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Asheville Launching Pad for the “Singing Brakeman,” Jimmie Rodgers

Rodgers-and-Carters

Jimmie Rodgers with the Carter family of country music fame.
Image from the Birthplace of Country Music Museum.

On April 18, 1927, Jimmie Rodgers – one of country music’s first superstars – got his big break on Asheville radio station WWNC.

Born in 1897 near Meridian, Mississippi, James Charles Rodgers liked to yodel and won an amateur talent contest at age 13. That same year he became a railroad water boy. In March 1927, Rodgers moved to Asheville, working as a railway brakeman and doing other jobs until he and friend Otis Kuykendall began performing live weekly on WWNC. The duo soon added other musicians and billed themselves as the Jimmie Rodgers Entertainers.

In August 1927, Victor Records recorded Rodgers doing two songs. One, “The Soldier’s Sweetheart,” became an instant hit. Another hit, “Blue Yodel,” quickly followed. By 1929, Rodgers was a star. He appeared in a short film, “The Singing Brakeman”; toured the Midwest with humorist Will Rogers; and recorded with a young trumpeter, Louis Armstrong.

By the time he returned to Asheville in December 1929, the “Father of Country Music” had been living with tuberculosis for five years. He died in 1933. In 1961, Rodgers became the first performer inducted into the Country Music Hall of Fame. A state highway historical marker in downtown Asheville also honors him.

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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.

Poor Naomi Wise, “Sacrificed to the Beast in Man”

On April 8, 1808, Jonathan Lewis was arrested for the murder of Naomi Wise. Wise, an orphan, cook and an occasional field hand noted for her beauty and her innocence, lived in the household of William Adams in Randolph County. Lewis was a frequent visitor to the Adams house.

Courting Naomi while promising marriage to another woman, Lewis led the pregnant Wise to the Deep River and pushed her off a bluff, drowning her. Jailed in Asheboro, he escaped and made his way to Ohio. He was eventually tracked down by a bounty hunter and returned North Carolina, where he was acquitted of murdering Wise for lack of evidence. Legend has it that he confessed to the crime on his deathbed.

Much of what we know of the murder comes from an account by Braxton Craven, president of nearby Trinity College, who researched the story. Craven based his 1851 retelling of crime on the memories of local residents. Lewis, by Craven’s account, was a “merciless wretch, a hyena.”

The site of Wise’s death came to be known as Naomi Falls. The story was brought to people nationwide largely through the folk ballad, “Naomi Wise,” which was a favorite of Doc Watson’s.  Like “Tom Dooley” and “Frankie and Johnny,” the song relates the story of a North Carolina murder with drama and pathos.

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.

Seventies Performer Roberta Flack, Native of Black Mountain

flack-albumOn February 10, 1937, Grammy Award-winning singer, songwriter and pianist Roberta Flack was born in Black Mountain.

The daughter of two pianists, Flack herself began playing piano at age 9 and was heavily influenced by the sound and style of gospel music. She graduated high school at 15 and received a bachelor’s degree in music education from Howard University. The unexpected death of her father in 1959 prompted Flack to enter the field of education in order to support her family. Her first teaching job brought her to Farmville, where she taught English and music at an African American school.

Flack continued to pursue music on the side and secured her big break in 1968 when jazz pianist Les McCann sent a copy of one of her performances to Atlantic Records. Flack released her first studio album, First Take, with Atlantic Records in 1969. The album initially failed to chart but subsequent exposure of her music on television and in film pushed Flack to the top of the Billboard 200 and garnered a Grammy in 1972.

In all, Flack has won four Grammy awards and her album 1973 Killing Me Softly was certified double platinum.

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.

Asheville’s “Old Kentucky Home,” Now State-Owned

Thomas Wolfe and his mother Julia pose on the front port of the "Old Kentury Home." Image from N.C. Historic Sites.

Thomas Wolfe and his mother Julia pose on the front port of the “Old Kentury Home.” Image from N.C. Historic Sites.

On January 16, 1975, the state of North Carolina obtained Thomas Wolfe’s “Old Kentucky Home” from the city of Asheville. The boardinghouse at 48 Spruce Street was the setting for Wolfe’s first novel, Look Homeward, Angel. He renamed it “Dixieland” and incorporated his own experiences among the boarders into the novel.

The property dates at least to 1883, when Asheville banker Erwin Sluder built a smaller residence on the site. Between 1885 and 1889, Alice Johnston Reynolds, who had purchased the property from Sluder, made a massive addition to Sluder’s original structure and began operating the building as a boardinghouse in 1890. A subsequent owner, Rev. Thomas M. Myers, named it the “Old Kentucky Home” in honor of his home state.

Julia E. Wolfe, Thomas’s mother, bought the house for $6,500 in August 1906, and used it as a source of income to reinvest in real estate. Her husband, W. O. Wolfe, disliked boardinghouses and, although he went for meals and visits, rarely stayed the night. The Wolfes maintained two residences, with all the children except Tom living with their father. As the youngest child, Tom stayed with his mother at the boardinghouse.

Visit: The building is now the Thomas Wolfe Memorial, open to the public as one of 27 state historic sites.

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For more about North Carolina’s history, arts and culture, visit the N.C. Department of 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 Facebook and Twitter.

The Most Popular Posts of 2014

From the rise and fall of the Land of Oz theme park in Avery County to the “South’s Woodstock” in the small Iredell County community of Love Valley to the origins of the “Lost Colony” mystery on Roanoke Island at the coast, we’ve told you some pretty cool stories from the Tar Heel State’s past last year (if we don’t say ourselves!).

To celebrate the New Year, we took a look at the numbers and wanted to share the 14 most popular posts of 2014 with you:

1. Legendary Percy Flowers, “King of the Moonshiners”

2. The Trail of Tears and the Roundup of N.C. Cherokees

3. Festival Rocked Iredell County Community, 1970

4. The Mixed Fortunes of the Land of Oz

5. Popcorn Sutton, Moonshiner and Colorful “Character”

6. North Carolina’s “Year Without a Summer,” 1816

7. The Flood of 1916 and Unprecedented Destruction in Western North Carolina

8. The Lumbees and the Road to Recognition

9. Civil War Origins of “Tar Heel”

10. Swain County’s “Road to Nowhere”

11. Mystery of the Dare Stones

12. Origins of the “Lost Colony” Mystery

13. Secret Basketball Game of 1944

14. Carnival Worker Preserved, Abandoned in Laurinburg

Which of our 2014 stories did you like the best? Did you learn something new? Tell us in the comments. Know a great story from North Carolina’s history that we haven’t told yet? Tell us about it, and you just might see it here in 2015!

“Cherokee Clay” and Wedgwood Pottery

A Wedgwood bowl commemorating the 400th anniversary of the Roanoke Voyages. Image from the N.C. Museum of History.

A Wedgwood bowl commemorating the 400th anniversary of the Roanoke Voyages. Image from the N.C. Museum of History.

On December 18, 1767, an agent of England’s Wedgwood potteries finished extracting several tons of fine white clay from the mountains of North Carolina.

By the 1740s, people in England and across the American colonies knew of the valuable white clay deposits in the Cherokee region of the North Carolina mountains. A British patent was filed around 1744 “for the production of porcelain from an earthy mixture, produced by the Cherokee Nation in America.

Josiah Wedgwood's great-great-great-great grandson speaks at the dedication of the a highway marker to Cherokee clay. Image from the N.C. Museum of History.

Josiah Wedgwood’s great-great-great-great grandson speaks at the dedication of the a highway marker to Cherokee clay. Image from the N.C. Museum of History.

With increasing interest in creating porcelain in England and the colonies, Josiah Wedgwood launched efforts to secure what was called Cherokee Clay. He hired an agent, Thomas Griffiths, to travel to America to conduct the business. Griffiths went to the Indian settlement of Ayoree in what is now Macon County to negotiate an arrangement for the purchase of five to six tons of Cherokee Clay. The clay was carried down the mountains by pack horses. Griffiths delivered the Cherokee Clay to Josiah Wedgwood in April 1768.

Because of the expenses incurred, Wedgwood never pursued additional shipments of the clay. His supply lasted 15 years. In 1783, he wrote that Cherokee Clay was the basis of his newly manufactured biscuit porcelain.

Other related resources:

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.

Modern Novelist Discovered Farquard Campbell

On December 11, 1790, a state Senate resolution declared that Farquard Campbell’s actions during the Revolutionary War were justifiable.

Campbell’s early life remains a mystery, but it is known that he emigrated from Scotland by the 1750s. He rose to prominence in Cumberland County, first as a justice of the peace and then as surveyor and a representative in the legislature. Campbellton, which later became Fayetteville, was named in his honor.

After the Battle of Moore’s Creek Bridge, Campbell was found guilty of aiding the British and was imprisoned for about two years. He reestablished himself politically and was thus forgiven.

The name Farquard Campbell might sound familiar to readers of Diana Gabaldon’s Outlander series of books. Much of the fourth book, Drums of Autumn, takes place in 18th century North Carolina, and in that volume Campbell appears as a fairly significant character in the book—a local justice of the peace and loyal friend of Jamie Fraser’s aunt Jocasta. He is described in the novel as “the usual justice in this district.”

Gabaldon paid considerable attention to the veracity of her portrayal of North Carolina in the 1700s, writing about a great many real and thinly-veiled characters from the state’s history.

Other related resources:

For more about North Carolina’s history, arts and culture, visit the N.C. Department of 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 Facebook and Twitter.

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