Chuck Stewart’s photography provided by Fireball Entertainment Group, courtesy of Chuck Stewart Photographs of John Coltrane, Archives Center, National Museum of American History, Smithsonian Institution
Notes on the songs from our 20th Southern Music Issue Sampler featuring North Carolina.
The profiles, eulogies, and essays herein boast of remarkable achievements of North Carolina’s musicians across eras and genres: from unassailable legends (High Point’s John Coltrane, Tryon’s Nina Simone, Chapel Hill’s James Taylor) to contemporary masters (Snow Hill’s Rapsody, Jacksonville’s Ryan Adams, Raleigh’s 9th Wonder) to the seen-afresh (Dunn’s Link Wray, Kannapolis’s George Clinton, Winston-Salem’s dB’s, Charlotte’s Jodeci)—and, of course, the often-overlooked and in-between (Winston-Salem’s Wesley Johnson, Morganton’s Etta Baker, Chapel Hill’s Liquid Pleasure, Kinston’s Nathaniel Jones, Black Mountain’s period of hosting John Cage).
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.
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.
A Points South essay from the North Carolina Music Issue.
Even with all the influences on his style and songs—Fred Miller, Blind Boy Fuller, Lightnin’ Hopkins, Blind Lemon Jefferson, Sonny Terry, and Brownie McGhee, to name some—Henry had a large collection of originals, could improvise effortlessly (and endlessly) with his talking blues, and never seemed to tire of stories connecting the dots of his life as a fisherman, preacher, musician, and observer of the world. He could glide easily from a voice of defiance to a lonesome wail of abandonment and isolation, fusing the occupational calls of menhaden singers with the eternal sacred pleas for help and ease of pain.
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 lyric essay supplement to our 2018 North Carolina Music Issue—plus H. C. McEntire covers Led Zeppelin.
God is right there, in the brier. Turn the rows, change the tires, bow the heads, feed the mouths. Only the rhythm will yield the harvest. Go on, now. Shoot the hog between the eyes. It’s easiest that way.
Serve them all.
An installment in our weekly series, The By and By.
The Jim Ridley line that I wrote about in a previous column, his beautiful notion that “you can find your voice by loving things”—that’s absolutely true. What’s also true is that you can build your history by loving things.
This story was originally published on OxfordAmerican.org in 2012.
In underground music circles, Dex is a legend. During the late ’80s and ’90s he fronted North Carolina’s fabled Flat Duo Jets. They were a raw, influential two-piece who blended surf, rockabilly, blues, hillbilly, garage, and country into a savage, one-of-a-kind slurry that paved the way for twenty-first century roots-rock duos such as The Black Keys and The White Stripes.