Ronald John "Ronnie" Thompson Sr. (July 21, 1934 – March 22, 2020), also known by "Machine Gun" Ronnie Thompson, was an American gospel singer, politician, and musician. During the 1960s, Thompson became a household name across Georgia and parts of the The American South for his live gospel music television shows. He also recorded and released his own Contemporary Christian and country music albums and singles. In 1967, Thompson was elected Mayor of Macon, Georgia, becoming the city's first Republican mayor in its history. He became known for his often unorthodox, often controversial views and coloful, charismatic personality during his tenure as mayor, which spanned two terms from 1967 to 1975.
Thompson was born in Augusta, Georgia, in 1934. His family, who originally worked with the cotton mills, lived in poverty. Thompson worked a traveling jewelry salesman in the South before moving to Macon, Georgia.
Thompson became a musician during his early life and led a group called the Ronnie Thompson Quartet. Observers and journalists have speculated that Thompson would have become a more prominent, famous musician or entertainer had he lived elsewhere. However, Thomspon became a regional household name, especially in Georgia and North Carolina, due to a series of gospel music shows, which were broadcast on local television stations throughout the 1960s. In 1960, then-Georgia Governor Ernest Vandiver publicly praised Thompson for a series of live gospel shows he held at a state mental hospital in Milledgeville, Georgia. Thompson also became friends with regional and national musicians of the time, including the Allman Brothers, Otis Reading, and James Brown. In addition to his work in gospel, Ronnie Thompson also released several Contemporary Christian and country music albums and other recordings during the era, including a single alluding to his future political career called "City Slicks and Politics".
Thompson's ongoing success in the music industry led to an interest in politics during the 1960s. Prior to running for office, Louisiana Governor Jimmy Davis advised Thomspon that the key to a successful political career was to "sing softly and carry a big guitar."
Ronnie Thompson began his political career by being elected to the Macon City Council, where he served until becoming city mayor in 1967.
In 1967, Ronnie Thompson, who was 33-years old, unseated incumbent Mayor Benjamin Franklin Merritt, Jr., who was seeking re-election, to win the Macon mayoral election. Thompson also made history by becoming the Macon's first Republican mayor in its history, at a time when the Democratic Party overwhelmingly dominated central Georgia and statewide offices. He won re-election to a second term in 1971.
Ronnie Thompson died from Alzheimer's disease on March 22, 2020, at the age of 85.
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