About

The beginnings and history of the Spivey Hall.

Emilie's Dream

Overview: The story of Spivey Hall begins with one woman’s love of music and a couple’s desire to give back to their community.

Last updated: October 2020
The Founders

The Founders

Emilie Parmalee Spivey and Walter Boone Spivey were prominent citizens of Atlanta’s Southern Crescent. Having made a fortune developing Lake Jodeco and Lake Spivey, the community-minded Spiveys wanted to create something significant for the region. But what?

Emilie was an organist, chamber music aficionado and patron of the arts. She was drawn to Clayton Junior College’s Lyceum cultural programs, its beautiful wooded grounds, and the noble stewardship of founding President Harry S. Downs.

Emilie’s husband Walter approached Harry Downs with the idea of building a small, elegant concert hall as a fitting legacy for Emilie who, by this time, had contracted cancer. Walter passed away soon thereafter, and in 1984 Emilie assumed the role of visionary leader of the project. She entrusted Harry Downs with carrying out her dream.

But this was not to be just any concert hall. Emilie’s insistence on hiring acoustician Rein Pirn first, engaging architects Gardner Spencer Smith & Associates who understood music, and including her personal interior designer Gerald Underwood, ensured the creation of a jewel of acoustic perfection. A hall that would allow music lovers to hear music in the best possible way… so clear and crystalline that it was like hearing music for the first time. A hall elegant and luxurious, yet small enough to create an intimate connection with the artist while allowing every patron an excellent view. And a hall with a world-class pipe organ.

Picture of Emilie Spivey.

Emilie Parmalee Spivey

Organist, chamber music aficionado and patron of the arts. Together with her husband Walter Boone Spivey, helped make the Spivey Hall a reality.

Breaking Ground

Breaking Ground

The Spiveys founded the Walter & Emilie Spivey Foundation, donating $2.5 million to the construction, while contributions from individual and corporate sponsors covered the remainder of the $4.5 million cost. Built as a gift to Clayton State College, Spivey Hall moved from idea to impending reality when ground was broken in November of 1988.

Neither Walter nor Emilie lived to see the ground breaking – but their kindness and generosity manifests itself in the beauty of Spivey Hall. Emilie passed away one month after completing the formal plans in 1988, yet every detail was followed faithfully through the project construction. The Spivey’s financial gift lives on as well through The Spivey Foundation Board of Trustees who administer a generous endowment.

Sherryl Nelson, daughter of opera singers and a career administrator trained at the Los Angeles Philharmonic under Zubin Mehta and the legendary Ernest Fleischmann, left California in 1990 to become Spivey Hall’s first Executive Director. She quickly went about creating a world-class concert series to establish Spivey Hall as a premiere recital hall.

4 persons breaking ground to build the future Spivey Hall.

A gift to Clayton State University

Spivey Hall moved from idea to impending reality when ground was broken in November of 1988.

Grand Opening

Grand Opening

After a opening trio of high-profile invitation-only concerts – violinist Itzhak Perlman, pianist André Watts and bass Samuel Ramey – Spivey opened its doors to the public in the winter of 1991. Despite the initial perception of the hall as being “far away” from downtown Atlanta, the hall struck an immediate chord by relying on an old-fashioned thesis – people love to hear timeless music played by great musicians in a beautiful hall.

Very quickly, Spivey Hall became one of the places to play on the American classical and jazz music circuits. Artists who had never before come south began making regular stops at Spivey Hall. Atlantans were treated to the world’s best musicians creating moments of utterly sublime musical majesty. And they liked it.

In 1992, the final piece of Emilie Spivey’s original dream was added. The hall closed for three months early in the year for the addition of the 79-rank, 3-manual, 4,413-pipe Albert Schweitzer Memorial Organ, built and installed by Fratelli Ruffatti of Padua, Italy. The hall has become known for its organ concerts and garnered great acclaim for hosting the 1998 and 2002 North American Selection Rounds for The Calgary International Organ Festival & Competition, the world’s most prestigious organ event.

Choral legend Robert Shaw sensed Spivey Hall’s importance right away. In his dedication statement he noted, “What a precious and perceptive gift the Spivey’s have given all of Atlanta.” He lent his time, prestige and name recognition to the hall in its early years. His famous words – “Spivey Hall is to music what light is to painting” – have become synonymous with the hall. The Robert Shaw Chamber Singers performed several times during his tenure as Distinguished Visiting Professor of Music at Clayton State College. He recorded two discs for Telarc at Spivey during this period and, in 1994, launched the Robert Shaw Choral Workshop, which became the very successful annual Spivey Hall Choral Workshop for high school and treble choirs.

Over the years, Spivey Hall has increased its presence in the community with one of the state’s larges education-outreach programs: the Noteworthy Concert Series serves 20,000 children in 17 area counties each year; teacher staff development courses and Master Classes enrich curriculum; the Choral Workshop and Chamber Orchestra Workshop offer high-level instruction for 250 young artists annually; and the Spivey Hall Children’s Choir program promotes excellence in both singing and character for its 3 ensembles.

Itzhak Perlman, left and Harry Downson at the opening night.

Itzhak Perlman Spivey Hall Opening concert.

Violinist Itzhak Perlman, pianist André Watts and bass Samuel Ramey opened the Spivey Hall doors to the public in the winter of 1991.

Spivey Hall Today

Spivey Hall Today

It’s been a busy 26 years, one filled with great achievements, exceeded expectations and rapturous musical moments. And it all began with one woman’s love of music.

Its celebrated concert series receives regular national and international attention as one of America’s finest, and the Hall’s acoustics and design are routinely lauded by patrons, pundits and performers. Thanks to frequent appearances on American Public Media’s “Performance Today,” as heard on public radio stations across the country, the hall has earned a national reputation while also reaching an international audience through exposure in such publications as BBC Music magazine and International Arts Manager. The Hall also routinely receives superb accolades from the noted artists it annually presents.

“Spivey is the best of the newer small halls in America,” says concert pianist Steven Blier, while jazz pianist Ellis Marsalis believes “Spivey Hall is the most fantastic little performance hall I have played – ever!”

In addition to a world-renowned concert series, Spivey Hall has an innovative approach to education-outreach, which has resulted in the formation of the award-winning Spivey Hall Children’s Choir and the newer Spivey Hall Young Artists. Its Young People’s Concerts series won the prestigious Abby Award for arts education in Atlanta in 1998.

Outdoor view of the Spivey Hall entrance.

The Spivey Hall

One of America’s finest music halls thanks to the acoustics and design.

Spivey Hall, located on the campus of Clayton State University, is a 400-seat, acoustically-superior performing arts venue that has presented the best in jazz and classical music to the metro Atlanta area since 1991.

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2000 Clayton State Boulevard,
Morrow, GA 30260 (678) 466-4200 [email protected]

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