Cherokee County awakens the creative muse
Despite our technological advancements, humans have not changed much. If anything the internet has made celebrity news and gossip ubiquitous. We see everything luminaries eat, wear, and do. We develop bonds with celebrities, and if we’re lucky enough to have a star in our hometown, the bonds go even deeper. We watched those achievers grow up, and we feel we have a share in their success.
Cherokee County has produced a wealth of talent, from actors to singers to writers and every kind of creative talent in between. Let us highlight some of the gifted folks who first stepped into the limelight in Cherokee County.
Singers and Musicians
Of course the name Bryce Leatherwood has been on everyone’s tongue lately, and for good reason—the Woodstock native recently won NBC’s long-running talent contest The Voice after a series of heartfelt performances. Also representing Cherokee County on The Voice, Jason Wilkes of Waleska, known professionally as WILKES, was featured on season 14 of the singing competition as part of coach Blake Shelton’s team. Wilkes placed among the top twenty-four contestants for the season as he showcased his country-rock sound.
Lee Roy Abernathy, a Gospel Music Association Hall of Fame inductee who passed away in 1993, was a singer, songwriter, and pianist from Canton. Beau Cooper is a keyboardist, singer, and songwriter with The Vegabonds. Creekview alum Beau initially hails from Canton, as does Victoria Hill, an opera singer, former Miss Georgia 2019, and current Miss Georgia Volunteer. When asked how Cherokee County played in role in her love of the arts, Victoria says,
“It truly was such an honor to represent Cherokee County on a national stage like [the Miss America pageant], because so much of who I am is due to the people in this community: from my piano, voice, dance, and drama teachers to customers at Publix who encouraged me while I bagged their groceries. I’m a product of an engaged community where I was able to hone my acting skills at places such as Woodstock Arts, the drama ministry at First Baptist Woodstock, and, of course, several years at Cherokee County’s own Reinhardt University also gave me a strong foundation in music.”
Cherokee also boasts gifted rappers: Rich the Kid, originally known as Dimitri Roger, and Russell Vitale, better known as Russ, both attended Woodstock High School. Russ’s 2022 release Are You Entertained featured a collaboration with singer-songwriter Ed Sheeran. Rapper Andre Burt, Jr., known professionally as SoFaygo, attended Etowah High School. His debut studio album Pink Heartz was released in November.
Woodstock native Zach Williams formed, sings in, and tours with the now-Brooklyn-based indie-folk, Americana, and alt-country band The Lone Bellow. Before stirring up the music industry, Zach was stirring up Cherokee County. He fondly recalls,
“I’m honored to represent Cherokee County. Falling asleep every Saturday night to the roar of Dixie Speedway, scary stories about catfish the size of school buses by the Allatoona Dam, getting lost out by SCRA [South Cherokee Recreation Association] … and hey, ask for the wolf man!”
On Stage and Screen
Renowned character actor Claude Akins, who starred in classic films such as Battle for the Planet of the Apes and Rio Bravo, was born in Nelson. With more than 230 acting credits, Claude was also well-known for his television roles in B. J. and the Bear and its spin-off, The Misadventures of Sheriff Lobo. Gordon Danniels hails from Pea Ridge in Canton. Gordon has been featured on television in House of Cards and Marvel’s The Falcon and the Winter Soldier and on the big screen, including a role in The Great Debaters directed by and starring Denzel Washington.
Actor Josh Holloway was raised in Free Home. Josh began his career as a model before moving on to acting. He starred in Mission: Impossible – Ghost Protocol and Paranoia. His most prominent role was in Lost, wherein he played James “Sawyer” Ford throughout the series. Most recently Josh completed a ten-episode arc on Paramount’s Yellowstone.
Native American actor Sonny Landham, known for his booming voice and impeccable work as a stuntman, is from Canton. Sonny starred in action classics 48 Hours, Predator, and alongside Sylvester Stallone in Lock Up. Also of Native American ancestry, actor Blair Redford found his breakthrough role on the soap opera The Young and The Restless and later starred as superhero Thunderbird a.k.a. John Proudstar on The Gifted. Blair graduated from Sequoyah High School.
Filmed in Senoia, Georgia, The Walking Dead featured several performers from Cherokee County, including Chandler Riggs in a starring role as Carl Grimes and Katelyn Nacon in the recurring role of Enid. Both actors were nominated for Young Artist Awards for their performances on the show, with Chandler winning in 2014 for Best Performance in a TV Series (Comedy or Drama) – Leading Young Actor. Keith Brooks, a Cherokee High School graduate, also appeared on The Walking Dead and Stranger Things.
Visual Arts and Literature
Cherokee County also boasts some notable writing and artistic talents. Poet David Bottoms has won countless awards, including the Walt Whitman Award, the Levinson Prize, and American Academy of Arts and Letters Award. Born and raised in Canton, David holds the honor of being named the poet laureate of Georgia from 2000 to 2012. William Diehl of Woodstock was an author and photojournalist whose gripping thriller Primal Fear was made into a movie in 1996. Sculptor and photographer Frank Poor, also from Woodstock, formed his interest in architecture as art when he was inspired by the boom in the development of Woodstock in the 1970s and 1980s. His work now incorporates architectural forms found throughout the South.
Behind the Scenes
Cherokee County is home to Emmy-Award-winning television producer, Delia Hattendorf Fine, who was instrumental in launching Regis Philbin’s The Morning Show. Delia was a sixteen-year Emmy-Award-winning television producer with The Arts & Entertainment Network [A&E]. Her career credits include Pride and Prejudice and Horatio Hornblower. Delia, who passed away in 2016, grew up in Canton. Jeanie Phillips, a graduate of Cherokee High School, recently won an Emmy Award for her editing work on the Amazon Prime reality competition show Lizzo’s Watch Out for the Big Grrrls starring Grammy Award winner Lizzo. Fellow Cherokee alum Allen Hooper is a noted casting director known for his work on the Emmy-award-winning series Modern Family throughout its eleven-year run. He received multiple Casting Society of America Artios Award nominations for his work on the wildly popular sitcom.
Talking and gossiping about celebrities allows us to live vicariously through them and bring some excitement into our lives. Such conversations connect us. Even introverts open up when you ask about their favorite performer. We are social animals, and bonding over celebrity gossip or swapping stories about “I knew him when…” fuels our innate desire to connect with others. Background information takes superstars out of the stratosphere and brings them down to earth, which is why we love celebrities who stay humble and kind. Not all famous folks buy into their own hype; most remember their roots. And here in Cherokee, those roots flourish in rich soil.
By Emma Tyler
A star has emerged from Canton, and his name is Himie Freeman. Starring in a slew of independent productions, Himie displays a range of emotions from hot-tempered to vulnerable and even portrays characters who perform cold but calculated acts. Himie performed in Rules to Rule, The Ultimatum, and Momma’s Boy, and his next project marks his debut on Disney+ alongside Daveed Diggs and Derek Luke in the upcoming sports drama The Crossover.
Former Woodstock resident Leela Owen is a teenager accumulating big accomplishments. She garnered recognition for her breakout role in Doom Patrol, an HBO Max series. She also earned a lead role in the short film Bear Creek and a lead-guest starring role in the 2021 Disney+ anthology series Just Beyond. Leela has also been featured in several of MattyBRaps’s music videos.
Ava Grace Roberts
Ava Grace Roberts, a young actor from Woodstock with a lifelong love of the stage, is at the start of a bright future as she takes on a growing list of acting roles. Like Leela Owen, Ava Grace appeared in HBO Max’s Doom Patrol. She also costarred in the Peacock original mini-series A Friend of the Family alongside Colin Hanks, Anna Paquin, and fellow young actor Mckenna Grace. Ava Grace also made her professional theater debut in The Sound of Music directed by Tony Award winner Shuler Hensley, also a Georgia native.
Woodstock native Presley Coley scored her breakthrough role in the 2016 comedy The Boss, which also starred Melissa McCarthy, Kristen Bell, and Peter Dinklage. She has since worked on the 2022 Netflix original film Do Revenge. Since she debuted with her first onscreen role at the age of fourteen, her desire to act has soared. Her next project is a dramatic short film titled Saturday, Sunday, Monday.
After Grant Pfost appeared on stage in productions for the Department of Theatre and Film Studies at the University of Georgia and then attended the Lee Strasberg Theatre & Film Institute in New York, the Hickory Flat native’s on-screen career is taking off with supporting roles in Love Hurts and Interview with the Vampire as well as a starring role in the upcoming short film 6 Miles Under.
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Shannon is a writing and editing evangelist. She has been creating content of all types for over a decade in subjects that run the gamut from literature to politics to sports.