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Rick Dees’ 1976 Novelty Hit, “Disco Duck”

On October 16, 1976, Rick Dees’ song “Disco Duck” hit number one on the Billboard charts. At the time of the novelty hit, Dees was working as a disk jockey at a radio station in Memphis, Tenn.

Rigdon Dees III was born in Florida, but was raised in Greensboro. He attended Grimsley High School and graduated from UNC-Chapel Hill with a degree in radio, television and motion pictures. Dees went on to work at several radio stations around the South. He wrote and recorded “Disco Duck” as a parody of the glut of disco songs popular in the late 1970s. It was perfect timing for the song, which ended up being his only hit recording.

Dees went on to become one of the most famous DJs in the country, hosting long-running shows such as The Weekly Top 40. He also has acted in television shows and movies, and has done voiceovers for movies, including Disney’s The Hunchback of Notre Dame.

His many accolades include membership in both the National Association of Broadcasters and the National Radio Halls of Fame and a star on the Hollywood Walk of Fame.

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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.

Popcorn Sutton, Moonshiner and Colorful “Character”

On October 5, 1946, Marvin “Popcorn” Sutton, notorious moonshiner and cultural icon, was born in Maggie Valley.

Sutton, a gritty, spirited fellow, first learned how to concoct illegal alcohol from his father, whose Scots-Irish ancestors had been avid distillers in keeping with their cultural tradition. Sutton carried on the family legacy in Cocke County, Tenn., where he became famous not only for his liquor, but for his role in the manifestation of the moonshine culture.

Sutton published an autobiography entitled Me and My Likker in 1999 and continued to spread his love for moonshine when he starred in the documentary This is the Last Drum of Likker I’ll Ever Make in 2002. Through the book and the documentary Sutton conveyed the immense amount of work that he put into distilling liquor. Not only was he witty and wild, but he also was truly passionate about his trade.

Unfortunately Sutton’s notoriety attracted the attention of the law. In 2009, he was convicted of illegal distilling and possession of firearms. Rather than spending the required 18 months in jail, he chose to end his life. Despite his untimely end, Sutton’s lively spirits and cultural pride proved him to be a true mountain man.

Visit: the Mountain Gateway Museum & Heritage Center in Old Fort, which tells the story of the region’s history and has several exhibits related to moonshining.

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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.

Lemur Jovian, Star of “Zoboomafoo”

Jovian’s puppet stunt-double with Chris and Martin Kratt.

On October 4, 1997, Jovian, the lemur that many television watchers came to know as Zoboomafoo, was introduced to the custom made sound stage at the Duke Lemur Center.

Jovian is a Coquerel’s sifaka, a species of lemur native to Madagascar. He was selected to appear in the educational wildlife show, “Zoboomafoo,” produced by Chris and Martin Kratt. The latter was a graduate of Duke University and had volunteered at the Lemur Center while in school.

The award-winning children’s show starred Jovian as Zoboomafoo, and included a puppet lookalike for scenes in which Zoboomafoo talked. For the program, a sound stage was attached to an animal care building, where Jovian lived with his parents while the live portions of the show were being filmed.

Zoboomafoo ended production in 2001. Since then Jovian has enjoyed his retirement in a natural habitat enclosure at the Lemur Center.

The Duke Lemur Center, formerly the Duke University Primate Center, was established to explore the genetic foundations of primate behavior. Today researchers investigate a wide variety of disciplines including behavior, physiology, paleontology and conservation biology.

Visit: The Duke Lemur Center in Durham. Tour information is available on their website.

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.

Welcome to Year Three!

Today marks the start of our third year of the This Day in North Carolina History project. As we pass this milestone, all of us at the N.C. Department of Cultural Resources want to extend our thanks for your continued support of our efforts and to let you know about a few exciting things coming up.

229216501First, we’re happy to announce that beginning November 1, you can see the stories we tell on this blog across the state on Time Warner Cable News. The stories will run in an abbreviated format several times throughout the day, usually right before and after commercial breaks.

We also want to let you know that while you may have seen some of the stories we tell this year before, we’ll continue to bring you as much fresh content as we can. To that end, if you have ideas for stories that we haven’t yet covered, tell us about it. We’ve set up a nifty form on our website that makes submitting an idea easy.

Last thing—we’ve tried to be consistent in tagging each post with the city and county of the event or the person we’re covering and with relevant subjects, so we encourage you to use the search feature to discover more interesting tidbits about your hometown or county, or about the subjects that interest you most.

Thanks again for following us! We hope you enjoy reading these posts each day as much as we enjoy researching and writing them.

Fairgrounds Hosted Last NASCAR Race on Dirt Track

A NASCAR race on a dirt track during the 1960s. The number 43 car belongs to
Richard Petty. Image from NASCAR.

On September 30, 1970, the last NASCAR race on a dirt track was held in Raleigh at the State Fairgrounds, Richard Petty took away the day’s top prize, in what was billed as the Home State 200.

Dirt track racing appeared in the South just prior to World War I. When the N.C. State Fair moved to its present site in 1928, the increasingly popular sport came with it. As a premier venue with access to fairgoers from across the state, the speedway boosted the racing phenomenon.

The half-mile track has only seen three NASCAR events in its history. The first was held in 1955, but was called due to rain while Junior Johnson was leading. The next one was fourteen years later in 1969, which James Hylton won. The last was the 1970 event, though the grandstand remains and sections of the old track are used each October.

Safety concerns were the main reason more modern, paved tracks replaced their dirt counterparts, the remains of some of the old ones still dot the Carolinas, with saplings poking through the stands and undergrowth overtaking sites where stock car racing had its start.

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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.

Circus Tragedy in Charlotte, 1880

A preserved Chief visits the University of Cincinnati after his death.
Image from the University of Cincinnati.

On September 27, 1880, Chief, a performing elephant, killed his trainer, John King, in Charlotte.

The John Robinson Circus, of which Chief was a part, had arrived in Charlotte that day with two shows planned. Crowds of spectators were camped out near the circus, anticipating the next day’s shows. Many of them witnessed the horrifying events of that evening.

John King’s grave marker in Charlotte. Image from the University of Cincinnati.

Chief, a large male elephant, charged his keeper and smashed the man into a railcar, mangling him to the point that he was dead within minutes. The elephant then charged away from the scene, chased by circus workers who finally caught and lassoed him to an older, female elephant named Mary. Mary appeared to grasp the enormity of the younger elephant’s deed and beat him with her trunk as they were returned to the circus grounds.

King was buried in Elmwood Cemetery with the circus band playing and two other circus elephants in attendance. For the grave, Confederate veteran Billy Berryhill carved an obelisk monument with an elephant in the shaft.

Chief never worked in the circus again, although he remained with them and marched in the parades until he was exiled to the Cincinnati Zoo. Unfortunately, he did not curb his murderous ways and, after killing several other keepers, Chief was killed himself.

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.

Bearded Brinkley Buried at Buladean

Image from the State Archives.

On September 21, 1850, Sam Brinkley, who became known for one of the world’s longest beards in the early 20th century, was born near Burnsville in Yancey County.

As an adult Brinkley stood at 6 feet, two inches with a beard that measured in at 5 feet, 4 inches at its peak length. Notoriety came with the remarkable growth of his beard. He began by exhibiting it to the curious, and he went on tour with the Barnum and Bailey Circus. He reportedly earned thousands of dollars by charging people to see his beard, which he kept tucked in a pouch.

Brinkley was a late bloomer when it came to facial hair. According to newspaper accounts, until he was 21, he had no real beard to shave. By 23, the growth had reached the astounding rate of a full beard in a week’s time. One article reported that the beard was entirely natural, not the result of restorers or invigorators. Another called it “soft and beautiful.” For decades Brinkley was known as the world’s expert on the cultivation of beards.

He died in 1929 from complications of tonsillitis, and he is buried at Buladean in Mitchell County with a striking photo featuring his legendary beard recessed into his tombstone.

Other related resources

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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