Monuments And Festivals Honor Musicians Who Made Their Mark
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North Carolina music pilgrims can easily pick up a trail or connect a few dots to create one. Along with the existing Blue Ridge Music Trail and the future African American Music Trail, travelers can build an itinerary based on storied indie rock clubs, hometowns of “American Idol” stars, gospel sings and other themes.
Here we take a different approach, one that reflects what communities have done to ensure the legacy of artists who have called North Carolina home. Be sure to take your camera on a journey that explores lasting connections to music.
Nina Simone: Eunice Waymon left her hometown of Tryon after high school, studied at the Juilliard School, and reached her destiny as Nina Simone, civil rights activist and “high priestess of soul.” A sculptural rendering by Zenos Frudakis commands attention at Nina Simone Plaza on Trade Street in Tryon.
John Coltrane: The soul-searching jazz saxophonist was born in Hamlet and grew up in High Point. An 8-foot bronze likeness by Jay Warren has been erected on Commerce Avenue at Hamilton Street in High Point, which is also home to a festival in his honor.
Doc Watson: Ten miles west of his home in Deep Gap, the town of Boone honors the larger-than-life guitarist with a true-to-life bronze sculpture by Alex Hallmark. At Watson’s insistence, it’s labeled “Doc Watson — Just one of the people.” The statue is at King and Depot streets. Watson has also established a lasting memorial to his son and music partner, Merle Watson: the Eddy Merle Watson Memorial Garden for the Senses at Wilkes Community College in Wilkesboro.
James Taylor Bridge: Morgan Creek, referenced in the Taylor song “Copperline,” lies near the house where the singer lived growing up. The state named the bridge that spans the creek on U.S. 15-501 in his honor.
Wilmington Walk of Fame: Behind the Cotton Exchange on Wilmington’s waterfront, the community honors its own on the star-studded Walk of Fame, which salutes three native-born musicians:
- Caterina Jarboro: Two decades before Marian Anderson hit the stage at the Met, Jarboro became the first African-American to perform in a U.S. opera house.
- Percy Heath: After serving as a Tuskegee Airman during World War II, the bassist became a charter member of the Modern Jazz Quartet.
- Charlie Daniels: “The Devil Went Down to Georgia” earned the singer-songwriter-fiddler-guitarist immortality in county music and Southern rock circles.
North Carolina Highway Historical Markers: Several illustrious music figures are recognized with markers:
- Thelonious Monk: U.S. 64 Business at North Washington Street, Rocky Mount, about a mile from the jazz pianist’s birthplace.
- John Coltrane: U.S. 74 at Bridges Street, Hamlet, a block from where the jazz saxophonist was born.
- Charlie Poole: N.C. 14 at Fisher Hill Road northwest of Eden, a quarter mile from where the pioneering banjo player is buried.
- Bascom Lamar Lunsford: N.C. 213 near Main Street in Mars Hill, where the folklorist-collector- performer known as the “minstrel of Appalachia” was born.
- Billy Strayhorn: U.S. 70 Business/N.C. 86 at the Eno River, Hillsborough, near the boyhood home of the composer-jazz pianist and longtime Duke Ellington collaborator.
- Tom Dula: N.C. 268 at the Yadkin River bridge, Ferguson, near the place where the folk song subject (and, incidentally, a fiddler) was hanged for murder.
Andy Griffith Playhouse: Griffith, who put Mount Airy on the map as Mayberry, remains a dominant presence in his hometown. In addition to the eponymous music-theater venue, the Andy Griffith Museum displays music memorabilia as well as items related to his popular TV series. A statue depicting Griffith in his Andy Taylor persona stands outside the museum.
Don Gibson Theatre: Shelby named its renovated Art Deco movie house for the native-born singer-songwriter. Artists booked into this 400-seat, state-of-the-art venue often perform Gibson’s signature songs, “Sweet Dreams” and “I Can’t Stop Loving You.” Gibson photos and memorabilia are on view in the lobby.
Earl Scruggs Center: Visitors to this Shelby attraction, opening in late 2012 or early 2013, will learn volumes about the picker who changed the rules for banjo. Prized instruments, films and interactive exhibits will contribute to the story, which will be told within the context of the region where Scruggs is rooted.
McGlohon Theater: A North Carolina-born jazz pianist, McGlohon enjoyed a well-rounded career as a performer, broadcast personality and songwriter, with works recorded by Frank Sinatra, Judy Garland, Tony Bennett and others. His home base of Charlotte named a 700-seat theater at Spirit Square in his honor.
Olive Dame Campbell Building: The John C. Campbell Folk School in Brasstown named the building that houses its dining hall for co-founder Olive Campbell. The movie “Songcatcher” was based on Campbell’s work as a ballad collector.
MerleFest: Staging its 25th rendition in April 2012, MerleFest celebrates Doc Watson’s generous embrace of traditional music in a four-day festival full of good will and great music. Held in Wilkesboro, it’s dedicated to Doc’s son and music partner, Merle Watson, who died in 1985.
MoogFest: At a three-day fall festival, Asheville celebrates the pioneering spirit of Bob Moog, whose synthesizers became the weapon of choice for Yes, Kraftwerk, Keith Emerson and others.
Charlie Poole Festival: As leader of the North Carolina Ramblers, the banjo pioneer lived fast, died young and left his mark as the “patron saint of modern country music,” in the words of scholar Hank Sapoznik. Poole is honored in his old stomping grounds of Eden with a two-day summer festival.
John Coltrane International Jazz and Blues Festival: Inaugurated in 2011, the one-day festival takes place the Saturday of Labor Day weekend in High Point, where Coltrane grew up.
RiddleFest: Burnsville native Lesley Riddle taught his repertoire to A.P. Carter and his guitar licks to Maybelle Carter, and thanks to musicologist Mike Seeger, his contributions were finally proclaimed. February’s daylong RiddleFest celebrates his life and music.
Tommy Jarrell Festival: As a fiddler, banjo player and singer, Jarrell helped define the Round Peak style of old-time music, distinguished by syncopated rhythms and stripped-down melodies. Mount Airy, down the road from the Round Peak community, stages a February festival that celebrates Jarrell’s music.
Ola Belle Reed Festival: The tiny mountain town of Lansing pays tribute to native daughter Reed, the singer-banjo player best known for writing “High on a Mountain.” The three-day festival takes place in August.
Halls of Fame
North Carolina Music Hall of Fame: In Kannapolis, the spectrum of North Carolina’s musical heritage extends from the notable artists above to Maceo Parker, Ben Folds, Kay Kyser, Shirley Caesar, George Clinton, Thelonious Monk, Randy Travis, Ben E. King, Max Roach, Billy Taylor and others.
Blue Ridge Music Hall of Fame: Doc Watson, Earl Scruggs and Jim Lauderdale are among the North Carolina honorees at the hall, which is housed at the Wilkes Heritage Museum in Wilkesboro.
Old-Time Music Heritage Hall: Tommy Jarrell, Fred Cockerham and other Surry County musicians are honored at the hall in Mount Airy.
added: February 22, 2012
updated: August 28, 2012
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