Headshots by Jason Huynh, other photos provided by Curtis Reed.
Q1: So Curtis, you’ve had a very interesting life. You’ve worked in music and television in New York, Atlanta, Las Vegas, Nashville, Jamaica; you were even in the Marine Corp for four years. And you are an internationally known musician, singer, performer. And you grew up right here in Rome, Georgia! Tell us about that.
CR: Growing up in Rome to me, was, I mean it was beautiful. How can I say it? It was like a being part of a large family. I had white family, I had black family. It was just one big family. I’ve always loved Rome. People have always been extremely kind to me. I don’t recall any real negative experiences; of course I left my sophomore year in high school to go to New York.
My biological father worked for Dr. Robert Huff of Huff Pharmacy. They were like brothers. When my brothers and I were kids, Dr. Huff would have us come to his store at Christmas after closing and tell us to get all the toys we wanted. My mother was a very, very beautiful woman. She was very religious, my father was too; they were Pentecostal. And I respected them because they truly believed in this holiness, this religion they were involved with. As a matter fact, when I was a kid, I played the guitar and piano; and I wasn’t allowed to play anything but gospel songs on the piano. Only gospel songs and nothing else inside the house. They were really true to their beliefs. And so I befriended one of my mom’s good friends that taught here in Rome. Her name was Lois Bryant. And her husband, Dr. Jerome Bryant, was the first African-American surgeon that was allowed to practice at Floyd [Medical Center.] So they sort of embraced me because of my talents, and I would go to their house; they had a grand piano, and I could play and write songs…so that was like my home away from home.
I joined the GeeTees [The first integrated band in Georgia] in 1965….I was singing and dancing for them. We were doing a lot of the Beatles songs, doing a lot of the Motown stuff. We’d go all over southwest Georgia; we’d go to Tennessee, to Alabama, to different clubs in Tennessee…all the big groups would come to Chattanooga, all your Motown acts. I was going to Maine High, and then they integrated the schools, so we had to move to East Rome….when my mom passed away, Mrs. Bryant and Dr. Bryant had taken me in as sort of their adopted son. They felt that I needed to be in New York for my talents…so that’s when I went my sophomore year to New York.
Q2: How do you think your travels inspired you to write your well-known song “Take Me Back to Georgia?” What is it about our state that makes it special to you?
CR: When I was a kid…Dr. Bryant was a doctor, so he used to take us up to the hills in North Rome and he’d have us dig up red clay and put it in a bucket….And what he would do, he would put water into it, and have a mix of red clay; and he’d put that on his patients knees for arthritis. Well, we discovered another thing we could do with the red clay: we could eat it. And we would eat the red clay…it was a good taste. So…you know, I’m from Georgia, and I’ve eaten the red clay; it’s in my DNA. I am Georgia!
But you know, Georgia is southern. It’s true. Unlike other places you may travel, Georgia has a real nice about it. Georgia has a sweetness about it. Georgia to me is like a beautiful, charming woman. Of course, it has its growing pains. But there’s just something about Georgia to me that is unique. I love it. I’m excited about promoting it…I think everyone should experience Georgia folks!
Q3: So let’s talk about your “Georgia’s got it all” campaign to promote economic development and enthusiasm for the state of Georgia.
CR: Yes! We have a great group [gathering around this campaign]: Roger Wise, Bob Littell, Brian Kemp, Casey Cagel, Lisa Smith with the Rome Convention Bureau, Sam Baltzer, Rick Walker. Walker is president of the Georgia Automotive Manufacturers Association, and he has been a big, big supporter…he hired me to perform “Georgia’s Got It All” at the Mercedes Benz Stadium a couple of months ago. So right now we’re traveling just in Georgia, but we’ll soon be traveling outside of Georgia and internationally too.
Q4: When you’re performing, what do you hope is your message that you’re sending? What’s the goal what are you communicating?
CR: Interesting question. I’m a people person naturally, being an entertainer. And one of the things I guess I’m most noted for…is bringing people together, making people feel relaxed and comfortable. I’ve always always done that, ever since I was a kid. It’s always been black-and-white audiences, even before integration. And I’ve always been an advocate for bringing people together. And that’s what I do. I just love people. When you come to my show you’ll see!
Q5: So let’s talk about you show! What can people expect?
Okay yes! This show will have two other entertainers. They’ll be Thunder Pinard doing [a tribute to] Dean Martin, they’ll be Greg Robbins as Frank Sinatra…and I will be doing Sammy Davis Jr. We’ll be doing separate acts, and then we will come together and do a couple songs at the end of the show….And then I will also be doing “Georgia’s Got It All” as the finale.