I never grow weary of looking at these old portraits at the New Hanover County Public Library. They date from the 1850s to the present day, and they're available to us all even in these times of Covid-19.
The Wilmington Jubilee Singers (2nd edition)
In the 1870s and ‘80s, a group of ex-slaves called the Wilmington Jubilee Singers traveled throughout Great Britain, giving concerts in which they sang hymns and spirituals in a close harmony style, either a cappella or accompanied only by a pianist.
Jack Kerouac’s Chickens– Kinston, N.C., 1951
I found Jack Kerouac’s ode to Kinston, N.C.'s old-fashioned chicken coops in the Henry W. and Albert A. Berg Collection of English and American Literature at the New York Public Library. The Berg Collection holds the letters, original manuscripts and other personal papers of some of America’s greatest writers, including Kerouac, the Beat Generation's godfather and the man that wrote On the Road.
The Mermaid’s Melody
In 1895 a young mother sang this lullaby to her children while she nursed them at a church in Kinnakeet, a village on the Outer Banks. The rest of the congregation was singing “Come Thou Fount of Many Blessings,” but she must have stepped into the back of the church to soothe her two little ones. It’s not the kind of moment that usually makes it into history books.
The Swedish Nightingale
Last night I saw a scene on PBS’s drama Victoria in which the Swedish opera star Jenny Lind sang for Queen Victoria. That was an actual event: it happened on April 26, 1846. But of course I thought immediately of the little community called “Jenny Lind” that is located 10 miles west of Kinston, in Lenoir County, N.C. According to legend, Jenny Lind sang there, too.
Songs on a Nags Head Porch
I recently visited with Gerret Warner and Mimi Gredy at a coffee shop in Durham, N.C. I had sought out the couple because I had learned that they were making a documentary film about two legendary collectors of American folk music who visited singers and musicians on the North Carolina coast beginning in the 1930s-- Gerret’s father and mother, Frank and Anne Warner.
Postcard from Tryon, N.C.: Celebrating Nina Simone
This weekend my family and I are in Tryon, N.C. and we are listening to Nina Simone. This is a small town on the edge of the Blue Ridge Mountains and her music just seems to be in the air in this place where she was born and first learned to make music and discovered who she was.
The Color of Water, part 7– From Ocean City to Rainbow Beach
This is part 7 of my special series called “The Color of Water.” In this series, I’m exploring the history of Jim Crow and North Carolina’s coastal waters, including the state’s forgotten history of all-white beaches, “Sundown towns,” and racially exclusive resort communities. Today-- African American and Indian beaches.
The Color of Water, part 6– Juke Joints, Clam Fritters & Bop City
As I explored the history of Jim Crow on North Carolina’s coast, I discovered something else important: black and Indian people often found a way to the sea and our other coastal waters, despite “sundown towns,” despite signs that read “No N--- after dark” and despite oceanfront resorts that didn’t allow them to go swimming or walk on the beach.
Arthur Miller’s War, Part 7– “Looking for a better day”
Before young Arthur Miller left Wilmington in November 1941 and returned to the Library of Congress, he did one last group of’ recordings. At the town’s African American Odd Fellows Hall, he visited with a large group of African American women who were in the midst of a lengthy strike at the Southland Manufacturing Company, a textile plant that made men’s dress shirts.
Herring Week, Day 8– Singing on a Moonlit Night
Welcome back to Herring Week! This is part 8 of my special series on the history of the great herring and shad fisheries on the Albemarle Sound, once one of the largest fisheries in North America. In today’s post, I’m looking at a photograph from the Capehart family’s Avoca fishery in Bertie County in 1877.
Something Musical in Kinston
One of the things I like best about the Kinston Music Park is the way it doesn’t just honor the great jazz, blues, gospel, bebop, big band, rhythm and blues and hip hop artists that came out of Eastern N.C.—the park also honors the band teachers, choir directors and music educators who made that rich history of African American music possible.
At the Codfish Ball– Memories of Swansboro
Not long ago, I explored a wonderful collection of oral history interviews in Swansboro, N.C. In 2009 a group of a dozen volunteers from the Swansboro Historical Association underwent a special training in oral history research. Once completed, they interviewed some of the coastal town’s oldest residents and recorded their stories about Swansboro’s history in the early to mid-20th century.
All the Fair Faced Pretty Boys
A memory. I am remembering a day at the Massachusetts Historical Society in Boston, Mass. The Society holds one of the great collections of early American manuscripts and artifacts, everything from John Quincy Adams’ diary to Paul Revere’s pistol. I was there to look at less famous relics, but ones just as exciting to me: letters and diaries written by Union soldiers that served in New Bern, N.C. during the American Civil War.
The Night the Fish Factory Burned
I called the legendary folksinger and social activist Guy Carawan after I listened to his oral history interview at the Southern Folklife Collection at UNC-Chapel Hill. He was in his 80s when I contacted him. (He has since passed away.) He was very generous with his time and he seemed to enjoy re-visiting his younger days.
Journey to Mesic
This is a story that starts with a long and freewheeling road trip —it’s the summer of 1953 and a young folksinger is making a pilgrimage to his father’s home in a little coastal village in Pamlico County, N.C.
Colington Island: An Outer Banks Fishing Village in the 1930s
In the late winter or early spring of 1938, a photographer named Charles Farrell visited Colington, an old fishing village on North Carolina's Outer Banks. Today Colington is surrounded by condominiums and resorts, but at that time Farrell discovered only a quiet, out-of-the-way settlement with perhaps 200 or 300 residents divided between two small islands, Little Colington and Big Colington.
The Wilmington Jubilee Singers
I discovered the Wilmington Jubilee Singers while I was exploring old newspapers in the British Newspaper Archive (BNA). The BNA is an invaluable on-line resource that is making available (for a small fee) digital copies of the historical newspapers preserved at the British Library in London. The British Library holds the largest collection of British newspapers … Continue reading The Wilmington Jubilee Singers