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Oliver, North Wilkesboro Native, a Sixties Pop Sensation

473px-oliver_19721On February 22, 1945, pop musician William Oliver Swofford, known professionally as Oliver, was born in North Wilkesboro.

A Morehead Scholar, Swofford joined his first band while at the University of North Carolina but they had no national success. In 1968, he came to the attention of music producer Bob Crewe, who described his voice as “pure, almost like a reed instrument.” After recording the song “Good Morning Starshine” from the musical “Hair,” but before releasing it, Crewe decided that Oliver would be a better name for the rising star.

In the summer of 1969, the song was a hit, climbing to number 3 on Billboard’s Hot 100. During his short musical career, Oliver had an additional hit with “Jean” from the movie, “The Prime of Miss Jean Brodie.” The song’s writer once said that Oliver did not just perform the song well,” he “set a standard for its performance.” “Jean” rose to number 2 on the Billboard chart in the fall of 1969.

In the early 1970s Swofford toured hundreds of college campuses and collaborated with Karen Carpenter before leaving the business. His debut album ultimately stayed on the chart for 38 weeks.  He died in 2000 in Louisiana.

Arthur Talmage Abernethy Appointed State’s First Poet Laureate

55745686_14531404461On November 28, 1948, Arthur Talmage Abernethy was appointed Poet Laureate, just before the end of Governor R. Gregg Cherry’s term of office.

Abernethy’s term was to expire with the end of Cherry’s term.  Abernethy was therefore officially Poet Laureate for only a few weeks, from November 28, 1948 through January 5, 1949.  However, because Governor Kerr Scott did not appoint a successor, Abernethy remained the designated Poet Laureate until August 1953, when Governor William Umstead appointed James Larkin Pearson to the post.

Abernethy’s career included time as a professor and a journalist, and he also served as a Magistrate and Justice of the Peace, frequently filing his annual reports in verse. He also found time to write more than 50 books and thousands of poems.  The books covered history, southern folklore, and evangelical subjects. Surprisingly, history records none of his poetry published in book form.

North Carolina has had seven Poets Laureate.  Writer and professor Shelby Stephenson  was named to the position in September of this year, succeeding Cathy Smith Bowers.

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Thomas Wolfe and “The Old Kentucky Home”

The Old Kentucky Home in Asheville in 1946. Photo from the State Archives

On October 18, 1929, Charles Scribner’s Sons published Look Homeward, Angel, the best-known novel by Asheville author Thomas Wolfe. Inspired by a marble angel outside his father’s monument shop on Pack Square, Wolfe wrote his first and largely autobiographical novel about the fictional Gant family wherein the father is a volatile stonecutter and the mother a business-minded boardinghouse operator.

Wolfe was only 6 when his own mother, Julia Westall Wolfe, left her husband and older children and bought the “Old Kentucky Home,” a rambling Victorian boardinghouse in downtown Asheville, to which she brought young Tom. With his family divided, Tom felt lost amongst his mother’s tenants and resentful of the changes the tourists were wreaking on his hometown.

Always aware of the life and people around him, Wolfe later turned his observations into a novel in which his mother’s boardinghouse became “Dixieland” and Asheville, the fictional town of “Altamont.”  Although names were changed, Asheville residents still recognized Wolfe’s characters as themselves and were scandalized. Only in 1937, a year before he died, did Wolfe return home to visit. He was, however, buried in Asheville’s Riverside Cemetery. His mother’s boardinghouse is now the Thomas Wolfe Memorial, one of 27 state historic sites.

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Randall Jarrell, “War Poet”

On October 14, 1965, poet Randall Jarrell was struck and killed by a car while walking at dusk along the side of NC 54 Bypass. At the time, Jarrell was staying in the hospital in Chapel Hill recovering from a suicide attempt and being treated with antidepressants. Jarrell left behind nine volumes of poetry, four books of literary criticism, four children’s books, five anthologies, a novel and a reputation as a brilliant, if troubled, writer.

Born in 1914 in Nashville, Tenn., Jarrell attended Vanderbilt University where he captained the tennis team and studied under Robert Penn Warren. Hoping to become a pilot, Jarrell entered the Army Air Force in 1942.  He failed to qualify and served as a celestial navigation instructor for the remainder of the war.  From that experience came Jarrell’s best known poem, “The Death of the Ball Turret Gunner,” ending with the line “When I died they washed me out of the turret with a hose.”

In the fall of 1947 Jarrell began teaching at what is now UNC-Greensboro, where he would live and work for the remainder of his life.

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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.

Winston-Salem Pacesetter for Arts Councils

Student artists paint at the Arts Council of Winston-Salem and Forsyth County, circa 1964. Image from the Forsyth County Public Library.

Student artists paint at the Arts Council of Winston-Salem and Forsyth County, circa 1964. Image from the Forsyth County Public Library.

On August 9, 1949, the first locally-established arts council in the United States was formed in Winston-Salem.

The Junior League of Winston-Salem brought national community arts consultant Virginia Lee Comer to town in 1943 to study the cultural life of the community. Her strategy for cultural planning was to build connections between the community and its arts activities.

Seed money of $7,200 was set aside by the Junior League in 1946, and in 1949, representatives from twelve cultural groups convened to form the arts council. The council’s purpose was:

to serve those members and to plan, coordinate, promote, and sponsor the opportunity for, and the appreciation of, cultural activities in Winston-Salem and Forsyth County.

The Arts Council of Winston-Salem and Forsyth County today works to make Winston-Salem the “City of the Arts,” where center-city revitalization efforts rely on the arts as an economic development resource.

The Arts Council has helped develop new arts organizations, established a united arts fund and constructed an arts center. Its comprehensive cultural program has received national acclaim and gained support for the arts from local business.

More than 4,000 local arts agencies across the country now work to build the presence of the arts in community quality of life. Today there are 74 local arts councils in North Carolina.

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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.

“Poet of the People” Carl Sandburg at Home in Flat Rock

Sandburg presents a program at Asheville's Pack Library, circa 1951. Image from the State Library.

Sandburg presents a program at Asheville’s Pack Library, circa 1951. Image from the State Library.

On July 22, 1967, American poet, journalist, biographer and folk musician Carl Sandburg died at Connemara, his antebellum home in Flat Rock, where he wrote a third of his works and spent the last 22 years of his life.

Born in January 1878 to Swedish immigrants in Galesburg, Illinois, Sandburg left school after the 8th grade. He worked numerous odd jobs and hoboed his way across the West before serving in the Spanish-American War. Afterward, he attended Lombard College in his hometown but never graduated.

In 1908, Sandburg married Lillian Steichen. They had four daughters.

As a family man, Sandburg settled into journalism, writing for the Chicago Daily News while still pursuing his poetry. By 1945, when the family moved to Flat Rock, Sandburg had published several volumes of poetry, written five children’s books and received two Pulitzer Prizes, one for Corn Huskers and another for Abraham Lincoln: The War Years.

He won a third Pulitzer Prize in 1951 for his Complete Poems.

Connemara’s 264 acres offered plenty of space for Mrs. Sandburg’s prize-winning goats and plenty of solitude for the poet. There, in an upstairs garret, Sandburg wrote, and in a downstairs bedroom, he died at age 89.

Visit: Connemara is now Carl Sandburg Home National Historic Site, open to the public seven days a week.

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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.

Bebop and Avant Garde Jazz Master, Saxophonist John Coltrane

A circa 1951-55 promotional poster for Coltrane. Image from the University of Missouri-Kansas City Libraries.

A circa 1951-55 promotional poster for Coltrane. Image from the University of Missouri-Kansas City Libraries.

On July 17, 1967, legendary jazz saxophonist and composer John Coltrane died.

Born in 1926 in the small Richmond County town of Hamlet, Coltrane and his family moved to High Point by the time he was 3-years-old. Coltrane’s love of music developed early, and he played both clarinet and saxophone in high school.

After graduating from William Penn High School, Coltrane moved to Philadelphia to attend music school. He made his professional debut in 1945 and collaborated with Dizzy Gillespie, Thelonious Monk and Miles Davis in milestone recordings before forming his own group in 1960.

Though he died at age 40, Coltrane released nearly 50 studio albums and almost 20 singles during the course of his career.

He is perhaps remembered best for spanning genres and audiences and establishing avant garde jazz while also achieving popular success. He was posthumously awarded a Grammy Lifetime Achievement Award in 1997 and a special Pulitzer Prize in 2007.

One measure of Coltrane’s significance is that he has been the subject of at least four biographies.

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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.