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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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“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.

Good Times for Ernie Barnes of Durham

Barnes with his painting "In Remembrance." Image from the Barnes Family Trust.

Barnes with his painting “In Remembrance.” Image from the Barnes Family Trust.

On July 15, 1938, football player, painter and all around Renaissance man Ernie Barnes was born in Durham.

As a child, Barnes began to draw as an antidote to bullying. He later developed physical discipline and became captain of Durham’s then segregated Hillside High football team, receiving an athletic scholarship to what’s now N.C. Central University in 1956.

At Central Barnes studied art, but he left in 1959 before graduating to play professional football for six years.

Nicknamed “Big Rembrandt,” Barnes kept a sketchbook with him on the field and turned the physical and emotional violence of the game into paintings. He also became known for depictions of people, often African Americans, engaged in everyday life but with their eyes symbolically closed.

His work is evocative and tangible, fusing elongated sculptural forms of the human body with vibrant color, movement and emotional intensity.

Barnes’s paintings have appeared on the sitcom “Good Times” as the work of the show’s character JJ.  “The Sugar Shack”, a well-known painting, appeared in the show’s credits and later became the cover image for Marvin Gaye’s album “I Want You.”

In addition to his work as a painter and athlete, Barnes authored books, co-created a TV special, and appeared in a number television programs and films, including episodes of “Good Times”.

He died in Los Angeles in 2009.

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.

Look a-Yonder Comin’: “Orange Blossom Special” and Ervin Rouse

An except from the sheet music for "Orange Blossom Special"

An except from the sheet music for “Orange Blossom Special”

On July 3, 1981, Ervin Rouse, composer of “Orange Blossom Special,” the “unofficial anthem of bluegrass,” died. Plagued by alcoholism and mental illness, he was living on the edge of the Everglades and playing local taverns occasionally for tips.

Born in 1917 in Craven County, Rouse left home at the age of 8 to play in vaudeville shows. For a time he and his brother followed an evangelist and used their musical skills to energize audiences.

It was in Florida that Rouse became acquainted with the Orange Blossom Special, a passenger train operated from New York to Miami on the Seaboard Air Line Railway from 1925 to the early 1960s. The song, with its interplay of fiddle and harmonica, evoked the train’s sound and speed.

Recorded first by Chubby Wise, the song was brought to wide attention in 1942 by Bill Monroe and returned to the charts in 1965 when a version by Johnny Cash was released. When the “Man in Black” revived the song, Rouse took the stage to share the acclaim in one show. Cash supported him directly and through royalties.

The song endures and has been featured in the film “Urban Cowboy” and the TV series “Benny Hill.” The Atlanta Journal-Constitution named “Orange Blossom Special” one of 100 “Songs of the South.”

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Outdoor Drama at Cherokee Revived

An audience watches 1952 performance of "Unto These Hills." Image from the State Archives.

An audience watches 1952 performance of “Unto These Hills.” Image from the State Archives.

On July 1, 1950, the outdoor drama Unto These Hills premiered to a capacity crowd at the Mountainside Theater in Cherokee.

The pageant told the story of the Cherokee people from their first encounter with European explorers in the 1540s through the period of forced removal from their homeland and subsequent journey to Oklahoma in the late 1830s. The trip became known as the Trail of Tears because of the high number of people who suffered and died along the way.

Unto These Hills was written by Kermit Hunter and directed by Harry Davis. For many years it was enormously popular, but when later compared with true Cherokee history, Unto These Hills came up lacking. Locals lost a connection to the play and stopped identifying with it. Attendance dwindled.

The eagle dance during a 1952 performance of "Unto These Hills." Image from the State Archives.

The eagle dance during a 1952 performance of “Unto These Hills.” Image from the State Archives.

In 2006, the play underwent a major overhaul under the direction of American Indian playwright Hanay Geiogamah. Additional revisions followed, and now, although many reminisce about the original version, Unto These Hills better reflects the history, culture and traditions of the Cherokee people.

Unto These Hills is still performed each summer in Cherokee and draws upwards of 30,000 people a year. The 2016 season runs through August 13.

Visit: Unto These Hills is just one of the great summer arts experiences you’ll find across North Carolina. Check out a complete list of outdoor dramas from Visit North Carolina and a guide to summer arts experiences from the N.C. Arts Council.

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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.

The School of the Arts, Pride of Winston-Salem and North Carolina

William Ball leads a drama class at NCSA, circa 1965.-66 Photo courtesy of the University of North Carolina School of the Arts Archives.

William Ball leads a drama class at NCSA, circa 1965.-66 Photo courtesy of the University of North Carolina School of the Arts Archives.

On June 21, 1963, what’s now the UNC School of Arts (UNCSA) was chartered by the General Assembly as the nation’s first public arts conservatory.

The idea for the school—known until 2008 as the North Carolina School of the Arts (NCSA)—came from then Governor Terry Sanford and Asheville-born author John Ehle.

In addition to providing a $325,000 appropriation, the 1963 legislation established an advisory board of nationally-renowned artists to select a site for the school. The board sought a community that would be engaged with the school, and the citizens of Winston-Salem responded by raising more than $850,000 for the new institution in a two-day phone drive.

The original sign used for NCSA at the Chapel Street entrance, circa 1965. Photo courtesy of the University of North Carolina School of the Arts Archives.

The original sign used for NCSA at the Chapel Street entrance, circa 1965. Photo courtesy of the University of North Carolina School of the Arts Archives.

High school and undergraduate level classes began in September 1965 on the old campus of Winston-Salem’s Gray High School. The school’s first chancellor was composer and Julliard School instructor Vittorio Giannini.

A $1.5 million challenge grant from the Ford Foundation helped NCSA expand its offerings, and the school became part of the UNC system in 1972. Throughout the 1980s, NCSA continued to expand its offerings, adding its first graduate program in 1982.

Today, UNCSA is one of the nation’s premier creative and performing arts conservatories offering programs across five disciplines—dance, design and production, drama, filmmaking and music.

For more, check out a guide to the school’s history, which features a timeline, important early documents and more on the UNCSA Archives website.

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.