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Guy Owen and the Flim-Flam Man

Image from the State Archives

Image from the State Archives

On July 25, 1981, N.C. State University professor and writer Guy Owen died at the age of 56.

Born in Clarkton in Bladen County, Owen grew up on a tobacco farm. Years of clerking at his father’s general store provided the author with much eventual grist for his creative mill.

Owen enrolled at UNC in 1942, and after taking a three-year break from his studies for service in World War II, he earned bachelors and doctoral degrees in English. Brief teaching stints followed at Davidson, Elon and Stetson in Florida, before he joined the faculty at N.C. State in 1962.

Owen found his greatest acclaim as the author of The Ballad of the Flim-Flam Man, the tale of an aging confidence man. A bestseller, the book was adapted into a film in 1967 starring George C. Scott.  Mordecai Jones, the protagonist, appeared in two other books by Owen.

Today Owen is also remembered for his courses at N.C. State. He edited several anthologies of state and regional fiction, lectured and conducted workshops across the state and helped shape the state’s eventual literary renaissance.

A recipient of the North Carolina Award in 1971, Owen was one of the inductees into the North Carolina Literary Hall of Fame in 1996, its inaugural year.

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Festival Rocked Iredell County Community, 1970

A shot of the crowd looking toward the stage at the Love Valley Music Festival. Image courtesy of Ed Buzzell Photography

The crowd looking toward the stage at the Love Valley Music Festival.
Image courtesy of Ed Buzzell Photography.

On July 16, 1970, the “South’s Woodstock” was launched at Love Valley. The rock festival swelled the small Western-themed community of about 100 people to almost 200,000.

Located north of Statesville, Love Valley was the creation of Andy Barker in 1954, who had always wanted to live like a cowboy in an Old West town.  The idea of the rock festival was Barker’s and he charged $5 a person for the three-day event.

The crowd at Love Valley. Image courtesy of Ed Buzzell Photography

The crowd at Love Valley. Image courtesy of Ed Buzzell Photography.

While the festival could not draw the band lineup of Woodstock, which the Iredell County event was modeled after, the headliner was the Allman Brothers Band. Young and on the rise, the band played several sets during the weekend festival and documentarians captured it in about 20 minutes of film. Several local bands, including Kallabash of Greensboro, were also on the program

Organizers had hoped to do a documentary like the one made at Woodstock, but a lack of funds meant that they were only able to capture parts of each band’s performance. In spite of some locals’ dire worries about illegal and immoral behavior, the weekend passed without major incident, and the festival in the valley lived up to its name.

Don’t forget to check out the N.C. Arts Council’s summer performing arts guide for suggestions on how you can experience great Tar Heel arts experiences now.

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Carrboro’s Libba Cotten, Composer of “Freight Train”

A image of Cotten with Mike Seegar from the State Archives

On June 29, 1987, folk music legend Libba Cotten died.

Cotten taught the world “Freight Train,” “Shake Sugaree” and a host of other songs. Her “parlor ragtime” style was no less elegant for the guitar being turned upside down and the thumb and finger roles being reversed.

Cotten was born in 1893 in an area that would eventually become Carrboro. She grew up near the railroad tracks on what is now called Lloyd Street. She wrote “Freight Train” at age 11. Her early biography reads much like those of most of the people around her: hard work punctuated by frolics, music, marriage, church and family.

She eventually moved to Washington D.C., where she found employment with composer and folklorist Ruth Crawford Seeger. While working for Seeger’s family, she idly picked up a guitar and revealed herself to be precisely the kind of native player they held up as an ideal. By then she was over 60-years-old.

Seeger’s son Mike made a project of recording her songs, releasing a Folkways record of them to great acclaim. Cotten ceased domestic work and spent the rest of her life as a traveling entertainer.

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George Masa, Great Smokies Photographic Artist

Masa in 1933

On June 21, 1933, businessman, naturalist and photographer George Masa died.

Born Masahara Iisuka in Japan in the early 1880s, little is known about Masa’s early life. After his father’s death, Masa immigrated to the United States and studied engineering at the University of California before moving to North Carolina to work at the Grove Park Inn in Asheville.

In Asheville, Masa joined the Carolina Mountain Club, and was exposed to the area’s spectacular scenic beauty. Though it is unclear how he learned photography, he became quite skilled as a lensman. He went to work for a photography studio and eventually became its proprietor.

Masa is best known for extensively photographing and mapping the Blue Ridge Mountains, often in concert with his friend, naturalist and author Horace Kephart. Together the pair tireless promoted the region and its people, and they were instrumental in the creation of the Great Smoky Mountains National Park.

An image of Looking Glass Fall taken by Masa. Photo from the Buncombe County Public Library.

Masa presented a book of his photographs of the region to Grace Coolidge, wife of President Calvin Coolidge, who was a frequent visitor to the area and helped spur the founding of the park.

Many of Masa’s photographs, maps and other personal papers are now held by the Buncombe County Public Library, UNC-Asheville and Western North Carolina University.

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God Bless Kate Smith

On June 17, 1986, Kate Smith, “The Songbird of the South,” died of complications from diabetes at Raleigh Community Hospital.

A native of Greenville, Va., the singer renowned for her rendition of Irving Berlin’s “God Bless America” spent the final years of her life in the Capital City near her sister Helena Steele. While living in Raleigh, she resided in a quiet cul-de-sac off Millbrook Avenue.

For an earlier generation, Smith was representative of all that was good and right about America. Her professional recording career began in 1925, and she became a major star of radio. She was a large woman and could belt out songs, such as her personal theme “When the Moon Comes Over the Mountain,” like nobody’s business.

A professional hockey team, the Philadelphia Flyers, played her recording of “God Bless America” before a game in 1969. As it brought them a victory that night, they made it a team tradition and brought Miss Smith to the arena where she created near pandemonium and provided the Flyers with an assist on their road to the Stanley Cup.

The U.S. Postal Service issued a stamp featuring Smith in 2010.

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Billy “Crash” Craddock, Rockabilly to Country

On June 16, 1939, country music star Billy “Crash” Craddock was born in Greensboro.

Craddock grew up in a very musical family. His parents and 12 siblings enjoyed singing and playing instruments together. He earned his nickname “Crash” during his years as a running back for his high school football team.

While coming of age in Greensboro, Craddock was musically influenced by Lefty Frizzell and Little Jimmy Dickens. He was also inspired by the music and career of Elvis Presley. When he decided to pursue music after high school, his parents were very encouraging and supportive.

By the early 1950s, Craddock was on his way to stardom. He debuted as a “teen idol” with Columbia Records and enjoyed some success with rockabilly and pop songs. He began to focus more on country music in 1971 when he signed on with Cartwheel Records, but his style remained up-tempo, influenced by his years as a rock musician.

Craddock reached legendary status during the 1970s and 1980s. “Rub it In,” “Dream Lover” and “Sweet Magnolia Blossom” were among his major hit singles.  His cover of Tony Orlando’s “Knock Three Times” was his first number one record.

Craddock was inducted into the North Carolina Music Hall of Fame in 2011.

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Asheville’s Robert Moog, Father of the Synthesizer

Robert Moog and his synthesizer

On June 9, 1978, Robert Moog incorporated Big Briar, his musical instrument company in Asheville.  Moog, an engineer, invented the Moog synthesizer that made him famous in 1964.

As a teenager Moog had been interested in the Theremin, an obscure musical instrument that produced, via a hand waving in an electromagnetic field, the strange, ethereal sounds that were used in many of the science fiction films of the 1950s. At the age of 14, he built one and, with his father’s help, turned it into a business, R. A. Moog Company.

Although he was not a musician, Moog was fascinated by electronic instruments and intrigued by budding synthesizer technology. He tried attaching circuits to a keyboard, and in doing so invented a much more affordable and portable synthesizer.

In spite of the successes, the company, which was eventually renamed Moog Music, fell on hard times due to Moog’s lack of business experience.  He sold his trademark and worked as an engineer for the company that bought it until he established Big Briar. Moog reacquired his trademark, changing the name of the company back to Moog Music, Inc. in 2002.

Each year Moogfest celebrates electronic music in Asheville.

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“The Squire of Turkey Creek,” Bascom Lamar Lunsford

Lunsford at a Mountain Dance and Folk Festival in the 1960s. Image from UNC Asheville

Lunsford at a Mountain Dance and Folk Festival in the 1960s.
Image from UNC Asheville

On June 6, 1928, Bascom Lamar Lunsford kicked off the first Mountain Dance and Folk Festival, an annual tradition that continues “along about sundown” to this day in Asheville. That event spawned similar festivals far and wide. Pete Seeger attended the gathering in 1935 and thereafter dedicated his life to folk music.

The festival was initially held in conjunction with Asheville’s Rhododendron Festival, but split off to become  a separate event in 1930. It was committed to portraying the participants with dignity and to showcasing the authentic culture of the region in a time when popular culture portraying the music and musicians who created it as “hillbillies.”

A program from the 59th annual Mountain Dance and Folk Festival in 1986

A program from the 59th annual
Mountain Dance and Folk Festival in 1986.
Image from UNC Asheville

Billed as the “Minstrel of Appalachia,” Lunsford was an avid collector and promoter of traditional mountain music, and thus a natural choice to start the festival. In the course of song collecting, he claimed to have spent time in more homes between West Virginia and Alabama “than anybody but God.”  It was his native region which he loved and where he sought to preserve the old-time ways.  He was born in Mars Hill but moved in 1925 to Turkey Creek in Buncombe County.

Lunsford is widely known for his rendition of “I Wish I Was a Mole in the Ground,” a plaintive tune that has amused and puzzled listeners for generations.  He penned “Mountain Dew” and performed for the Roosevelts, King George, and Queen Elizabeth in 1939.

Lunsford recorded his “memory collection” of 350 songs for the Library of Congress in 1949.  He was an eccentric, sporting a starched white shirt and black bowtie as a symbol of defiance against the prevalent hillbilly stereotype.

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Juliana Busbee and Jugtown

Jacques and Juliana Busbee outside Jugtown with their dogs in 1938. Image from the State Archives

Jacques and Juliana Busbee outside Jugtown with their dogs in 1938.
Image from the State Archives

On May 10, 1876, Julia Adeline Royster was born in Raleigh.

After studying art and photography, she changed her name to the more artistic Juliana and, in 1910, married artist Jacques Busbee, also of Raleigh.  Her dedication to art led her to become Art Department Chair of the Raleigh Women’s Club in 1911 and chair of the state federation of women’s clubs in 1915. In both roles and in her other philanthropic work, she devoted her efforts toward promoting North Carolina’s handicraft traditions and advocating social good.

Two men unloading fired pottery from a kiln at Jugtown in 1938. Image from the State Archives

Two men unloading fired pottery from a kiln at Jugtown in 1938. Image from the State Archives

In 1915, while judging a county fair in Lexington, Busbee became enamored with a farmer’s entry, apples displayed in a dirt dish. The discovery of native pottery led her and her husband to establish Jugtown Pottery in Seagrove in 1921. With her effervescent personality and savvy marketing skills, she tirelessly promoted Jugtown’s pottery in a rustic atmosphere, fostering appreciation for and desire to own Jugtown’s wares.

Today collectors still seek out Jugtown Ware, realizing the vision of artistic entrepreneurs Juliana and Jacques Busbee, devoted to preserving North Carolina’s pottery traditions.

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Randy Travis and His Route to Country Music Stardom

On May 4, 1959, country music star Randy Travis was born in Union County. Raised on a Marshville turkey farm, Travis began playing guitar at age 10, discovering what would become a lifetime love of country music.

As an adolescent, Travis had several run-ins with the law, and he dropped out of high school at 15. To help put him back on track, Lib Hatcher, owner of a Charlotte club where Travis performed, adopted him. With her help, Travis focused seriously on his music career and moved to Nashville.

Warner Brothers Records signed Travis in 1985. His first hits included “1982” and “On the Other Hand.” Travis’s second album, Always and Forever, released in 1987, proved his staying power in the country music spotlight.

The authenticity and traditional approach Travis gives to his music distinguishes him as a country music legend. His style is said to be strongly influenced by the legendary Hank Williams. Fellow musicians, including Garth Brooks and Clint Black, now claim they looked to Travis for inspiration.

Travis has won many accolades in his long career including six Grammys, seven Academy of Country Music Awards and nine American Music Awards.

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