All aesthetics arises from life and ends up going home to the world of art, no matter how or where it started, in the church or the counterfeit palace of pleasure known as the cathouse. What was understood by jazzmen like Jelly Roll Morton, King Oliver, Sidney Bechet, and Louis Armstrong was of such profound importance to jazz performance that it has continued to influence every solid approach to the music, regardless of style.
Mentor to Alice Gerrard, beacon to all of us North Carolina folkie wannabes, revered by those of us with any musical knowledge, and—music’s highest compliment—sung by many of us who don’t know how we know the words. This Chapel Hill woman is the very heart of what we call Piedmont blues.
A Points South essay from our North Carolina Music Issue.
After twenty-four years of educational experimentation and financial struggle, Black Mountain College closed in 1956. Today it is remembered primarily for its tremendous impact on the visual arts. Among the famous painters to emerge from its tiny student body (yearly enrollment was consistently well below one hundred) were Robert Rauschenberg, Kenneth Noland, Susan Weil, Dorothea Rockburne, Ruth Asawa, and Cy Twombly. But it’s also fair to say that the most notorious experimental music composition of the twentieth century would likely never have been composed or performed if not for its cultivation there. John Cage’s two terms as a summer instructor, four years apart, bookended his larger transformation from a critically accepted, if minor, experimental musician to perhaps America’s most controversial living composer. It began with a food fight in Black Mountain’s dining hall.
In the early 1960s, the Staple Singers marched with their gospel rhythms and church-house fervor into the arena of civil rights–inspired folksong. Some saw this as a straying from the one true way, a betrayal even. For the Staples, it was a seamless progression, a greater embracing of all creation. And so it was that a like-minded admirer came by one day to introduce them to a scruffy young songwriter from northern Minnesota.
Some people come to the old Jazzland amusement park by way of the service road off Interstate 510, bringing their cars directly onto the grounds. Before the city stepped up security, I once saw a blue Corvette and black Chevy S-10 pull up and proceed to chase each other at top speed around the central lagoon, then disappear to the far end of the abandoned park. But if you come on foot, it’s best to slip through the hole cut in the chain-link fence, picking your way through the broken glass and shards of scrap metal in the parking lot.
Many Stories, One People. That’s the motto of the North Carolina Humanities Council, a statewide cultural nonprofit based in Charlotte.
Taken in moments of tranquil cohabitation rather than scenes of flooding and disaster, Virginia Hanusik’s photographs interrogate the commonplace existence of communities touched by South Louisiana’s struggle with sea-level rise. “Despite the uncertainty that rising seas and coastal erosion bring to the region,” Hanusik writes, “there is hope found in the history of building practices and land migration patterns that are responses to environmental change.”
A poem from the North Carolina Music Issue.
When it snows, the entire post
shuts down like there is no war
going on. Perhaps the higher-ups
decide to let those left behind,
for the moment, savor the chance
to shape snowmen with their children
or lie beside another warm body.
Probably it is lack of preparedness.
A feature essay from the North Carolina Music Issue.
Rapsody now dons the mantle for a long tradition of black women, particularly those from the South, forcing Americans to look in the mirror of our professed ideals and to face the ills that haunt us. She carries the torch the outspoken, Tryon-born Nina Simone held high in the heat of the last century’s civil rights movement, before she fled to Europe for respite and asylum. She embodies the quiet fire and sensuality of the diminutive Roberta Flack, born in the Asheville-area town of Black Mountain, whose blend of torch ballads, folk, soul, gospel, and disco transformed what could be decidedly black and land in the genre of “pop music” as the civil rights fight gave way in the latter part of the century to the cultural appropriation that integration wrought.
An essay supplement to our North Carolina Music Issue.
After processing their set, I asked them to tell me about Venezuela and the places that have faded into the backdrop of spotty, childhood memories for me. A country I haven’t seen in more than eighteen years is the place that they’re indescribably homesick for, but know they can’t return to if they want to continue making their art. Through their music and conversation, they transport themselves across the Caribbean Sea, back home.
A Points South essay from the North Carolina Music Issue.
Shortly after publishing the biography John Coltrane: His Life and Music, Lewis Porter received a letter from a man who identified himself as a Coltrane. Only not, presumably, one related to the great jazz musician. His ancestors had been white farmers in North Carolina. “He said, ‘I’ve been looking into my family history,’” Porter recalled recently, “‘and I have here a bill of sale that could be interesting.’”