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Kingston Trio Hits the Top of the Charts with “Tom Dooley” in 1958

Screen Shot 2014-11-07 at 7.22.59 PMOn November 19, 1958, the Kingston Trio’s version of the folk song “Tom Dooley” hit number one on the music charts. The song is based on the true story of Tom Dula, hanged in Statesville in 1868 for the murder of Laura Foster.

The case drew wide attention, including a series of reports that appeared in the New York Herald. After being hanged, Dula was buried in a family cemetery in Wilkes County. Many in the community to this day defend him, arguing that he took the fall for a woman named Ann Melton. North Carolina guitarist Doc Watson’s grandmother claimed to have heard Melton’s deathbed confession that she, not Tom Dula, killed Laura Foster.

While Watson sang the traditional folk ballad “Tom Dula,” the best-known version of that song was a bestseller for the Kingston Trio, renamed “Tom Dooley.” Members of the group actually visited Dula’s grave on a concert swing through the state.

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Federal Writers Project Director Edwin Björkman

Untitled3On November 16, 1951, renowned writer, journalist and literary critic Edwin A. Björkman died in Asheville.

Born and raised in Sweden, Björkman worked as a clerk, journalist and actor before coming to the United States in 1891. Upon arrival, he briefly stopped in Chicago and then joined a Scandinavian colony in Minnesota, writing for newspapers to support himself. He later wrote for several papers in New York, served in the short-lived League of Nations’ news bureau and taught Scandinavian drama at Yale before moving to Waynesville in 1925.

In North Carolina, Björkman worked as the literary editor of the Asheville Times, and, during the Depression, directed the North Carolina Federal Writers Project of the Works Progress Administration. While working with that project he led the effort that produced North Carolina: A Guide to the Old North State.

Throughout his career, Björkman was a prolific writer, producing no less than 10 original novels and translating countless plays and other works into English from European languages. He married four times before dying at age 85, and he is buried in Asheville’s Riverside Cemetery.

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Eastern North Carolina Artist Francis Speight

On November 13, 1989, award-winning artist Francis Speight died at age 93 in his Greenville home.

Speight grew up on a Bertie County plantation before enrolling in college at Wake Forest. While there he took art lessons at Meredith College. After briefly serving in the Army during World War I, Speight studied and taught at the Pennsylvania Academy of Fine Arts, where he would remain for more than 40 years.

Speight focused on painting rural and suburban landscapes and, though some of his work was inspired by his adopted Pennsylvania, he continued to use the landscapes of his native eastern North Carolina as a muse as well.

Belmont Hills by Francis Speight. Image from the Weatherspoon Art Museum.

In 1961, Speight moved back to North Carolina where he taught as an artist-in-residence at East Carolina until his retirement in 1976.

Speight’s work remains on display in public and private art collections across the country. He was the first North Carolina artist to be honored with an exhibition of his works in the newly opened N.C. Museum of Art in Raleigh. His many accolades include the North Carolina Award and memberships in the National Academy of Design and the American Institute of Arts and Letters.

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Photographer Ignatius Brock of Asheville

A Christmas greeting card that depicts Brock. Image for the Pack Memorial Library.

On November 8, 1950, internationally-renowned photographer and painter Ignatius Brock died at age 83.

Born in Jones County in 1866, Brock got his start in photography as an apprentice at the Gerock Studio in New Bern. He moved to New York to study art at the Cooper Union Institute, before returning to North Carolina and opening his first studio in Asheville.

Through at first he mostly painted landscapes and used photographs simply as sketch notes for future paintings, Brock turned to photography as his primary art form because of his considerable skill with a camera. His focus in photography was on portraits and landscapes, and his fame quickly began to grow as he won several international photography competitions and had his work featured in many of the prominent magazines of the time. Brock was also interested in the technical aspects of photography, and invented a blue light bulb for use in dark room processing.

Throughout his career, Brock continued to maintain studios in Asheville for both painting and photography, and his thousands of works in both media provide a fascinating glimpse into the history of western North Carolina during the first half of the 20th century.

Check out Photographers in North Carolina: The First Century, 1842-1941 from North Carolina Historical Publications for more on Brock and other photographers of the period.

For more about North Carolina’s history, arts and culture, visit Cultural Resources online. To receive these updates automatically each day subscribe by email using the box on the right and follow us on FacebookTwitter and Pinterest.

North Carolina Museum of Art Home to Noted Christmas Image

“Madonna and Child in a Landscape.” Image from the N.C. Museum of Art.

On October 21, 1993“Madonna and Child in a Landscape” a work by the Italian Renaissance painter Giovanni Battista Cima de Conegiano that is part of the North Carolina Museum of Art’s permanent collection, was selected as the U.S. Postal Service’s Christmas Stamp.  The Museum’s collection of Italian paintings ranks among the finest in the country.

Since the initial acquisition in 1947 of 139 works of European and American art, purchased with a $1 million appropriation of state funds, the North Carolina Museum of Art has grown to be one of the nation’s finest museums.

Housed in a state of the art building completed in 2010, the permanent collection includes European paintings from the Renaissance to the 19th century, Egyptian art, sculpture and vase painting from ancient Greece and Rome, American art of the 18th through 20th centuries, and international contemporary art. Other strengths include African, ancient American, pre-Columbian, and Oceanic art, and Jewish ceremonial objects.

The Museum also is home to one of the largest museum art parks in the world. The park includes over a dozen works of art set on 164 acres.

Visit: Madonna and Child in a Landscape is in the North Carolina Museum of Art’s permanent collection. The museum is open six days a week in Raleigh.

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Gospel Music’s First Lady, Shirley Caesar of Durham

Image from the State Archives.

On October 13, 1938, Shirley Caesar, an award-winning gospel singer and preacher was born in Durham. Her beginnings were humble. She and her 11 siblings lost their father when they were young. She immersed herself in church and family life, and in singing, which she began at age 10.

When Caesar was 19-years-old she met Albertina Walker, a famous gospel singer, who was impressed with Caesar’s raw talent and invited her to join her group, the Caravans. Performing across the United States, she saw the racial adversity that was prevalent in America during the late 1950′s and early 1960′s.  After eight years with the group she opted for a solo career, giving her the opportunity to preach and to affect change.

Caesar’s many accolades include 11 Grammy Awards, 15 Dove Awards and 13 Stellar Awards.  She has released more than 20 albums and a dozen singles, and she is commonly known as the “First Lady of Gospel Music.”

Caesar continues to be active in the Triangle community, preachingat Mount Calvary Word of Faith Church in Raleigh and has operated her Outreach Ministries in Durham for more than 40 years, inspiring many through her talent and selflessness.

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Jazz Giant Thelonious Monk of Rocky Mount

Monk plays the piano in September 1947. Image courtesy of the Library of Congress.

Monk plays the piano in September 1947. Image courtesy of the Library of Congress.

On October 10, 1917, Thelonious Monk was born in Rocky Mount. Though Monk lived most of his life in Manhattan, his North Carolina roots ran deep.

Monk’s style was original and unorthodox, incorporating elements of stride piano and gospel to create a “rhythmic virtuosity,” striking dissonant notes and playing skewed melodies. He collaborated with Charlie Parker, John Coltrane and many other noted jazz musicians of the time. Along with Dizzy Gillespie, another of his collaborators, Monk is credited as an architect of bebop; The third composition he copyrighted, and his first as sole composer, was also his best-known, “’Round Midnight.”

Personally, Monk had a reputation as the ultimate hipster, with his goatee, skullcap and bamboo-rimmed sunglasses. He often left his keyboard to dance while onstage and, at random moments, on the street or in public spaces, would twirl for several minutes. Viewed by some as temperamental and eccentric, he is described by his biographer Robin Kelley as essentially rebellious. Kelley documented that Monk suffered from bipolar disorder most of his adult life.

In 1972, Monk withdrew from public appearances and was hospitalized intermittently until his death. Among his last extended stands was a week at the Frog and Nightgown in Raleigh’s Cameron Village in 1970. A park in his hometown has carried his name since 2000.

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For more about North Carolina’s history, arts and culture, visit Cultural Resources online. To receive these updates automatically each day, subscribe by email using the box on the right and follow us on FacebookTwitter and Pinterest.

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