Grant Blankenship

Reporter

Grant came to public media after a career spent in newspaper photojournalism. As an all platform journalist he seeks to wed the values of public radio storytelling and the best of photojournalism online.

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Grant Blankenship / GPB

Wildfires continue to burn all across the hills of north Georgia. 

 

The U.S. Forest Service is fighting the state’s largest fires: they’re burning tens of thousands of acres in the Chattahoochee National Forest.

 

Georgia has to fight the fires on state and private land, and hundreds of personnel from multiple agencies are working around-the-clock to contain them.

 

Some of the larger fires have burned for weeks, but smaller fires pop up every day, seemingly out of nowhere. That’s what happened recently on Ryo Mountain just outside of Fairmount in Gordon County.

Grant Blankenship / GPB

When they were both kids growing up in Macon, R.E.M. bassist Mike Mills and classical violinist Robert McDuffie bonded over Hardy Boys books and shared records.  When they weren't making music together at church, anyway. 

"When my family moved here from Atlanta in 1971 my parents were looking for the best musical program in any church here," Mills said. "And the church that they found that had the best musical program was run by Bobby's mother."

The friends listened to records or watched TV together Sunday nights after church. That changed in their teen years. 

Grant Blankenship / Telegraph of Macon

 

Georgia continues to improve its graduation rate, but the state's high school experiments, its charter schools, are lagging behind.

Georgia’s high school graduation rate improved for a fifth straight year, according to data released Tuesday by the State Department of Education, to 79.2 percent. That’s about 3 points off the national rate.

Grant Blankenship / GPB

Barbeque smoke was in the air and a country band was belting out “Wagon Wheel” when Margreta and Bill Smith set foot in the pecan orchard at Central State Hospital in Milledgeville for the first time in over 20 years.

The Smiths met and married in the 1950s when both of them were among the thousands of people employed at this legendary psychiatric hospital. Margreta was a nurse and Bill was an attendant. An employee reunion picnic within sight of the iconic, white domed Powell Building is what brought them back.

GPB

A few years ago, St. Paul and the Broken Bones stormed onto the Soul Revival scene from their home in Alabama. 

The sound grabbed you clearly, but the thing that held it all together was the energy and showmanship of lead singer Paul Janeway.

In this short video, hear Janeway talk about how this started for him, with his love of Georgia's own Otis Redding.

Georgians Flock To Early Voting Sites

Oct 18, 2016
Grant Blankenship / GPB

Early voting kicked off Monday in Georgia and long lines at some of the polls have done nothing to deter early voters.

Gwinnett County’s only polling station is no exception with hundreds of residents lining up to vote. Paquita Wright, a local business owner, stood in line for nearly three hours this morning. She had hoped to beat the rush she expects to see closer to Nov. 8.

Grant Blankenship / Georgia Public Broadcasting

Should the State of Georgia execute Gregory Paul Lawler as planned on Wednesday, it will mark a milestone in at least two different ways.

 

Lawler was sentenced to death for the 1997 killing of Atlanta police officer John Sowa. His execution will be the seventh in Georgia in 2016. That makes two more than in 2015 and makes Georgia the only state in the nation accelerating the rate of execution year over year. That’s the first milestone.

 

Susto is a disease of the soul that has its origin in Mexico. Think of it as a kind of soul death. Sufferers are said to be walking shells of their former selves. But the good news is it can be cured.

Southern music is hot right now. From Americana to hip hop, there are plenty of artists seeking to hang their sound on the hook of some piece of the Southern musical tradition. Meanwhile, there are other artists who have unmistakably carved out a piece of Southern sonic soil for themselves, even if unintentionally. Athens band New Madrid could fall into this second category.

The Grotto in Macon is one of those places that every teenager thinks is their own little secret. That is to say it isn't a secret at all, but it is very special. Built in the early 20th Century by Jesuit seminarians from the nearby St. Stanislaus College, it was the heart of a wooded getaway for the local Catholic community.

Grant Blankenship / GPB

 

When Regenia Brabham opened the back door of the two story family home she’s converted into an animal shelter, out came a pit bull named Stark.

“He’s a sweetheart,” Brabham said as Stark bolted into the backyard of the shelter. “Macon-Bibb Animal Welfare found him in an abandoned building in downtown Macon.”

Stark was a bait dog. His job was to lose to stronger dogs. He bears scars from that life including the largest one earned when his handlers tried to burn him to death.

In the first of the Living Room Concert Series shows from the Field Note Stenographers, singer-songwriters Aaron Irons and Justin Cutway. Aaron Irons held down the Macon music scene back in the 1990s with his band the Liabilities. He doesn't play out much these days, which is what makes this set special. Justin Cutway is super literate, witty and blessed with a good voice and serious guitar chops. Enjoy them here and look ahead to the next show on September 29 with Caleb Caudle and Justin Osborne of the band SUSTO.   

Grant Blankenship / GPB

 

Should the Georgia Board of Education revoke the charter of the Macon Charter Academy in Macon-Bibb, it will be the first time the board has ever terminated a charter.

 

Both at the administrative level and on the ground for parents in Macon-Bibb, it would be a dig deal. On the morning of the hearing, Macon Charter leaders held an assembly to explain to their students just what was going on.

Grant Blankenship / GPB

 

      

There are lots of tools for reviving a dying neighborhood. There are tax incentives, chasing deadbeat property owners and non-profits to rebuild houses to name a few.  

In Macon-Bibb, another tool, this time public art, is at the heart of an effort to renew the city's Mill Hill neighborhood. A few weeks ago, that effort hit a snag: the first two artists in residence here were fired. As to why, that is still not clear, but events leading up to their dismissal might raise questions about how well the art-based scheme fits this neighborhood.

In this Field Session, we give you singer, songwriter and virtuoso of both guitar and lyric Dylan LeBlanc. In this solo acoustic set from the Bragg Jam Music Festival, LeBlanc performs songs from his debut album "Pauper's Field" as well as the album he's touring now, "Cautionary Tale." Recorded at the Field Note Stenographers Stage at Gallery West in Macon, Georgia. Hear three songs in the video or listen to the whole set in the audio above. 

Grant Blankenship / GPB

In this Field Session we have a live set from singer/songwriter Andrew Bryant of Water Valley, Miss. You can usually find Andrew behind the trap kit in his band Water Liars, but last year he released an album of his own songs in his voice accompanied by his guitar.

Grant Blankenship / GPB

The Bragg Jam Music Festival and Concert Crawl is on one day, Saturday, July 30. With 80 bands on 20 stages, it can pose a logistical challenge to even the most die hard fans. To help you get a start on a manageable plan, have a listen to Sarah and Justin Schanck of Macon. You can find the Bragg Jam schedule at the festival's site.

Grant Blankenship / GPB

Growing up at the foot of the Blue Ridge mountains, Jimmy Haney had one dream. To join the musicians he and his father heard on the radio at the Grand Ole Opry. He got his start on that road in the 1950s with an icon of Country Music, but it almost cost him his life. Haney tells his story in this piece from GPB Music and the Field Note Stenographers

Danny Lyon / Magnum Photos

Many of the struggles of the Civil Rights era are well known. Rosa Parks refusing to give up her seat, the March on Washington, Bloody Sunday in Selma, and the bombing of the 16th Street Baptist Church in Birmingham. Others remain hidden, or only known to a few. In 1963, more than a dozen African American girls, aged 13-15, were held in a stockade for two months. Their crime: demonstrating for integration in Americus, Georgia.

Just past the halfway mark of the year, the tastemakers at NPR Music are taking stock of the releases that caught their ears in 2016. Do you have an album (or two, or three) to add to the list? Tell us in the comments.

Grant Blankenship / GPB

 

The asbestos was already being removed from Tindall Heights by the time the politicians were ready to celebrate its demolition.

Thelma Dillard was one of the local politicians there to say goodbye before the pre-demolition press conference. She serves on the local school board and grew up in the over 70-year-old public housing project.

 

“My mother moved here when I was a baby. And I lived here until I went off to college,” Dillard said.

 

Macon rapper Floco Torres has released something like 20 releases  and says he may have 600 unreleased songs lurking on hard drives. He's primed to release a batch of songs this Summer on what he's calling the Porsche EP. In this Field Session, listen to the track '87 911 off the upcoming release plus the song Freedom off of last Summer's Vinsanity release. Recorded at the Cannonball House in Macon, Ga.

The demolition of the Tindall Heights housing project in Macon, and the relocation of its residents, provides a lens into the issue of affordable housing in the United States on the We Live Here podcast from St. Louis Public Radio. With reporting from Grant Blankenship of GPB Macon, Devin Katayama KQED in San Francisco and the We Live Here team from St. Louis Public Radio.

Grant Blankenship / GPB

Billy Joe Shaver might not be the household name that other country musicians of his generation are. The Texas native who still calls Waco home used to run with Willie and threatened Waylon to make good on a promise to record his songs. But before that he was just a laborer and a cowboy who had to lose three fingers before making a deal with God to do what he was supposed to do: write songs. From the Capitol Theatre in Macon. 

Can Kids Be Scared Straight?

Jun 8, 2016
Grant Blankenship / GPB

At the inmate’s direction, the children drop to the floor.

“Down!” she shouts, almost screeches. Almost immediately there’s a new command.

“Up!”

A new command, just as fast.

“Jump!”

The kids can’t keep up. They aren’t meant to. Pretty soon it’s obvious that many of these kids, especially the ones who are not yet teenagers, are terrified.

Grant Blankenship / GPB

Macon-Bibb County political leaders got their first look at an old school at the heart of a new housing development Tuesday.

A few members of the Macon-Bibb County Commission and Mayor Robert Reichert toured the still under renovation A.L. Miller High School building. For Commission member and Miller Alumnus Elaine Lucas, the tour brought memories and hopes for what will come once this is low income housing.

"It's going to be a boost for this whole area. A lot of our neighborhoods are in decline and this is one of them," Lucas said.

Grant Blankenship / GPB

Ashley Pointer says with her violin, she can pretty much do anything the human voice can do. 

Ironically, she says it wasn't her decision to pick up her bow. But today, as the first violinist to be accepted into the competitive Grammy Camp summer program, she is glad it happened. 

Grant Blankenship / GPB

 

 

A new report paints a bleak picture for North Georgia bats and scientists say they know why.

Blame White-Nose Syndrome. A summation of last year’s bat count numbers by the Georgia Department of Natural Resources makes that plain. DNR scientists have been counting each winter in ten different North Georgia cave sites since White-Nose Syndrome hit Georgia in 2013. After last year’s count they say cave hibernating populations have plummeted by 92 percent of their before White-Nose numbers.

Grant Blankenship / GPB

Before his album of duets with Carla Thomas, before "Dock of the Bay," even before wowing the crowd at the Monterey Pop Festival, Otis Redding was in a band not as the front man, but mostly because he could drive.

That band was Johnny Jenkins and the Pinetoppers, a staple of the Macon music scene in the early days of rock and roll. And yes, guitar ace Jenkins couldn't drive, but he also  had the foresight to give Redding the microphone. The partnership led to one of Redding's first singles, the rocker "Shout Bama Lama."

Grant Blankenship / GPB

 

 

Demolition formally began Monday in one of Macon’s oldest and largest public housing projects, Tindall Heights.

During a ceremony that could have looked like a groundbreaking from a distance, officials and politicians swung golden sledgehammers to break the first piece of the project’s red brick.

For longtime educator and former Bibb County School Board President,  Thelma Dillard, the day was bittersweet.

“I'm here today because I want to see the ending of my beginning,” she said.

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