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Lamar Stringfield and the North Carolina Symphony

Stringfield (far left) conducts a band at an unknown time and place. Image from UNC-Chapel Hill Libraries.

Stringfield (far left) conducts a band at an unknown time and place.
Image from UNC-Chapel Hill Libraries.

On January 21, 1959, Lamar Stringfield, the first conductor of the North Carolina Symphony, died in Asheville.

Raised in Raleigh, Stringfield was the sixth of seven children. His father, O. L. Stringfield, helped establish Meredith College. After attending college at Mars Hill and Wake Forest, Stringfield left school in 1916 to join the army. Returning home from tours of duty in Mexico and France, he began serious training in music, both in North Carolina and in New York.

In 1928, Stringfield completed his symphonic suite “From the Southern Mountains.” Known thereafter as an authority on southern ballads and folklore, Stringfield organized the Institute of Folk Music at the University of North Carolina in 1930 and collaborated with Paul Green on “The Lost Colony Songbook.”

In 1932, Stringfield helped organize the North Carolina Symphony, which was then headquartered in Chapel Hill. He served as the symphony’s conductor from 1932 to 1938.

After his tenure as conductor, Stringfield moved often, residing in Charlotte, Mars Hill, Burnsville, Barnardsville and Asheville. He remained active as a composer and served as guest conductor for major symphony orchestras across the country.

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For more about North Carolina’s history, arts, nature and culture, visit DNCR 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.

Tab Smith and the Birth of Rhythm and Blues

A circa 1946-1948 portrait of Smith from the Library of Congress.

A circa 1946-1948 portrait of Smith from
the Library of Congress.

On January 11, 1909, alto saxophonist Talmage “Tab” Smith was born in Kinston.

Smith’s first professional musical endeavor came in 1929, when he formed the Carolina Stompers in 1929, and he soon achieved national acclaim as part of bands fronted by Count Basie and Lucky Millinder.

Through the 1940s he recorded with some of the finest performers, including Billie Holiday, Earl Hines and Coleman Hawkins. His peers on the alto sax included Johnny Hodges of the Duke Ellington Band and Earl Bostic.

With the evolution of musical tastes, Smith gravitated toward rhythm and blues in the 1950s, recording primarily on United Records. His version of the Tony Bennett hit “Because of You” was a chart topper in 1951. Most of Smith’s numbers were short and were favorites on jukeboxes.

He recorded a sax version of “Try a Little Tenderness,” latter covered by Otis Redding, and toured with the Five Royales, based in Winston-Salem, in the mid-1950s.

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For more about North Carolina’s history, arts, nature and culture, visit DNCR 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.

Selma Burke, Renowned for FDR Portrait on the Dime

Burke in her studio. Image from the Smithsonian American Art Museum.

On December 31, 1900, renowned sculptor Selma Burke was born in Mooresville.

Fascinated by African ritual objects and other sculptural pieces, Burke made sculpture by shaping white clay from her parents’ farm as a child. After being educated at what is now Winston-Salem State University and trained as a nurse at St. Agnes Hospital Nursing School in Raleigh, Burke moved to New York City to work as a private nurse.

Inspired by the Harlem Renaissance movement emerging around her, Burke began to focus on art. In 1938, she studied with Aristide Maillol and Henri Matisse in Europe after earning both Rosenwald and Boehler Foundation Fellowships.

The plaque of FDR by Burke on which the dime is based.

After completing an M.F.A. at Columbia University in 1941, Burke began to teach art, first at the Harlem Community Art Center and later at schools she founded in New York and Pittsburgh.

Burke’s most famous work, a portrait of President Franklin D. Roosevelt that now graces the dime, came about from a competition to sculpt the president for the Recorder of Deeds Office in Washington, D.C. After feeling like she couldn’t capture the likeness of Roosevelt from photographs, Burke wrote the White House and, to her surprise, was granted a sitting with the president.

Eleanor Roosevelt later visited Burke’s studio to view the finished plaque. Though officially credited to U.S. Mint Chief Engraver John Sinnock, scholars believe that Sinnock borrowed Burke’s original design.

Burke’s last monumental work, a statue of Martin Luther King, Jr. that graces Marshall Park in Charlotte, was completed in 1980.

She died in New Hope, Pa. in 1995.

For more about North Carolina’s history, arts, nature and culture, visit DNCR 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.

“Aunt Samantha” Bumgarner, Traditional Musician

Bumgarner at the Asheville Mountain Music Festival, circa August 1938.
Image from American Roots Music.

On December 24, 1960, fiddle and banjo player and old-time ballad singer Sarah Samantha Biddix Bumgarner died.

Born in Tennessee in 1878, Bumgarner grew up in Dillsboro in Jackson County. Her father was the well-known fiddle player Has Biddix, and when he was not around Samantha used his fiddle to teach herself how to play. She also taught herself how to play the banjo.

Bumgarner and Sylva’s Eva Smathers Davis made history when they recorded a number of songs for Columbia Records in 1924 including “Shout Lou,” “Fly Around My Pretty Lil’ Miss” and “Cindy in the Meadow.”  They are credited as the first women to record country music.

Known as “Aunt Samantha,” Bumgarner played at banjo competitions in the Appalachian region. For more than 30 years, she performed at Bascom Lamar Lunsford’s annual Mountain Dance and Folk Festival in Asheville. This kept Samantha in the public eye and she gained a loyal following. Her career bridged the traditional Appalachian music ways with the rise of modern country music.

In 1939, Bumgarner was among a select group of mountain musicians who played at the White House for Franklin and Eleanor Roosevelt and King George VI and Queen Elizabeth of England.

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Sedaris’s Elf Tale Instant Hit for NPR

The cover to Sedaris' "Santaland Diaries."

The cover to Sedaris’ “Santaland Diaries.”

On December 23, 1992, David Sedaris made his debut on Morning Edition on National Public Radio reading his now-famous essay “The Santaland Diaries.”

Morning Edition received an unprecedented number of requests for tapes of the day’s program.

Billed as an “autobiographical confession of a penniless, gay, would-be soap opera writer” the 8-minute comic monologue recounts Sedaris’s time working as Crumpet the Elf at Macy’s Department Store at Herald Square in New York City. Rich with acerbic wit and cynicism, and read, in “the blasé tone of someone reading a train schedule,” the essay launched his career as a writer and humorist.

Sedaris was discovered in Chicago, where he moved from North Carolina at age 27. Ira Glass, then working at WBEZ, heard him reading excerpts of his diaries to audiences and invited him to appear on his artsy radio show, The Wild Room.

“The Santaland Diaries” was later published in the collections Barrel Fever (1994) and Holidays on Ice (1997). The essay, now a holiday classic, is read every December 23rd on Morning Edition.

Sedaris won the Thurber Prize for American Humor in 2001 and continues to write essays for publication and for his devoted NPR audience.

For more on North Carolina writers, check out the North Carolina Literary Trails from the N.C. Arts Council.

For more about North Carolina’s history, arts, nature and culture, visit DNCR 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.

London Years of Sweet Baby James

The album artwork for Taylor’s first album.

On December 6, 1968, James Taylor released his first and self-titled album.

Produced by Paul McCartney for Apple Records, the album featured “Carolina in My Mind,” one of the Taylor’s most recognized songs. Taylor recorded the album between July and October 1968 at Trident Studios in London. The Beatles were recording The White Album during the same time in the same studios, and McCartney and George Harrison were both featured on versions of “Carolina in My Mind.”

Although born in Boston, Taylor moved to Chapel Hill in 1951 when he was three, and he was strongly influenced by the landscape of the area.

The product of a musical family, Taylor began to show a strong talent of his own early on. He played in various bands in the early 1960s, but by the end of the decade he moved to London to concentrate on a solo career after being plagued by a combination of depression and drugs.

When James Taylor was released, the artist, having fallen back into drugs, was unable to promote it. Critics were complimentary and positive, but Taylor’s hospitalization hampered its success.

Though released as a single, “Carolina in My Mind” only reached No. 118 on the charts. Taylor wouldn’t receive wide recognition until the release of his second album, Sweet Baby James, in 1970.

For more about North Carolina’s history, arts, nature and culture, visit DNCR 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.

Mel Tomlinson, Master of Ballet and Modern Dance

Tomlinson with Lydia Abarca in “Agnon.” Image from the New York City Ballet.

On November 27, 1981, Mel Tomlinson made his debut as the only African American member of the New York City Ballet.

Born in Raleigh in January 1954, Tomlinson became interested in dance after participating in gymnastics in high school. He received a B.F.A. from what’s now the University of North Carolina School of the Arts (UNCSA) after studying there for only two years. After graduation, Thomlinson began touring the country with the Agnes de Mille Heritage Theatre, which was founded at the school.

New York City Ballet  dancer Mel Tomlinson in a studio portrait in costume for "The Four Temperaments." Image from the New York City Public Library.

Tomlinson in a studio portrait in costume
for “The Four Temperaments.” Image from the New York City Public Library.

In 1974, Tomlinson switched his focus from modern dance to ballet and joined the Dance Theater of Harlem, where he quickly rose to the position of soloist, where he performed in “Manifestations,” “Swan Lake” and “Scheherazade.” He took leave for a time to join Alvin Ailey’s American Dance Theater, which produced mostly modern pieces.

Tomlinson became a soloist with the New York City Ballet shortly after joining the company, and he remained there until 1987, when he returned to his home state and joined the faculty at UNCSA.

Since leaving UNCSA, Tomlinson has taught at or performed with the Boston Ballet’s CITYDANCE program, Boston Conservatory of Music, Harvard University, UNC-Charlotte and what’s now the Charlotte Ballet.

For more about North Carolina’s history, arts, nature and culture, visit DNCR 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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