertaining presidents.
When John Berendt made Miss Emma a household name worldwide by writing about her in his best selling book, Midnight in the Garden of Good and Evil, Bulloch County residents once again celebrated the validation of her talent and success. Mr. Berendt told the story both simply and true. Miss Emma seemed to be everywhere all the time. It would not have been unusual for her to fly from the West Coast to make it here in time to play in Metter by the next afternoon. If asked why she would go to so much trouble, she would answer: “Why, because they asked me.”
Miss Emma was always proud to be a native of Statesboro and would quickly correct anyone who referred to her as a native or resident of Savannah. Miss Emma raised 10 children, all of whom became college graduates, and all were on hand for her induction into the Georgia Music Hall of Fame. All still remained close to her until her death on January 17, 2001. What a treasure we had in our Miss Emma.
Miss Emma was more than the Lady of 6,000 Songs, as the late Johnny Mercer dubbed her, she was “our Miss Emma”. We are forever proud of the legacy she left behind for her beloved Statesboro and all of Georgia. Her music echoes still in our hearts and minds.
“Blind Willie” McTell
“Blind Willie” McTell helped to make Statesboro famous by writing the song that the Allman Brothers Band made popular, “Statesboro Blues”. McTell was a man with a lot of pride. Although he was blind from birth, he refused to wear dark glasses and never allowed his blindness to prevent him from doing what he wanted to do.
He was set apart from other blues musicians by his mastery of the 12-string guitar. During the turn of the 20th century, McTell’s parents came to Statesboro to find work. He used to play on the steps of the Jaeckel Hotel for guests and visitors to the area. McTell continued to develop his musical talents through much education and musical training in New York City, Michigan, North Carolina, and Macon.
After suffering a stroke in August of 1959, he died in a hospital in Milledgeville. In 1990, he was posthumously inducted into the Georgia Music Hall of Fame. McTell was one of Statesboro’s most famous sons. His music brought recognition and acclaim to his adopted home.
Coach Erskine “Erk” Russell
In the fall of 1981, Georgia Southern College (now University) and Coach Russell founded what would become the “winningest” football team in 1-AA championship history. Recruited from Athens and the University of Georgia, where he had served as defensive coach, Erskine Russell came to Georgia Southern to shape up a large turnout of “farm boys.” They wanted to play the game that requires much strength, coordination, and athleticism.
He did much more than “shape up some farm boys.” He created a dynasty. Just one year before GSC became GSU, and following nearly ten years of service, Coach Russell retired in 1990 with four national championships, leaving a strong legacy to Statesboro and Georgia Southern University. Until his death in September of 2006, Erk stayed a strong supporter of the town and the university, and was in high demand as a motivational speaker.