It has been said that we are lucky if we can find one person who restores our hope when all is lost. One who sees something of worth in us, even when we fail to see it in ourselves, or one who helps push us to be better than we thought we could be. For thousands of students who grew up in the quaint southern town of Thomasville, Georgia, that one person was a music teacher by the name of Fred Allen, a man born poor and hungry in the shadows of a cotton mill.
Fred's life could easily have become just another tale of broken spirits and the blues, never to be freed from the clutches of poverty. Thankfully that has not been his story at all. In fact, Fred's legacy is one of show tunes and stardom, resiliency and faith. This is a story of mercy and melody and, above all else, love—plus a miracle or two thrown in for good measure.
Of course, that doesn't mean his triumph came easy. Nothing worthwhile ever does.
In a world where success is measured by fame and fortune, Fred's story matters more than ever. He teaches us the value of a meaningful life, a life of purpose. A life well lived. And he leaves each of us asking, How can I best use this time I've been given? How can I make it count?
As I share the story of Fred Allen, I write not to tell you who he is but to examine why he is and to learn all we can from this musical prodigy, a man who overcame absolute brokenness to become one of the most influential music mentors ever known.
(cre·scen·do / kr?-'shen-do)
a gradual increase in loudness in a piece of music
adverb and adjective:
increase in loudness or intensity
In 1935, as the sweltering summer heat oppressed the downtrodden mill village in LaGrange, Georgia, a young man lay dying. Muffled sobs fell from the corner house on Thornton Street, where curious children eavesdropped outside the open bedroom window. When the shift whistle blew, men and women began to filter out of Dunson Mills. Soaked in sweat and cotton drift, they followed the worn paths, passing neighbors heading in to take their turn at the looms.
Fred Freeman had not been all that different from the others whose lives revolved around the whistle. Poor. Tired. Broken by life's hardships. Aside from his innate ability to shake a song from a piano or guitar, he had spent his days in one of two places: working the looms or drinking away his frustrations.
The Freeman-Allen home was also the same as every other house in the village, painted white like the cotton that dotted the land in rows. With three bedrooms each, these houses were simple in form but solid in construction, and because they were provided rent-free in exchange for work at the mill, the dwellings lured plenty of workers despite the low wages.
With the Great Depression bearing down across the nation, many houses overflowed with outsiders desperate for work. This is how the Freeman-Allen home came to be filled with generations of extended relatives as well as absolute strangers willing to pay for a corner cot as they chased day-pay jobs from town to town.