He’d found extraordinary success on the biggest stage there was. But the demands of work and the glamorous lifestyle in the circles of New York City’s most influential musicians and entertainers had led him to a choice. So Fred Allen came home to Thomasville, Georgia, and to his family. Fred’s grandson, Allen Cheney, tells the remarkable story.
“He had the opportunity to become the music director for the First Methodist Church in Thomasville, Georgia, and he took it. He took it, really, at a point where he was broken and thinking, ‘What have I given up? What have I chosen? What have I done?'”
“And in the basement of this church, he had these young kids who were there for youth choir. And he just found himself behind the piano and playing the standard, older hymns, and not finding any inspiration in these kids’ eyes. He just realized that he wanted to rebuild his own soul as well as to start doing something for these kids. And so he started using the kind of music he was producing in New York—the Broadway hits, the pop hits. He was working with some of the biggest artists of the time, and he just started pulling out this music and absolutely changing their lives with music that they would never have thought they would be singing in a church youth choir!”
Fred and his wife Winnie realized they had something special on their hands. And soon others would see it too!
“So under the umbrella of the First Methodist Church, he started a performance group. It started with about ten kids and the next week he said, ‘You know, they had a lot of fun doing that. I’m going to do it again!’ And those kids brought 10 to 15 of their friends from other churches. And the next week they brought even more friends. Some didn’t go to church at all. And he realized one morning he was giving the youth of this community magic through music. He saw them start to come alive, and he, as a result, began to come alive. Day by day, week by week, not ever knowing what came next—not sitting here and thinking, ‘Okay, I can change this town.’ It was a day-by-day, God-given thing. This thing grew and grew, and before he knew it, this entire town was clamoring to absorb the music that Fred Allen and his wife Winnie Allen had to give them.”
“As a result, they found an entire new purpose in life. For 45 years at the helm, he guided young lives and poured into them and inspired our entire community. People would drive for hours just to come see a performance, or to have their kid be a part of this organization that he started called the Thomasville Music and Drama Troupe. It became such an overwhelmingly powerful thing that it really did change our community forever.”
Allen Cheney is a film & television producer who co-authors Crescendo: The Story of a Musical Genius Who Forever Changed a Southern Town about the musical prodigy who just happens to be his grandfather Fred Allen.On the Road with Allen Cheney