Music Fun Facts

North Carolina’s national reputation as a music state — with recognized traditions of bluegrass, blues, jazz, funk and everything in between — is celebrated with our African American Music Trails and Blue Ridge Music Trails. View the complete map that was featured in Oxford American's NC Music issue here.

An illustration of a french horn, North Carolina Symphony

Classical music roots run deep, too. In 1943 the NORTH CAROLINA SYMPHONY became the first continuously funded state symphony in the nation.

An illustration of Cecil Sharp

English folk song collector CECIL SHARP documented ballad singing traditions in Madison County in 1916, and this tradition is still practiced today.

An illustration of Nina Simone

NINA SIMONE, “High Priestess of Soul,” learned to play piano in her birthplace of Tryon. Her home was recently designated a National Treasure.

An illustration of Doc Watson

DOC WATSON was playing lead guitar in a rockabilly band when folklorist Ralph Rinzler encouraged him to return to the roots music of Appalachia.

An illustration of Earl Scruggs

“Foggy Mountain Breakdown” by EARL SCRUGGS, with his three-finger pickin’ style, launched a new form of bluegrass music worldwide.

An illustration of 9th Wonder

Kendrick Lamar’s Pulitzer Prize-winning album, “DAMN” features the song ‘DUCKWORTH,’ produced by Winston-Salem hip-hop native, 9TH WONDER.

In 1958, Shawnee guitarist LINK WRAY released the instrumental song “Rumble,” introducing the world to the beauty of the distorted power cord, which he achieved by stabbing his amplifier’s cone with a pencil.

An illustration of Elizabeth "Libba" Cotten

ELIZABETH COTTEN wrote the famous American folk song “Freight Train” in Carrboro.

An illustration of Shirley Caesar

Eleven-time Grammy Award-winner SHIRLEY CAESAR, the “First Lady of Gospel Music,” was born in Durham.

An illustration of Ben Folds

The music hotspots of Raleigh, Durham, Chapel Hill and Carrboro have attracted indie artists like BEN FOLDS and SUPERCHUNK for decades. 

The Bull City’s tobacco warehouses drew Piedmont blues innovators like REVEREND GARY DAVISBLIND BOY FULLER and SONNY TERRY to Durham in the 1930s.

An illustration of Maceo Parker

Five Kinston musicians, including saxophone legend MACEO PARKER, are credited with putting the funk in James Brown’s classic bands.

An illustration of Menhaden Chanteyman

The MENHADEN CHANTEYMEN, a group of retired African American commercial fishermen, gained acclaim for the maritime work songs they performed while hauling nets, leading them to New York’s Carnegie Hall.

An illustration of Thelonious Monk

Jazz legends THELONIOUS MONKJOHN COLTRANE and BILLIE TAYLOR are all from North Carolina.

An illustration of J. Cole

Fayetteville’s J. COLE was the first hip-hop artist in 25 years to go double platinum without any guest features with his Grammy-nominated album 2014 Forest Hills Drive (2014).