Music of North Carolina

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North Carolina is known particularly for its tradition of old-time music, and many recordings were made in the early 20th century by folk song collector Bascom Lamar Lunsford. Most influentially, North Carolina country musicians like the North Carolina Ramblers helped solidify the sound of country music in the late 1920s, while influential bluegrass musicians such as Earl Scruggs, Doc Watson and Del McCoury came from North Carolina. Arthur Smith is the most notable North Carolina musician/entertainer who had the first nationally syndicated television program which featured country music. Arthur Smith composed Guitar Boogie the all time best selling guitar instrumental and Dueling Banjos the all time best selling banjo composition. Both North and South Carolina are a hotbed for traditional rural blues, especially the style known as the Piedmont blues. Elizabeth Cotten, from Chapel Hill, was active in the American folk music revival.

As a college region, the Raleigh-Durham-Chapel Hill area (collectively known as the Triangle) has long been a well-known center for indie rock, metal, punk and hip-hop. Bands from this popular music scene include The Avett Brothers, Flat Duo Jets, Corrosion of Conformity, Superchunk, Archers of Loaf, The Rosebuds, The Love Language, Tift Merritt, Ben Folds Five, Squirrel Nut Zippers Alternatve States, Remington Brown, Carolina Chocolate Drops, Lords of the Underground, The Apple Juice Kid, Between the Buried and Me, Foreign Exchange, The Justus League, the Spider Bags, and Little Brother.

Early Black string band music[edit]

Slave musicians in North Carolina and throughout the country were often responsible for providing the dance music for both white and African American social gatherings. If a slave was trained as a musician, their value as property went up for their masters. String bands were formed to accompany the social dancing. After slaves were given their freedom, small communities of blacks began to form in the North Carolina Piedmont region. One of these communities outside of Statesville, North Carolina had enough of a fiddler population to support a fiddler’s convention. Joe Thompson, an African American fiddler who died in 2012,[1] is from the Cedar Grove community in North Carolina. The banjo was another popular instrument for African Americans to play in a string band. The banjo is an instrument adapted from its African relative the akonting, and younger black musicians often learned to play from older community members. One black musician, Joe Fulp, from the Walnut Cove community used the banjo to help pass the time while waiting for tobacco to cure. String Bands of the North Carolina Piedmont region had their own sound consisting of long bow fiddle playing, flowing banjo lines, and a prominent bass line provided by the guitar, an instrument added to the ensemble in the early 20th century. The style of Piedmont string bands was influenced by the dance tune melodies of Europe and the rhythmic complexity of African banjo playing.[2]

Gospel Music[edit]

North Carolina is also considered[by whom?] a cradle of Gospel music. The Moravians who established the town of Winston-Salem had published Europe's first hymnal in the 1400s, and had brought from the Czech Republic and Saxony many instruments including skills to build pipe organs. Music was an integral part of community life. Everyone participated in brass bands and knew the songs which told of births, deaths and other events. The Moravian Music Foundation in Old Salem NC contains the archive of these materials.

In the days of slavery, spirituals played a huge role in the lives of the slaves of North Carolina elite, and after emancipation, this stayed true. During the 1940s and 50s, North Carolina was a favorite place to visit of Gospel singers for many reasons, among which was North Carolina's less rigorous Jim Crow laws. North Carolina is also home to many famous Gospel singers, the most famous being Shirley Caesar, known as the "First Lady Of Gospel". Caesar got her start when the group The Caravans came through Wilson, North Carolina in 1958. North Carolina is also famous for its abundance of family Gospel groups which thrive all throughout the state. Award-winning vocal group The Kingsmen originate in Asheville, North Carolina.

Piedmont blues[edit]

The Piedmont blues is a type of blues music characterized by a unique fingerpicking method on the guitar in which a regular, alternating-thumb bass pattern supports a melody using treble strings. Blind Boy Fuller (b. Fulton Allen, Wadesboro, NC, July, 1907) was a popular Piedmont blues guitarist, who played for tips outside tobacco warehouses in Durham during the 1930s. Fuller recorded more than 120 sides during the second half of the 1930s. South Carolina-born Piedmont blues musician Rev. Gary Davis also played in Durham in the 1930s when the city had a thriving black business community and an emerging black middle class.

Jazz musicians[edit]

Several notable jazz musicians were originally from North Carolina.[3] In the case of Thelonious Monk, (b. Rocky Mount, NC, October 10, 1917) the North Carolina connection is slight, as Monk's family moved to Manhattan when Monk was four. John Coltrane (b. Hamlet, NC, September 23, 1926) spent most of his childhood in High Point, NC, before moving to Philadelphia when he was sixteen. Bebop pioneer Max Roach was born in Newland, North Carolina, but like Monk, moved with his family to New York City when he was four. Other jazz musicians from North Carolina include guitarist Tal Farlow (b. Greensboro, NC, 6/7/21), considered one of the top players during the 1950s. Hard-bop saxophonists Lou Donaldson (b. Badin, NC, 11/1/26) and Tina Brooks (b. Fayetteville, NC, 6/7/32) were originally North Carolinians. Hard-bop trumpeter Woody Shaw (b. Laurinburg, NC, 12/24/44), pianist Billy Taylor (b. Greenville, NC, 7/24/21), pianist and singer dubbed the "High Priestess of Soul" Dr.Nina Simone (b.Tryon, NC, 2/21/33) and bassist Percy Heath (b. Wilmington, NC, 4/30/23) were born in the state as well. South Carolinian Dizzy Gillespie grew up just over the state line and attended school at the Laurinburg Institute in North Carolina. Jazz composer and arranger Billy Strayhorn spent some of his summers in Hillsborough, NC with his grandparents.

Chapel Hill rock[edit]

James Taylor Bridge, Chapel Hill

Chapel Hill's music scene dates back to the 1950s, and really began to take off in the 60s, when the Cat's Cradle Coffeehouse nurtured local folk activity. One of the first local legends, The Corsayers (later The Fabulous Corsairs) - featuring Alex Taylor and younger brother James - could be heard around town. Later, Arrogance became a major part of the folk scene. James Taylor would go on to a very successful career as a singer-songwriter, and his "Carolina in My Mind" would become an unofficial anthem for the state.[4][5][6] The Chapel Hill Museum opened a permanent exhibit dedicated to Taylor; at the same occasion the US-15-501 highway bridge over Morgan Creek, near the site of the Taylor family home and mentioned in Taylor's song "Copperline", was dedicated to Taylor.[7]

The Chapel Hill music scene began to pick up steam in the 1980s when bands like The Pressure Boys, The Connells, Flat Duo Jets, Southern Culture on the Skids A Number of Things, Fetchin' Bones and Snatches of Pink began releasing their own records or signing to independent record labels. In the late '80s through the mid-'90s, the Chapel Hill scene reached its peak as bands such as Superchunk, Polvo, Archers of Loaf, Small, Zen Frisbee, Dillon Fence, Sex Police, Pipe, The Veldt, Metal Flake Mother and many other bands were signed to local and national labels. The Young Rock wave of music was filling the college radio airwaves.

In the late '90s, gold record and platinum success came to Chapel Hill bands Squirrel Nut Zippers and the piano pop trio Ben Folds Five.

Punk rock and metal[edit]

Raleigh-Durham-Chapel Hill was a regional center for punk rock in the late 70s, due to its large number of college students. The first wave of bands were more power-pop than punk, and included Peter Holsapple & the H-Bombs, Sneakers, and Chris Stamey and the dBs. The punks arrived shortly after with 'th Cigaretz, The Dads, the Bad Checks, the Fabulous Knobs, Butchwax, The X-Teens, Human Furniture, and the Junkie Sluts. Later hardcore punk bands included Corrosion of Conformity, No Labels, Colcor, UNICEF, Stillborn Christians,[8] DAMM, Bloodmobile, Subculture, Ugly Americans, 30 Foot Beast, Mission DC, the Celibate Commandos, Rights Reserved,DLW, Creeping Flesh, Time Bomb, Stations of the Cross, A Number of Things, and Oral Fixation.[9] Some other notable Heavy Metal acts to come from North Carolina are Alesana, Weedeater (band), Buzzoven, Against Their Will (band), Daylight Dies, Between the Buried and Me, and Confessor.

At the same time, Charlotte had its own punk rock scene, with bands like Antiseen, Judas Bullethead, Social Savagery, and Influential Habits from Charlotte, and bands so did chapelhill,with remington brown the indie rock singer from hillsborogh NC from the local area, such as NRG from Hickory, and Bloodmobile from Statesville, to name a few. The Milestone was the main club for a good period of time, until a boycott began against the club, and its owner.[citation needed] During this time, shows moved around the Charlotte region, at times at the Yellow Rose, a club off South Boulevard. Christian-based pop punk band Philmont also originate from Charlotte.


The Triangle metropolitan area also boasts a long-standing and diverse hip-hop scene. During hip-hop's golden era in the mid-90s, both the Lords of the Underground, who met while attending Shaw University,Omniscence and Yaggfu Front were acclaimed. In 1998, Little Brother, composed of Rapper Big Pooh, Phonte, and 9th Wonder, met while attending North Carolina Central University. The successful alternative hip-hop group also co-founded the Justus League collective, which features other important North Carolina emcees, including L.E.G.A.C.Y., The Away Team, Darien Brockington, Edgar Allen Floe, Chaundon, and Cesar Comanche.[10]

Other major-label rappers and producers from North Carolina include J. Cole, from Fayetteville; The Apple Juice Kid; Kaze; Ski; Travis Cherry, Wan Gray, from Raleigh; and Petey Pablo, from Greenville. Well-known underground acts include Troop 41. Driicky Graham is from Oxford.

Charlotte also has some notable rappers, including Bettie Grind and Mr. 704.

Youth orchestras[edit]

The Piedmont Youth Orchestra of Chapel Hill includes three ensembles. The Piedmont Junior Orchestra is for students in elementary and middle schools. The Piedmont Chamber Ensemble is limited to students who are in middle and high school and pass an audition. Finally, the Piedmont Wind Ensemble is for woodwind and brass students in middle school and high school.[11]

The Western Piedmont Youth Symphony is a large youth orchestra associated with the Western Piedmont Symphony in Hickory, NC.[12] Students are auditioned and range in age from middle school through college.

See also[edit]


  1. ^ "Joe Thompson Dies at 93". New York Times. Retrieved 29 December 2013. 
  2. ^ Carlin, Bob (2004). Sting Bands in the North Carolina Piedmont. Jefferson, NC: McFarland & Company, Inc. 
  3. ^ North Carolina Jazz Musicians
  4. ^ "Hey, James Taylor – You've got a ... bridge?". Rome News-Tribune. May 21, 2002. Retrieved June 28, 2009. [dead link]
  5. ^ Hoppenjans, Lisa (October 2, 2006). "You must forgive him if he's ...". The News & Observer. Retrieved June 28, 2009. [dead link]
  6. ^ Waggoner, Martha (October 17, 2008). "James Taylor to play 5 free NC concerts for Obama". USA Today. Associated Press. Retrieved June 28, 2009. 
  7. ^ "Carolina in My Mind: The James Taylor Story". The Chapel Hill Museum. Retrieved June 28, 2009. 
  8. ^ How North Carolina Got its Punk Attitude, March 1998
  9. ^ Blush, Steven (2001). American Hardcore: A Tribal History. Feral House. ISBN 0-922915-71-7. 
  10. ^ Cordor, Cyril "Hall of Justus Biography", Allmusic
  11. ^ Piedmont Youth Orchestra
  12. ^ Youth orchestra. WPS.

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