From gospel to hip hop to indie rock, Atlanta’s musical roots run wide and deep. The city’s tuneful history is evident at Oakland Cemetery where musicians of all genres are buried together in eternal slumber. One of Oakland’s most notable musical figures is Lollie Belle Moore Wylie. An accomplished poet, journalist, and composer, Wylie made profound contributions to Atlanta’s literary scene and celebrated the state of Georgia through song.
Laura Isabel “Lollie Belle” Moore was born in Bayou Doque d’Inde, Alabama on October 21, 1858. The Moore family moved to Atlanta in 1865 following the death of Lollie’s father. Lollie Belle Moore married Hart Wylie in 1877 and the couple had two daughters, Augusta “Gussie” Louisa and Hart.
1887 proved to be a transformative year for Lollie Belle Wylie, personally and professionally. She published her first book of verses, Legends of the Cherokee Rose, and her husband Hart passed away after a long illness. With two children to support, Wylie took a position as the society editor for the Atlanta Journal, becoming the first woman to hold a paid position at a Georgia newspaper. To expand her role and increase female readership, Atlanta Journal president Hoke Smith (another Oakland resident) created the newspaper’s Department of Interest to Women. Wylie achieved prominence in the newspaper field but soon established herself as a star on the rise with her other literary achievements.
Although she earned a living by writing, Wylie’s passion was music.
Wylie edited two periodicals (The Butterfly and Society), published a novel, and wrote editions of poems. She co-founded the Woman’s Press Club of Georgia in 1891. Wylie organized the Atlanta Writer’s Club, the South’s first literary organization, in 1909. As president of the Atlanta Writer’s Club, Wylie had the idea to create a living memorial for writers in Piedmont Park. Located along Piedmont Avenue, the Authors’ Grove contains dozens of trees dedicated in memory of authors, journalists, and poets. Honored figures include Joel Chandler Harris, Louisa May Alcott, Edgar Allan Poe, James Whitcomb Riley, and Henry Grady.
Although she earned a living by writing, Wylie’s passion was music. She wrote both music and lyrics, and several of her songs were published. One of her works, “Georgia,” was adopted as the state’s official song in August 1922. Wylie composed the music which was set to verses by poet Robert Loveman:
“From the mountains to the sea,
Where her rivers roll.
There I ever long to be,
O my heart; my soul;
By her meadows let me lie.
In her vales remain.
Underneath her roof-tree sky
Watch the shadows wane.
Georgia-land of our delight,
Haven of the blest,
Here by happy day and night,
Peace enthrones the breast.
Georgia, Georgia dearest earth
Underneath the blue,
Clime that ever giveth birth
To the brave and true.”
Listen. Recording by Kristin Sullivan.
The Georgia legislature stated that the “poem expresses the highest and loftiest sentiment as to our beloved state,” and that the music as composed by Mrs. Wylie is “tuneful, refined, and beautiful.” “Georgia” remained the state’s official song from 1922 until 1979 when “Georgia on My Mind” was adopted.
Lollie Belle Moore Wylie died on February 16,1923, and she was buried at Oakland Cemetery on East Hill. A beech tree was planted in her honor at the Authors’ Grove in Piedmont Park. In 2013, she was named a Georgia Woman of Achievement.