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Kenneth Noland and Abstract Art

Noland painting in 1968. Image from the Smithsonian Archives of American Art.

On April 10, 1924, abstract artist Kenneth Noland was born in Asheville. Noland devoted much of his career to the artistic genre of color field abstraction. He studied and painted the interaction of contrasting and complementing colors. His most famous paintings feature a circle or chevron pattern that contains a distinct array of colors.

After a four-year stint in the Air Force, Nolan enrolled at Black Mountain College, not far from his hometown. The experimental liberal arts college challenged students to learn through their own creative approach. During his time at Black Mountain College, Noland learned Professor Josef Albers’ color theory and was greatly influenced by geometric abstractionist Ilya Bolotowsky. From Black Mountain, he went on to Paris to study artist Ossip Zadkins in 1949 before returning to the United States and teaching in Washington, D.C. and New York for the remainder of his career.

Noland’s work has been shown around the world. It has been said of Noland he was “one of the great colorists of the 20th century,” and that, “he invented a n

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ew kind of American abstraction based on the primacy of color.”

Buckminster Fuller Developed Geodesic Dome Design at Black Mountain, Raleigh

Buckminster Fuller (far left) with colleagues at Black Mountain College.
Image from the State Archives

On February 23, 1983, Buckminster Fuller was awarded the Presidential Medal of Freedom, the nation’s highest civilian award, for his contributions as a geometrician, educator and architect-designer.

“Bucky” Fuller’s application of synergetic geometry to geodesic structures took root at Black Mountain College in Buncombe County. During the 1949 summer session at Black Mountain, Fuller erected, with his students and colleagues, the prototype “Autonomous Dwelling Facility with a Geodesic Structure.”

A geodesic dome at Black Mountain College.
Image from the State Archives

As a guest lecturer at the North Carolina State University School of Architecture from 1949 to1955, Fuller worked with his students to design uses of the geodesic dome for a cotton mill, military installations and the Ford Motor Company. He patented the structure in 1954. Fuller received an honorary Doctor of Design degree from N.C. State in 1954. After leaving academia, Fuller served as president of the Raleigh architecture firm Synergetics from 1955 to 1959, where colleagues and students created sustainable commercial domes.

The Buckminster Fuller Institute has now identified more than 300,000 geodesic domes around the world, ranging from shelters to radar stations to playground structures.

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Oliver, North Wilkesboro Native, a Sixties Pop Sensation

On February 22, 1945, pop musician William Oliver Swofford, known professionally as Oliver, was born in North Wilkesboro.

A Morehead Scholar, Swofford joined his first band while at the University of North Carolina but they had no national success. In 1968, he came to the attention of music producer Bob Crewe, who described his voice as “pure, almost like a reed instrument.” After recording the song “Good Morning Starshine” from the musical “Hair,” but before releasing it, Crewe decided that Oliver would be a better name for the rising star.

In the summer of 1969, the song was a hit, climbing to number 3 on Billboard’s Hot 100. During his short musical career, Oliver had an additional hit with “Jean” from the movie, “The Prime of Miss Jean Brodie.” The song’s writer once said that Oliver did not just perform the song well,” he “set a standard for its performance.” “Jean” rose to number 2 on the Billboard chart in the fall of 1969.

In the early 1970s Swofford toured hundreds of college campuses and collaborated with Karen Carpenter before leaving the business. His debut album ultimately stayed on the chart for 38 weeks.  He died in 2000 in Louisiana.

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Maceo Parker of Kinston Brought the Funk

On February 14, 1943, saxophonist Maceo Parker was born in Kinston. Perhaps best known for his work with James Brown, Parker brought funk to the soul music of the James Brown Band. For nearly 20 years, Brown’s call “Maceo, I want you to Blow!” summoned his unique sound.

Parker was exposed to music early. His father played at least two instruments, and both of his parents sang for their church. His brother was also musical, and the pair joined James Brown’s band together in 1964. He has gone on to collaborate with a host of artists including George Clinton, Prince, Ray Charles, James Taylor, the Dave Matthews Band and the Red Hot Chili Peppers.

Among Parker’s many accolades and awards are the 2003 Rhythm and Blues Foundation Pioneer Award, the 2012 Les Victoires du Jazz in Paris Lifetime Achievement Award and the  Icon Award at the North Sea Jazz Festival in Rotterdam.

Parker tours internationally to this day. He is featured in the book African American Music Trails of Eastern North Carolina, published by the North Carolina Arts Council.

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Blind Boy Fuller of Durham, Blues Master

On February 13, 1941, Piedmont Blues musician “Blind Boy Fuller” died in Durham. Fuller was famous for playing a steel-bodied National guitar that was a natural resonator before amplification. Along with Reverend Gary Davis, Fuller dominated the Bull City’s blues scene, attracting and influencing many musicians.

Born Fulton Allen in Wadesboro in 1907, Fuller learned guitar and country rag songs from older singers in Rockingham. In his late teens, he moved to Winston-Salem where he played on sidewalks for shift workers in tobacco factories. He became completely blind in 1928 and moved to Durham the next year.

In 1935, Fuller was taken to New York by white merchant J. B. Long for the first of many recording sessions with the American Recording Corporation. He released more than 130 songs on several labels in his five-year recording career. Many of his songs centered on the daily struggles of black tenant farmers and the experiences of those who left the South for the North.

Fuller’s repertoire ranged from ragtime to the blues, including “Rag, Mama, Rag,” “Truckin’ My Blues Away” and “I Want Some Of Your Pie.” Fuller often recorded with other musicians, including guitarists Floyd Council and Bull City Red, and harmonica player Sonny Terry.

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Loonis McGlohon: North Carolina Was His Home

N.C. Is My HomeOn January 26, 2002, noted pianist and composer Loonis McGlohon died. Born in Ayden in 1921, he grew up listening to big band music and learning the piano from the church organist. After graduating from East Carolina University, McGlohon moved to Charlotte where he began working for WBTV, first with a jazz show. He moved up to become music director and producer, among other positions there.

McGlohon is perhaps best known for forming the Loonis McGlohon Trio, which recorded more than two dozen albums and toured the world. His compositions include “The Wine of May” and “Songbird,” and have been recorded by scores of performers including Frank Sinatra, Tony Bennett, Judy Garland and Rosemary Clooney.

An ardent advocate of his home state, McGlohon collaborated with journalist Charles Kuralt on North Carolina is My Home, a symphonic work with narration and vocals which has been distributed as a recording, public televison broadcast and video and a coffee table book.

In recognition of his songwriting, McGlohon was honored in 1998 with a tribute at New York’s Lincoln Center where many of the artists who had played with him and sung his songs made appearances. He was inducted into the North Carolina Music Hall of Fame in 2011.

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Miracle in the Hills: Mary Martin Sloop and Crossnore School

Drs. Eustace and Mary T. Martin Sloop, performing surgery under their “antiseptic” apple tree at Crossnore in the 1920s. Image from the State Archives.

On January 13, 1962, Mary Martin Sloop, founder of Crossnore School in Avery County, died at the age of 88. Sloop was raised at Davidson College where her father was a professor of geology and chemistry, and went to Philadelphia to study medicine after being rejected by schools in North Carolina. She married surgeon Eustace Sloop in 1908, and they determined to seek their fortune in the North Carolina mountains.

Settling into a joint practice first at Plumtree and soon after at Crossnore, they attended to the medical and educational needs of the community. Sloop founded Crossnore School because of the deficiencies of the public school system.  As local schools improved, Crossnore’s mission changed to serve orphans and children from broken homes. She worked to reduce the problems of child brides and illegal liquor through education. In 1928, she helped organize the Southern Highlands Handicrafts Guild.

The Weaving Room at Crossnore played an important role in the revival of Appalachian handicrafts. Of students’ craft work, Dr. Sloop said, “It is their character building qualities which concern us most at the school.”

Miracle in the Hills, published in 1952, is her life story and that of Crossnore School.

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Jazz Drummer Max Roach, N.C. Native

Image from the Wikipedia

On January 10, 1924, popular jazz drummer Max Roach was born in Pasquotank County. Shortly after moving to New York City with his family in 1928, Roach began to study piano with his aunt. He showed an early aptitude for music and played in jazz bands throughout high school.

Roach began filling in for the drummer in Coleman Hawkins’s band in 1943, and, in 1944, he cut his first record with a group that included Dizzy Gillespie. From there he had a career marked by collaboration with the jazz and bebop greats of his day, including Miles Davis, Charles Mingus, Charlie Parker, Thelonious Monk and others. Later in his career, Roach wrote music for the civil rights movement, taught percussion at the University of Massachusetts at Amherst and composed pieces for the theater.

Among Roach’s many accolades are designation as a Jazz Master by the National Endowment for the Arts, receipt of a MacArthur Foundation Genius Grant and membership in the N.C. Music Hall of Fame.

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Banjo Master and Innovator Earl Scruggs

Earl Scruggs. Image from the Associated Press.

On January 6, 1924, Earl Eugene Scruggs was born near Shelby. The renowned bluegrass banjo musician elevated the banjo from a rhythm instrument to a lead instrument through his distinctive three- finger picking style, now named for him.

Scruggs formed the Foggy Mountain Boys with Lester Flatt in 1948. The group soon gained success, playing radio stations across the South and recording for Mercury and Columbia Records. In 1962, The Beverly Hillbillies debuted on television with Flatt and Scruggs performing the theme song. The single version of that song quickly rose to number one on the country charts, and Flatt and Scruggs made a number of appearances on the popular sitcom.

The group became the first country act to have their own syndicated television series; The Flatt and Scruggs Grand Ole Opry Show ran from 1955 until the duo broke up in 1969. Scruggs then formed the Earl Scruggs Revue with his three sons.

In addition to inspiring a generation of banjo players, Scruggs received a number of honors, including two Grammy Awards. He was also inducted into the Country Music Hall of Fame and the International Bluegrass Music Hall of Fame. Scruggs recorded and performed until his death in 2012.

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Bath to Broadway: Edna Ferber and “Show Boat”

On December 27, 1927, the musical “Show Boat” premiered on Broadway at the Ziegfeld Theatre in New York City. Composer Jerome Kern and Lyricist Oscar Hammerstein II adapted Edna Ferber’s 1926 eponymous novel to the stage.

“Show Boat” was the first dramatic musical on Broadway, featuring a strong plot and incorporating lyrics into the staging. Its classic songs like “Ole’ Man River,’ “Can’t Help Lovin’ Dat Man” and “After the Ball” were further popularized by soprano and Winston-Salem native Kathryn Grayson in the 1951 film adaptation.

Ferber’s story about the interconnected lives surrounding a river showboat was based on the four days she spent on the James Adams Floating Theatre in Bath. Already a Pulitzer Prize-winning writer, Ferber visited Beaufort County to research river theater and, while on her trip, met performers Charles Hunter and Beulah Adams, who were fans of her work and had staged her stories.

Ferber took a second trip to North Carolina in April 1925 to meet a showboat in Bath. She lived, played, worked, rehearsed and ate with the theater company on the huge boat, gathering inspiration and stories from Charles Hunter and her observations of the audiences. The novel and musical dramatize timeless themes of racial injustice, tragic romance, gambling and small town values.

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