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African American Music Trails of Eastern North Carolina

African American Music Trails of Eastern North Carolina

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African American Music Trails of Eastern North Carolina

312 pages
3 hours
Dec 12, 2013


Thelonius Monk, Billy Taylor, and Maceo Parker--famous jazz artists who have shared the unique sounds of North Carolina with the world--are but a few of the dynamic African American artists from eastern North Carolina featured in The African American Music Trails of Eastern North Carolina. This first-of-its-kind travel guide will take you on a fascinating journey to music venues, events, and museums that illuminate the lives of the musicians and reveal the deep ties between music and community. Interviews with more than 90 artists open doors to a world of music, especially jazz, rhythm and blues, funk, gospel and church music, blues, rap, marching band music, and beach music. New and historical photographs enliven the narrative, and maps and travel information help you plan your trip. Included is a CD with 17 recordings performed by some of the region's outstanding artists.

Dec 12, 2013

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Folklorist Sarah Bryan is editor of the Old-Time Herald, a magazine highlighting string band music.

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African American Music Trails of Eastern North Carolina - Sarah Bryan

African American Music Trails of Eastern North Carolina

Gospel singer Latisha Scott and the Edgecombe County High School Gospel Choir perform for West Edgecombe Middle School under the direction of Kristian Herring, Director and Southwest Edgecombe High School Assistant Principal. Photograph by Titus Brooks Heagins.

African American Music Trails of Eastern North Carolina

Sarah Bryan and Beverly Patterson

With Michelle Lanier and Titus Brooks Heagins

Photographs by Titus Brooks Heagins and Cedric N. Chatterley

The African American Music Trails of Eastern North Carolina is a project of the North Carolina Arts Council: WAYNE MARTIN, Executive Director, and the Department of Cultural Resources: SUSAN KLUTTZ, Secretary

The project is supported with a Federal Transportation Enhancement Grant through the North Carolina Department of Transportation.

Published in association with the North Carolina African American Heritage Commission and the North Carolina Folklife Institute

Guidebook Project Manager: REBECCA MOORE

PAT McCRORY, Governor, State of North Carolina

SUSAN KLUTTZ, Secretary, Department of Cultural Resources

WAYNE MARTIN, Executive Director, North Carolina Arts Council


109 East Jones Street | Raleigh, North Carolina 27601

(919) 807-6500; www.NCArts.org

Design by Barbara E. Williams; typesetting and production by Chris Crochetière, BW&A Books, Inc., Durham, NC

Photographs by Titus Brooks Heagins and Cedric N. Chatterley unless otherwise credited

Illustrated maps by Gary Palmer

© 2013 North Carolina Arts Council

All rights reserved

Printed in China

No part of this publication may be reproduced or transmitted in any form or by any means without permission in writing from the North Carolina Arts Council.

3,500 copies of this book were printed at an estimated cost of $3.08 per copy, September, 2013

Library of Congress Control Number: 2013946114

ISBN 978-1-4696-1079-5

2 4 6 8 9 7 5 3 1

Cover illustration: Mural by September Krueger at the Kinston Community Council for the Arts. Photograph by Titus Brooks Heagins.


List of Features


About this Guidebook and the African American Music Trails project

1 Schooled in Jazz and Funk: Kinston Area

2 Our Roots Are Here: Goldsboro Area

3 Singing in the Church House, Dancing in the Warehouse: Wilson Area

4 O Lord, I’m Strivin’: Rocky Mount, Princeville, Tarboro

5 Hear the Horns Blow: Greenville Area

The Land Still Sings: An Epilogue




Eastern North Carolina Distinctions in African American Music xi

James Timothy Tim Brymn 4

The Night the Fence Went Down 7

Louis Papa Root Wiggins 11

Geneva Perry 17

How I Started Singing 25

Eleanor Suggs 61

Tom’s Place 84

Guitar Shorty, on Becoming Guitar Shorty 88

Roberta Flack 92

Harold Vick 112

DeFord Bailey and the Grand Ole Opry 115

The June German 117

Rough Side of the Mountain 123

The Block 130

Bill Myers Remembers the Block in Greenville 157

Pitch a Boogie Woogie 158

Roland Hayes in Greenville 161

Remembering Arthur Norcott 163


Welcome to African American Music Trails of Eastern North Carolina! This book is more than an ordinary travel guide. It tells lyrical stories of places and people. The landscapes of eight eastern North Carolina counties sing, groove, and praise in ways that will sound familiar, yet surprising and new.

African American Music Trails will surely inspire adventures. Already, I look forward to hearing my daughter read the words of the soul legend Maceo Parker while we make our way to a gospel fest, driving past tobacco warehouses, maybe accompanied by a slice of pound cake from a local restaurant.

These rhythms have roots—roots that pass through and drink from the inspirations for F. C. Barnes’s Rough Side of the Mountain and Thelonious Monk’s ’Round Midnight. Across the land we hear echoed the teachings of black music educators like the renowned soul stirrer Roberta Flack and Geneva Perry, a jazz saxophonist with the International Sweethearts of Rhythm. Generations old and young find ourselves doing a brand new dance, just as eastern North Carolina’s own Little Eva sang in her 1962 hit song The Loco-Motion.

These roads take us to new music such as the funky, hip-hop, or rock twang of Shirlette Ammons, from Mt. Olive, and to musical greats like Kinston’s Ira Wiggins, who has launched legions of jazz musicians at North Carolina Central University, all the while performing as a renowned saxophonist and flutist. They lead to the celebration of local quartet legends in Trenton, Kinston’s Spring Music Explosion, Rocky Mount’s Harambee Festival, and so much more.

Journey on and explore the rich heritage of eastern North Carolina’s lyrical lands and rhythmic roads!

Michelle Lanier

Director, N.C. African American Heritage Commission

and African American Heritage Development & Cultural Tourism,

N.C. Arts Council

About this Guidebook and the African American Music Trails Project

When Thornton Canady, a Kinston musician and retired band director, heard about the Blue Ridge Music Trails guidebook, created by the North Carolina Arts Council to help visitors explore the music of western North Carolina, he thought that a similar project could work for eastern North Carolina. He imagined highlighting his own region’s long and rich heritage of African American music in ways that would benefit both visitors and residents. The abundance of this music and its musicians in the eastern region, he believed, was one of the state’s best kept secrets.

The N.C. Arts Council’s ongoing recognition and support of African American artistry through the North Carolina Heritage Awards and a series of tours by African American traditional artists in the 1990s had already demonstrated the agency’s commitment to honor and promote these artists. In 2005, the performing arts director Andrea Lawson began to investigate the legacy of jazz artists in eastern North Carolina railroad towns and along the Interstate 95 corridor. For the Arts Council to identify more musicians and locate music venues in the region was a natural next step. It builds on the Arts Council’s nationally recognized cultural tourism program for traditional music, Cherokee heritage, and literary heritage across the state.

In collaboration with the North Carolina Folklife Institute and local arts councils, surveys were conducted in eight eastern counties. The surveys showed that Thornton Canady’s belief was well founded. Interviews with more than 90 musicians opened doors to a world of music, especially jazz, rhythm and blues, funk, gospel, blues, church music, rap, marching bands, and beach music. The interviews also revealed long and deep connections between music and community.

A generous grant from the North Carolina Department of Transportation enabled the Arts Council to use the research to shape the creation of a cultural tourism trail. A companion project to Blue Ridge Music Trails of Western North Carolina, this initiative aims to share the state’s African American music heritage in ways that benefit both residents and visitors. It will encourage the continuation and recognition of African American music across North Carolina.

African American Music Trails of Eastern North Carolina is a guide to music, musicians, and places in eastern North Carolina where music has been a part of family, church, and community life for generations of African Americans. To keep the project doable, researchers focused on a cluster of eight contiguous counties. Once people heard about the project, numerous calls offering information from all sections of the state underlined the fact that there is also a wealth of African American music to explore elsewhere in North Carolina. In the book’s epilogue, Michelle Lanier highlights the abundance of the distinct and powerful African American music traditions found across the state.

African American Music Trails is the first publication designed to help travelers explore African American music in North Carolina. In an area that includes Lenoir, Jones, Wayne, Greene, Wilson, Edgecombe, Nash, and Pitt Counties, researchers, writers, and photographers have worked with local residents and arts organizations to provide in-depth insiders’ views of music and musicians. In addition to the personal narratives of musicians, you will find historical and new photographs, engaging portraits by Cedric N. Chatterley and dynamic photographic documentation of musicians and music events by Titus Brooks Heagins, as well as photographs contributed by the artists. Useful maps and travel information accompany descriptions of significant sites, venues, and events related to African American culture and heritage.

From the beginning of the field research, when folklorists began collaborating with regional partners to identify local musicians—many more than they were able to interview—it became clear that although a considerable wealth of music existed in the area, there were no longer many active music venues open to the public. Researchers found that a few musicians who were traveling out of state—even out of the United States—to perform were better known internationally than they were at home. As the music resources of the area became more visible, however, new venues developed and more performance opportunities opened up for local musicians. Those developments continue, and visitors should be aware that local citizens are proud of their music heritage and that their efforts to highlight it continue.

Eastern North Carolina Distinctions in African American Music

Eastern North Carolinians are among the transformative figures in the history of jazz, gospel, and popular music. The jazz pianists and composers Thelonious Monk, born in Rocky Mount, and Billy Taylor, a native of Greenville, earned international reputations during their lifetimes. They continue to be honored with special celebrations and events in their home communities.

Kinston musicians helped shape the sound that became known as funk and propelled the James Brown Band to new levels of performance and recognition. Nat Jones, Dick Knight, Levi Raspberry, and the brothers Melvin and Maceo Parker were influential members of the James Brown Band. Maceo Parker, still a very popular musician, has a busy schedule of performances around the world. Notable women artists who made Kinston their home include Little Eva, whose recording of The Loco-Motion reached number one in the United States in 1962.

The Monitors, a Wilson-based rhythm and blues and jazz band led by Bill Myers, have been making music for more than fifty years. Representing some of the best in American music, they appeared in Washington, D.C., on the rhythm and blues stage at the 2011 Smithsonian Festival of American Folklife.

Students are one focus of these efforts. A recurring theme in the book is the role that public school music teachers played in the lives of their students. Band directors, often gifted professional musicians themselves, inspired students to excel. Geneva Perry, a former saxophonist who toured with the International Sweethearts of Rhythm, taught at Adkin High School in Kinston. Edward Morgan, who taught in Greene County Schools, is credited with helping the Greene Central High School band in the small town of Snow Hill win national recognition and a place in the Macy’s Thanksgiving Day Parade. Currently, the Traditional Arts Programs for Students (TAPS), an initiative of the N.C. Arts Council, enlists outstanding local musicians as teachers for students who want to play music. Jazz classes at the Kinston Community Council for the Arts provide training for student jazz ensembles that visitors may hear performing periodically with their mentors in local venues.

Each of the five main chapters of the book focuses on a different town or city in the region where visitors can begin their explorations. The chapters typically treat the town or city as a hub from which visitors can also explore the smaller communities and places of interest nearby. On a map, these hubs—Kinston, Goldsboro, Wilson, Greenville, and a cluster that includes Rocky Mount, Princeville, and Tarboro—appear in a roughly circular path. The book starts with an exploration of the Kinston area and progresses around the circle in a clockwise direction. Visitors, of course, may enter the journey at any point and crisscross the landscape as they wish.

Each chapter has two parts, an introduction that provides historical context and background information, including musicians’ own stories about the music heritage of the area, followed by a travel section that guides visitors to places and events of interest. In the introductions, we have combined information from published and archival sources with excerpts edited from interviews with local musicians. As musicians spoke to researchers, they often talked about becoming musicians, but they talked about other things, too. Those who were born in North Carolina described their families and communities, bringing to life the people and places they knew best. Their stories were so engaging and compelling that we realized that there was no better way to introduce the music heritage of the region than by presenting excerpts from the interview transcripts in order to highlight the musicians’ own voices. What better guides to the places of this distinct and powerful music than the musicians themselves?

The travel section for each chapter describes music venues and events, as well as other related sites that travelers interested in African American culture may want to visit, such as historic sites, museums, and restaurants. Historical markers placed by the North Carolina Office of Archives and History are found throughout eastern North Carolina, and several are highlighted in these sections. As you think about attending events that highlight the region’s African American music heritage, keep in mind that schedules can change. Please take advantage of contact and website information in the guidebook to confirm schedules and events, and to find out about new venues that have opened since this publication.

We invite you to explore the music of eastern North Carolina and to discover what the gospel producer Edwin Mitchell meant when he once said of the Carolinas: It’s like God has placed a veil over the area, and put the gift of music down on it.

Beverly Patterson

Executive Director, North Carolina Folklife Institute, 2004–11

African American Music Trails of Eastern North Carolina

Dick Knight performing with the Monitors. Knight, a retired educator, has also had a long career as a professional musician, performing and recording with James Brown and Otis Redding, as well as the Dick Knight Express and other groups. Photograph by Titus Brooks Heagins.

1. Schooled in Jazz and Funk

Kinston Area

We couldn’t compete with the big towns like Raleigh and Durham that much, but we could always beat them in baseball and music.

Wilbert Croom, jazz singer from Kinston

At one particular time Kinston was almost like a little New York. You know, you go a lot of places and you see people dancing, but when you come back to Kinston and you go to a club, you see them dancing, and they got more pep, and the dancers are better and everything. It’s just a fun place. Saturday night you had five or six different bands playing different places. In those days, I mean, you could leave one club, go to another, and just go to five or six different clubs. It was a fun place to be, to play. I never did get a chance to get bored for wanting to play my instrument with a band.

—Dick Knight, horn player and retired music teacher

From Jazz to Funk

For at least a century, African American musicians from Kinston and the surrounding region have played key roles in the development of several forms of American music: jazz, rhythm and blues, funk, and gospel music. Jazz and R & B have been especially enriched by Kinstonians—from the early jazz composer and band leader J. Tim Brymn, the jazz guitarist Clifton Skeeter Best, and the alto saxophonist Talmadge Tab Smith, to Maceo and Melvin Parker, Nat Jones, Dick Knight, and Levi Raspberry, who became some of the founding fathers of funk in their work with the James Brown Band. Other artists have been drawn to Kinston and made it their home. The soul and jazz artist Sedatrius Brown-Boxley, a Washington, D.C., native, lived and performed in Kinston for several years before relocating to Atlanta. Eva Narcissus Boyd-Harris, known to the world as Little Eva, was born in Belhaven, North Carolina, and spent the last quarter-century of her life in Kinston. She worked here as a waitress at Hanzies Grill, sang in her church, and occasionally reprised her number one hit song from 1962, The Loco-Motion.

Kinston in the early and mid-20th

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