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Auspicious Start for North Carolina Awards

Author and poet Maya Angelou receives the North Carolina Award in 1987 from Gov. Jim Martin. Image from the State Archives.

On June 22, 1961, the General Assembly established the North Carolina Award to honor outstanding achievements by North Carolinians.

The award was proposed by State Senator Robert Lee Humber of Pitt County, who hoped that the award would inspire others to excel in their fields for the betterment of North Carolina. He would go on to win the award for public service in 1968.

Since the North Carolina Award’s creation, medals have been given to more than 250 recipients for contributions to literature, fine arts, science and public service.  The first class of winners, recognized in 1964, included microbiologist John Couch for science; novelist Inglis Fletcher for literature; painter Francis Speight for fine art; and editor of The Progressive Farmer Clarence Poe and chemist, businessman, philanthropist and ambassador John Motley Morehead III, both for public service.

The award is administered by the North Carolina Department of Cultural Resources and new recipients are honored each fall with presentation of the medal at a banquet.

Some of the more famous North Carolina Award recipients include cultural figures Etta Baker, Doc Watson, James Taylor, and Maya Angelou; media and public service figures David Brinkley and Charles Kuralt; and scientists Gertrude Elion and Joseph M. DeSimone.

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Lesley Riddle, Collaborator with the Carter Family

On June 13, 1905, old-time musician Lesley Riddle was born in the Silvers Gap community north of Burnsville. Riddle learned to play blues and gospel songs on the guitar after losing most of a leg in an accident at a cement plant. He had to adjust his picking techniques to use only his thumb, index finger and little finger after losing two fingers in a shotgun accident.

A.P. Carter, patriarch of the famous Carter family, first heard Riddle play and sing in Kingsport, Tennessee, in 1927, and quicky recruited him to help advance the Carter family’s fame. Carter and Riddle visited African American communities and churches throughout Appalachian Tennessee, Virginia and North Carolina to find new songs for the Carter Family band. Riddle would memorize the tunes and words before returning to teach the songs to Sara and Maybelle Carter.

“Mother Maybelle” learned her trademark guitar techniques from Riddle, including using a pocketknife for slide guitar work.

Riddle never made a living at music, working as a shine boy, presser and school crossing guard. In the 1960s, he accompanied Mike Seeger and the New Lost City Ramblers on the folk festival circuit.

Riddle is celebrated by an annual festival, Riddlefest.

Visit: This year’s Riddlefest will be held July 3 at the Parkway Playhouse in Burnsville and will feature David Holt accompanied by Josh Gofoth.

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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.

Twist of Fate for O. Henry

Image from the State Archives

On June 5, 1910, writer William Sidney Porter, known to the world by the pseudonym O. Henry, died.

Born in 1862 in Greensboro, Porter was raised by an aunt who educated him until he turned 15, when he began work in his uncle’s pharmacy. In 1882, Porter left Greensboro for Texas, where worked as a rancher, an experience that would later manifest itself in his writing.

Over the next 14 years, Porter worked various jobs in Austin, Texas, including stints as a bookkeeper, draftsman and bank teller, all the while writing short stories, sketches and humorous pieces for several newspapers.

In 1896, Porter moved to Houston for a newspaper job. Once there, he was indicted by an Austin court on charges of embezzlement stemming from his tenure as a bank teller. He fled to Honduras but was subsequently arrested, convicted and ordered to serve five years in prison. While incarcerated, Porter had time to engage in serious writing and by the time he was released for good behavior in 1901, he had several works published.

In 1902, Porter moved to New York, where he wrote more than 100 stories in less than two years. He moved to Asheville in 1907 where he lived until his death.

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.

Master of an Art Form, Potter Ben Owen

Ben Owen at his wheel in 1928. Image from the N.C. Museum of History.

Ben Owen at his wheel in 1928. Image from
the N.C. Museum of History.

On June 4, 1904, potter Ben Owen was born in Moore County.

Owen learned to turn clay from his father, potter and farmer Rufus Owen, and by age 16, he was a proficient potter who produced lead-glazed utilitarian earthenware for his father and for neighboring shops.

In 1923, Owen was hired as the second known potter to work at the newly built Jugtown Pottery. Under the guidance of Jugtown founders Jacques and Juliana Busbee, Owen developed a classic pottery style that blended old and new forms, incorporating the principles of restraint and simplicity inherent in both native folk and Oriental traditions.

Owen was the sole potter at Jugtown from the early 1930s until 1959, when he left to found the Old Plank Road Pottery. He produced the same forms and glazes until his retirement in 1972. His son and grandson revived his work, opening Ben Owen Pottery to produce pottery based closely on his unique style.

Owen’s work has been widely exhibited across the state, nation and world. His pieces can be found in the permanent collections of the Mint Museum of Art, North Carolina Museum of Art, Smithsonian Institution Metropolitan Museum of Art and the Louvre among many others.

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.

Moms Mabley, Boundary-Breaking Comedian from Brevard

On May 23, 1975, the comedian known to the world as “Moms” Mabley died in a White Plains, New York hospital.

Born in Loretta Mary Aiken in Brevard around 1897, Mabley was the granddaughter of a former slave. She left home as a teenager and joined a minstrel show based in Pittsburgh, beginning a 60-year career that included work in everything from African American vaudeville to Broadway to television and the movies. Mabley also released of more than 20 comedy albums during her lifetime.

Throughout her career, Mabley performed in many of the nation’s top venues, including Carnegie Hall and the Kennedy Center, and broke gender and racial barriers by becoming the first female comedian to perform at New York’s Apollo Theater in 1940. Her television performances included appearances on the Merv Griffin, Johnny Carson, Flip Wilson, Mike Douglas and Smothers Brothers shows.

Mabley is best remembered for her brilliant stand-up comic persona, a grumpy lady dressed in bright and crumpled housedresses, who delivered sly double-entendres tackling topics such as race and sex with expert timing and ad-libbing.

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.

Tour’s Country Stars Overshadowed by Elvis Presley

Elvis-Poster

A poster for the tour Elvis was on when he came to Raleigh. Image from ElvisBlog.

On May 19, 1955, Hank Snow’s All Star Jamboree tour, featuring a new young talent named Elvis Presley, ended at Memorial Auditorium in Raleigh.

The concert marked the beginning of the end of the touring relationship between the headliner, Faron Young, and featured new player Presley. Young later recounted that each night of the tour Elvis attracted bigger and wilder crowds. Before intermission, each show included a new talent portion in which Presley took the stage, with the headliners performing after intermission.

As the tour progressed, fans began to shout for more Elvis during the other performances, and he was called back for encore after encore. In the early days of the tour, Colonel Tom Parker, as booking agent, actually paid teenagers $5 apiece to scream for Presley. He used the publicity photographs to send to the newspapers in the next cities on the tour.

Other performers on the tour recalled how much they discounted Presley and his odd onstage behavior. Most country singers thought that he was a fad and would quickly fade, but Presley soon found himself the headliner, and few established stars would agree to perform with him on a tour.

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.

Inaugural Concert for the North Carolina Symphony, 1932

The N.C. Symphony plays an education concert in the mid-1970s.
Image from the N.C. Symphony.

On May 14, 1932, the North Carolina Symphony played its first concert at Hill Hall on the campus of UNC. The concert included music by Wagner, Beethoven, Tchaikovsky and others, and featured 48 musicians from around the state under the direction of conductor Lamar Stringfield.

The symphony had its origins earlier that year as a work relief project of Franklin D. Roosevelt’s New Deal and became the first symphony orchestra to receive state aid with the passage of what became known as the “Horn Tootin’ Bill” in 1943.

Today, the North Carolina Symphony is a first-class, professional orchestra with 65 members led by Music Director Grant Llewellyn, based at Meymandi Concert Hall in downtown Raleigh. In addition to classical series in Raleigh, Chapel Hill, Fayetteville, New Bern, Southern Pines and Wilmington, their schedule also features a Pops Series, Young People’s Concerts and the annual Summerfest outdoor concert series at Cary’s Booth Amphitheatre.

Always the “people’s orchestra,” the symphony has an especially strong legacy of music education, with more than 3 million schoolchildren reached since it began its children’s concerts series in 1945. Each year the symphony puts on more than 50 educational programs in nearly as many communities across the state.

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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