Country Music Legend Johnny Carson Dies

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.

Recommended for you

Recommended for you

Recommended for you

Most read

  1. 1 Class AAAAAAA: Milton 14, Colquitt County 13
  2. 2 Buckhead residents want Atlanta police to crack down on crime
  3. 3 Super Bowl Experience tickets go on sale today

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 aspiring singers.

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.

More from AJC