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North Carolina Music Hall of Fame 2019 inductees announced

KANNAPOLIS — Celebrating what North Carolina Arts Council Executive Director Wayne Martin called “a year of music,” the North Carolina Music Hall of Fame on Thursday unveiled this year’s inductees.

State Secretary of Natural and Cultural Resources Susi Hamilton introduced the new crop, a diverse group of five past and current artists with backgrounds ranging from folk to hip-hop. They are Elizabeth Cotten, Mitch Easter, Big Daddy Kane, Merle Watson and 9th Wonder.

Hamilton came instead of Gov. Roy Cooper, whose office said he was unable to attend because of Tuesday’s shooting at the University of North Carolina at Charlotte.

Elizabeth Cotten

A native of Carrboro, Cotten was a left-handed guitarist known for her “cotten picking” style. She began her career in later life, performing only in church until her 60s despite a background of songwriting.

She was named a National Heritage Fellow in 1984, the same year she won her first Grammy for her album “Elizabeth Cotten Live.”

“This inductee, who is no longer with us, passed away in 1987 but will remain a staple of North Carolina’s grassroots movements,” said Hamilton.

Mitch Easter

A Winston-Salem musician, recording artist and producer, Easter founded Fidelitorium Recordings in Kernersville. He produced rock band R.E.M.’s early albums from 1981 to 1984 and is known for his 1960s jangle-pop guitar sound that Hamilton described as treble-heavy and typically played on a 12-string electric guitar.

“He thinks the fact that it is possible to whip some vibrations and frequencies and grooves into something you want to play 100 times in a row is an essential mystery of the universe,” Hamilton said.

Big Daddy Kane

Kane is a North Carolina transplant, having moved to the state 25 years ago in the throes of a successful hip-hop career. Hamilton said he is known for being lyrically innovative and “defined the term lyricist in the hip-hop industry.”

He was nominated for a Grammy in the 1990s for his song “I Get the Job Done” and sold out two Apollo Theater shows marketed for women only.

“He’s a fluid rhymer and one of my favorite rhymers,” said Hamilton.

Merle Watson

The namesake for North Carolina’s beloved Merlefest, Watson won two Grammys for his recordings “Two Days in November” and “Big Sandy/Leather Britches.”

Both were recorded with his father, bluegrass legend Doc Watson.

Merle Watson’s daughter, Karen Watson Norris; her son and daughter, Channing Norris and Sarah-Beth Norris; and one of her grandchildren, Andrew Cox, attended Thursday’s announcement.

Merle died in a tractor accident in 1985 when Karen was just a senior in high school.

“It’s just an amazing honor,” she said. “It’s been a while since he passed, and to see him still having an impact just brings him to mind again for me.”

9th Wonder

Hamilton introduced 9th Wonder, born Patrick Denard Douthit, as a “super producer, DJ and lecturer.” He began his career as the main producer for Little Brother, moving on to work with artists such as Mary J. Blige, Jay-Z, Drake, Chris Brown and Destiny’s Child.

Douthit entered the world of academia in 2007, becoming artist-in-residence at North Carolina Central University. He is now at Harvard University, where he is researching hip-hop history by chronicling the top 200 hip-hop artists of all time.

He co-produced Mary J. Blige’s “Good Woman Down” on the album “The Breakthrough.”

Further celebration

Veronica Cordal, executive director of the North Carolina Music Hall of Fame, said inductees said the induction ceremony will be Oct. 17.

The ceremony will feature performances by Hall of Fame members Kellie Pickler and Shirley Caesar.

“It really is the year of music,” she said. “You don’t want to miss it. … It will celebrate and spotlight North Carolina music in a big, big way.”

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