NC Music Hall of fame celebrates Tar Heel talent
By Hugh Fisher
Stepping through the doors of the N.C. Music Hall of Fame is a step back in time.
There are costumes and album covers, and a steady soundtrack of artists with North Carolina roots.
It’s a diverse collection of voices — Randy Travis, Roberta Flack and George Clinton, to name a few.
Andy Griffith smiles down from album covers on the wall, while a mannequin wears Sheriff Andy Taylor’s uniform from The Andy Griffith Show.
When you consider that the Music Hall of Fame building at 109 West A St. was once the Kannapolis city jail, that seems rather fitting.
Today, it’s fully renovated, thanks to Mike Curb of Curb Records and Castle and Cooke.
And it’s now a destination for fans, school groups and those who celebrate the state’s musical heritage.
There, you can see a necklace worn by Nina Simone, clothes worn by Maurice Williams and original sheet music from country songwriter John D. Loudermilk.
Among Loudermilk’s best-known songs on display: “A Rose and a Baby Ruth,” made famous by George Hamilton IV.
And “Indian Reservation,” the song about the Cherokee Indians recorded by Paul Revere and the Raiders.
Induction into the Hall of Fame
Eddie Ray, director of the Music Hall of Fame, greets guests with a smile and a handshake. He leads the tour with the practiced confidence of one who’s told these stories many times before.
Since 1994, the N.C. Music Hall of Fame has preserved memorabilia from North Carolina singers, musicians and songwriters, and honored them for their accomplishments.
Ray said the hall, originally founded in Thomasville, struggled for years due to a lack of exhibit space.
The move to Kannapolis came about through help from Mike Curb, the former president of MGM Records and founder of Curb Records.
Ray said that Curb has been instrumental in funding the Hall of Fame and locating it in Kannapolis.
Music producers, industry executives and educators are also eligible for induction into the Hall of Fame.
The only requirements, Ray said, are that the honoree must have been born in the state or have spent a significant amount of time in North Carolina.
And, Ray said, a person can only be inducted 10 years after his or her entry into the music business.
This year’s inductees, announced last week, include alt-rock singer and pianist Tori Amos, who was born in Newton, and two of the original members of ’60s girl group The Shirelles, Shirley Austin Reeves of Henderson and the late Doris Kenner Jackson of Goldsboro.
The annual induction ceremony, held in October, features live performances and tributes to artists who have passed on.
It’s not clear who among this year’s inductees will attend, according to Ray.
He said the Hall of Fame has been in contact with Tori Amos’ management, and that she might be able to record a video message if she’s unable to attend in person.
The inductions have offered a chance to see some of North Carolina’s greats in person.
Remembering Doc Watson
In 2010, Doc Watson was inducted into the Hall of Fame, and performed live in October at the induction dinner at the N.C. Research Campus.
Watson, who died Tuesday at age 89, is one of the most beloved artists in the Hall of Fame, Ray said.
This week, Ray said, he wrote a condolence note to Watson’s family which he posted on the Hall of Fame’s Facebook page.
“Doc will forever live in the hearts and minds of millions of his loyal followers, and will live forever here in the Hall of Fame,” Ray said. “He was a fantastic artist.”
Ray said that all of the clothing, plus items such as sheet music, photos and recordings, have either been donated or loaned to the Hall of Fame by artists or their families.
It’s difficult to contact some of them, Ray said.
He and a staff member contact inductees or their families themselves to find out what they might be willing to offer.
Sometimes they have to deal with their agents — “and man, that is a job,” Ray said.
Because, Ray said from experience, stars are used to having their agents deal with such requests. “Once you get beyond management, it’s amazing how receptive the artists are,” Ray said.
There are some one-of-a-kind treasures at the Music Hall of Fame.
In the Bluegrass Room, Ray proudly points to the instrument he said Arthur “Guitar Boogie” Smith used to compose the famous song “Dueling Banjos” in 1955.
With the popularity of bluegrass music, Ray said many come to learn about the greats, including Lester Flatt, Earl Scruggs and China Grove native Curly Seckler.
On the wall in a hallway is the sheet music for “Good Morning Starshine,” from the musical “Hair.”
Pop singer Oliver — born William Oliver Swofford in North Wilkesboro — made the song a hit in 1969.
A T-shirt from Ben Folds, rock singer and pianist originally from Winston-Salem, hangs nearby.
Folds was a 2011 inductee, and Ray said that his performance drew lots of attention.
“If we’d had a larger venue, we could have had a thousand more people,” Ray said.
Long time in the biz
Ray himself was a veteran music producer and promoter, and the first African-American vice president of a major label. He’s worked with the likes of John Lee Hooker and B.B. King, and signed Pink Floyd to their first major recording contract.
For all that, Ray downplayed his own accomplishments, keeping the tour focused on North Carolina’s musical heritage.
What he loves best, Ray said, are hearing fans’ stories of their favorite artists.
“I’m proudest when people come here who really enjoy the music, and know something about the artist,” he said.
More importantly, he said he loves teaching schoolchildren about music.
All of the fifth-grade students from Kannapolis Intermediate School make a field trip to the Hall of Fame each year.
It’s a bit of culture shock, Ray said, to meet kids who don’t know what a 45 record is.
But, he added, those students are learning about the history of music in the state.
“They go back and do research on the artists they see,” Ray said.
Copies of their research projects are sent over, Ray said, which lets him know they really are gaining knowledge from their experience.
On June 16, the Hall of Fame is sponsoring the Rhythm and Run 5K, a foot race on the Kannapolis greenway system.
The fundraiser will help the Hall of Fame in its efforts to promote and honor music and musicians.
Ray speaks highly of Kannapolis and how the city has embraced the organization.
“The only thing I’m concerned about,” he said, “is that the ultimate success of the Hall of Fame in Kannapolis is dependent on what happens to downtown.”
In order to keep the Hall of Fame growing, Ray said more businesses are needed downtown.
But no matter what occurs, Ray said the N.C. Music Hall of Fame will continue to thrive.
“We get calls every day from people who want to be inducted!” Ray said.
And hundreds of visitors a year take away with them a better knowledge of the state’s musical tapestry, and its history.
The N.C. Music Hall of Fame is open Monday through Friday, 10 a.m. to noon and 2 p.m. to 4 p.m. The museum is closed Saturdays, Sundays and all federal holidays.
Admission is free, but donations are accepted.
For more information, visit northcarolinamusichalloffame.org, or call 704-934-2320.
Contact Hugh Fisher via the editor’s desk at 704-797-4244.