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Little Eva and Her 1962 Classic “Loco-Motion”

On August 25, 1962, Little Eva hit the top of the charts with her recording of “The Loco-Motion.”

Eva Narcissus Boyd, fresh from her home in Belhaven, can be said to have been in the right place at the right time. In 1960, she left North Carolina and headed to New York to try to break into the music business.

While she sang backup in some studio sessions early on, it was not until “The Loco-Motion” that she got her big break. At the time of the song’s release, the 17-year-old Boyd was working as babysitter to songwriters Gerry Goffin and Carole King. The duo wrote “The Loco-Motion” and asked Boyd to sing on the demo with King doing the backup vocals. While they had intended the song for Dee Dee Sharp, who turned it down, producer Don Kirshner decided that the demo was fine as it was.

Little Eva had some modest success with other songs but none equaled the popularity of “The Loco-Motion.”

The song has the distinction of being one of the few to reach #1 in three different decades with three different artists. After Little Eva’s success with it in 1962, Grand Funk Railroad and Kylie Minogue had break out versions of the song in in 1974 and 1987, respectively.

Boyd died in Kinston in 2003.

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Connie Gay, Country Music Entrepreneur and Starmaker

On August 22, 1914, Country Music Association founder Connie Barriot Gay was born in Lizard Lick in rural Wake County.

After working on his family’s tobacco farm as a youth, Gay become an agricultural extension agent. That job led him into radio broadcasting in the 1940s when he took over the Farm Security Administration’s National Farm and Home Hour.

Gay’s interest in radio and music grew, and in 1946, he approached the program director of an Arlington, Virginia, radio station about starting a country music show called “Town and Country.” Through the show, Gay polished the image of what had been known as “hillbilly music” and he is credited with coining the term “country music”.

After his radio career ended, Gay went on to be a prime mover and shaker in the growth of the country music industry. Many of the shows he produced sold out to thousands of fans. He teamed up with the “Grand Ole Opry” for several years, planning and promoting shows for radio, the stage and TV, and in the process, discovering Patsy Cline and Jimmy Dean.

After a brief hiatus to address his alcoholism, Gay returned to the public scene to found the Country Music Association and the Country Music Foundation. By 1980, he had earned a spot in the Country Music Hall of Fame.

He died in 1989, leaving a star-studded legacy behind.

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Clyde McPhatter of Durham, Influential Rhythm and Blues Performer

On August 9, 1953, Clyde McPhatter and the Drifters recorded “Money Honey” at Atlantic Studios in New York City. The song was a huge success, remaining on the rhythm and blues charts for 23 weeks and peaking at #1. Rolling Stone ranked it as 252nd greatest song of all time in 2010.

Born in Durham in 1932, McPhatter got his start in music in the Baptist church where his father was minister. After his family moved to New Jersey, McPhatter won an amateur night at Harlem’s famed Apollo Theater and caught the attention of doo-wop singer Billy Ward, who invited McPhatter to join his group.

McPhatter started a group of his own in the early 1950s, and together they quickly produced a number of hits including “Money Honey” and a doo-wop version of Bing Crosby’s “White Christmas.” After a stint in the Army, he embarked on a solo career and tracked up more successes including “Treasure of Love.”

http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=OHgFs4Oxuc4

Though he continued to record new music in the early and mid-1960s, McPhatter became disillusioned with the music industry and moved to England. His career continued to decline in large measure because of his battle with alcoholism.

He died in 1972, and was inducted posthumously into the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame in 1987.

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Fred Kirby, Mojo Nixon, and “Atomic Power”

Fred Kirby. Image from the WBT Briarhoppers.

On August 7, 1945, country singer and WBT radio personality Fred Kirby of Charlotte wrote the hit song “Atomic Power.” Kirby was so moved by the news of the dropping of the atomic bomb on the Japanese city of Hiroshima the previous day that he was inspired to write the song comparing God’s power to that of the bomb and warning of the misuse of such power.

Later popular versions of the song would also include reference to Nagasaki, which was bombed on August 9, 1945.

Described as “the song that really started the fad for atomic bomb songs,” “Atomic Power” was recorded by numerous artists over the years, including Kirby himself.

The best-selling version, released in 1946, was recorded by the Buchanan Brothers of Georgia. However, the advent of the Cold War and concern over possible nuclear annihilation kept the song’s message relevant for many years to come.

http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=wiZwDC1-Qcs

In the 1990s Jello Biafra, former lead singer for the Dead Kennedys, and North Carolina native Mojo Nixon included a version of “Atomic Power” on their collaborative album Prairie Home Invasion.

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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.

James Larkin Pearson, Longtime Poet Laureate

Image from the Iredell County Public Library.

On August 2, 1953, James Larkin Pearson was appointed the second Poet Laureate of North Carolina by Governor William B. Umstead. He would remain in the post until his death at age 102 in 1981.

Born in a Wilkes County log cabin in 1879, Pearson showed talent for rhyming despite his limited formal education. Determined to become a poet from an early age he practiced his craft and saw some early successes. A local Wilkes County newspaper published some of his work in 1896 and The New York Independent bought one of his poems for $8 in 1900.

To support himself Pearson pursued farming and carpentry at first, but soon turned to news. He started his own newspaper and later worked for The Yellow Jacket in Wilkes County and the Charlotte Observer. In 1910, he returned to Wilkes County to publish a monthly paper, The Fool-Killer, which eventually achieved a circulation of 50,000.

He printed five volumes of poetry from the basement of his farmhouse, continuing to work on the farm while writing poetry.

His poems are lyrical, optimistic and traditional, with simple, lighthearted dialect verse. Selected Poems (1960) and My Fingers and My Toes (1971) were well-received collections from commercial publishers.

In 1934, the News and Observer wrote:

More than any other living North Carolinian he has put the life of the people into poetry, made it tangible and beautiful and easily seen.

Pearson remained Poet Laureate until his death. His printing press, library, manuscripts, and portrait are housed in the James Larkin Pearson Building at Wilkes Community College.

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Kay Kyser:“C’mon Chillun! Le’s Dance!”

On July 23, 1985James “Kay” Kyser, popular radio personality and bandleader, died in Chapel Hill.

Born in Rocky Mount in 1905, Kyser attended UNC where he was an exuberant head cheerleader and the class president. Also known as the “Ol’ Professor of Swing,” Kyser became one of the wildest and most grandiose bandleaders of the swing era.

In the 1930s, Kyser toured with his band, Kyser’s Kollege of Musical Knowledge, through much of the Midwest. Over the next two decades, they garnered national attention and had 11 number-one hits. Although he never learned to play an instrument, Kyser was a top-notch entertainer and went on to star in over a dozen movies, co-starring with greats of the time like Lucille Ball and John Barrymore.

In 1941, Kyser was the first person to perform live at camp shows for U.S. military personnel, predating performers such as Bob Hope. He retired suddenly in 1950, withdrawing to Chapel Hill where he remained until his death.

In 1999, he was inducted into the North Carolina Music Hall 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, make sure you subscribe by email using the box on the right, and follow us on FacebookTwitter and Pinterest.

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 Facebook, Twitter and Pinterest.

Country Music’s International Ambassador, George Hamilton IV

George Hamilton IV

George Hamilton IV. Image from
the The Tennessean.

On July 19, 1937, country music star George Hamilton IV was born in Winston-Salem. While a student at UNC, the young Hamilton recorded “A Rose and a Baby Ruth” at the independent Chapel Hill label, Colonial Records.  The song eventually became a gold record.

Hamilton left Chapel Hill for Nashville to pursue a career in country music and was invited to join the Grand Old Opry in 1960. Later that year he signed a record contract with RCA.

His fame quickly rose, and in 1963, he topped the Billboard Country chart with “Abilene.” After his popularity declined in America in the 1970s, he began travelling internationally, and had events in the Middle East and Eastern Europe. The activities earned Hamilton the nickname of “The International Ambassador of Country Music.”

In 2010, Hamilton was inducted into the North Carolina Music Hall of Fame. He died in 2014.

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 Facebook, Twitter and Pinterest.

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