MACON, Ga. — Mercer University honored music pioneer Philip Michael Walden, a 1962 graduate, with an honorary Doctor of Humanities degree, less than a month after he succumbed to cancer. Walden’s son, Philip Walden Jr., accepted the honor from Mercer President and CEO R. Kirby Godsey during commencement on May 13.
The founder of Capricorn Records and Velocette Records and successful businessman, Walden (1940-2006) nurtured and gave voice to hundreds of musicians who have contributed to shaping America’s music history, from Southern rock to R&B to alternative rock.
Born in Greenville, S.C., on January 11, 1940, the second of three sons to Mr. and Mrs. C.B. Walden, Mr. Walden came to Macon, Ga., at the age of three, planting his roots deep in the state’s red clay. After graduating from Lanier High School in 1958, he enrolled at Mercer University, and while a student, he began his legendary career in the music industry by booking emerging bands for fraternity parties around Georgia.
In 1960, he established the Phil Walden Artists and Promotions agency in the Robert E. Lee Building on Mulberry Street in Macon, signing on a young Georgia artist named Otis Redding, who would have one of the defining songs of the era, “(Sittin’ on the) Dock of the Bay,” and establishing Macon as the hub of Southern music.
Over the past four decades, Mr. Walden, through his Georgia-based recording companies, Capricorn Records and Velocette Records, represented and produced some of the hottest musical talent of the times, including renowned hit-makers Sam and Dave, Percy Sledge, the Allman Brothers Band, the Marshall Tucker Band, the Dixie Dregs, Wet Willie, Widespread Panic, Cake and 311, placing the state on the recording industry map.
Through his interest in and promotion of artists of diverse races, Mr. Walden broke down racial barriers during a time of segregation, allowing music to become a common ground for understanding and relationship building that has spanned generations of music fans.
A 1962 graduate of Mercer University, Mr. Walden was generous in sharing his promotional insights and business acumen with his alma mater, having provided internships for Mercer students at his Capricorn Records offices, recorded the Mercer University choir, and served on the Board of Directors of Mercer University Press, in addition to having established two endowed scholarships, one benefiting minority students at Mercer’s School of Law named in memory of his friend, Otis Redding.
Valuing family and relationships, Mr. Walden and his wife, Peggy, were married for more than three decades, and his children, Phil Jr., a double graduate of Mercer University, and Amantha, both work in their father’s company, Velocette Records.
With his lifelong passion for music, his uncanny ability to recognize talent, and his gift of promotion, Mr. Walden made an indelible mark on the nation’s music history and has been a true son of the South in preserving the music and voices of some of Georgia’s best artists, which lead Georgia Trend magazine to name him one of the “100 Georgians to shape the 20th Century” in 2000.
About Mercer University:
Founded in 1833, Mercer University has campuses in Macon and Atlanta as well as regional academic centers in Douglas County, Henry County, Macon and Eastman. With 10 schools and colleges, the University offers programs in liberal arts, business, engineering, education, medicine, nursing, pharmacy, law and theology. On July 1 2006, the University will add its eleventh academic program, the School of Music. For 16 consecutive years, U.S. News & World Report has named Mercer University as one of the leading universities in the South. The Princeton Review has ranked it among the top 10 percent of colleges in the nation.
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