In Good Spirits: The North Carolina Music Hall of Fame Resumes its Annual Induction Ceremony

Kyesha Jennings 

Monday, November 1, 2021

On Thursday, October 21, the North Carolina Music Hall of Fame (NCMHOF) held its first double induction ceremony. Last year, the pandemic interrupted the Kannapolis-based nonprofit organization's annual celebration of North Carolina’s musical heritage. Instead of shifting the live event to a virtual ceremony as many other award shows did, NCMHOF opted to wait until it was safe to gather in person again.

From bluegrass to gospel, hip-hop, country, and jazz, the NCMHOF honored 10 artists. Hall of Fame inductees were the Briarhoppers, Jermaine Dupri, Donald Lawrence, Michael Mauldin, Robert Moog, Tony Rice, the Squirrel Nut Zippers, and Charles Whitfield. This year's Lifetime Achievement Award honorees were Tony Brown and Roberta Flack

Lifetime Achievement Award winners

Born in Greensboro, Brown, often called “the King of Nashville,” is a Grammy award-winning record producer and pianist who is known primarily for his work in country music. He co-founded Universal South Records and is the former president of MCA Records Nashville—a title he held for nearly a decade. "Being back here in North Carolina to receive the Lifetime Achievement Award reminds me why I love North Carolina. I was born in Greensboro, raised in Winston-Salem, and graduated from high school in Durham. When I was here as a kid I wanted to go to Nashville, but this [moment] is really important to me—to be acknowledged by my home state.

The singer Roberta Flack came to fame in the 1970s for her blend of soul, jazz, gospel, and folk music. She earned a Grammy for lifetime achievement in 2020. She is also the only solo artist to have won a Grammy for “Record of the Year” for two consecutive years. The 84-year-old native of Black Mountain did not attend the ceremony.

Highlights of the NCMHOF event

The evening consisted of a ribbon-cutting ceremony at the museum, a red carpet celebration outside of the Gem Theatre (also in Kannapolis), and performances in the theater by honorees the Briarhoppers, Donald Lawrence, and the Squirrel Nut Zippers. Double J, a Durham native and a DJ on Raleigh’s K97.5 radio, performed a tribute set for the legendary record executive Michael Mauldin and his son, Jermaine Dupri, a Grammy Award-winning producer, hip-hop artist, songwriter, and record executive. Mauldin and Dupri made history at this year’s ceremony as the first father and son to be inducted into the NCMHOF at the same time.

Mauldin was born and raised in Murphy, a small town in western North Carolina. “When I left from there 50 years ago, there was one red light in town. I left with maybe $35 or $40 in my pocket, knowing that I was going off to do something, and I had to make it work. To have that happen [make it work] is so special,” said Mauldin. 

While it is not a known fact that Dupri has roots in North Carolina, he was born in Asheville, and both of his parents were raised in this state. When Dupri was a child, his father introduced him to the music business; he says being inducted into the NCMHOF is a testament to his parents' investment in his dreams. “My parents are from two different parts of North Carolina. To have a son that then gets inducted into the North Carolina Music Hall of Fame speaks volumes to them, and then to go in with my dad, it is an amazing family moment,” Dupri said. 

The Hall of Fame induction meant a lot to the family of the guitarist and bluegrass innovator Tony Rice, too. On Christmas Day, 2020, Rice died in his home in Reidsville, at the age of 69. Accepting the award on his behalf, Pamela Hodges Rice, his wife, said, “It's a blessing for Tony to be honored in this way. I wish it could have come sooner, so he could have been here. I think this is the first time he’s ever been honored by the state of North Carolina.” In 1990, Rice was inducted into the Virginia Folk Music Association Hall of Fame and, in 2013, into the International Bluegrass Music Hall of Fame David Anthony Rice was born in Danville, Virginia, in 1951. He was raised in Los Angeles, and spent some of his early adult years in Louisville, Kentucky, where he played with the bands the Bluegrass Alliance and the New South. According to his wife, Rice always felt connected musically to influential North Carolina musicians, such as fellow NMHOF inductee John Coltrane. In 1993, he moved his family to Reidsville, 45 minutes away from High Point—Coltrane’s childhood home. “He played a lot of Coltrane on the guitar. He would often say, ‘I stole it from Coltrane.’ He was listening to the phrasing that Coltrane was playing on the horn and was able to find the exact same phrasing on the guitar,” she said. “[John] Coltrane was his hero, so if he were present, he probably would have said, ‘See how close you can get me to Coltrane.’” As fate would have it, Rice’s exhibit in the NMHOF museum happens to be directly across from Coltrane’s. 

Also in attendance was the family of posthumous inductee Robert Moog, an engineering physicist and pioneer of electronic music. Moog founded Moog Music and invented the first commercial synthesizer, the Moog synthesizer, which debuted in 1964 and revolutionized nearly every genre of music. “It's a huge honor for him to be recognized alongside all of these singers and songwriters. He was a part of that world, but in a different way than they were,” said his daughter, Michelle Moog-Koussa, who is the executive director of the Bob Moog Foundation. “It's a special honor because he's the first inventor to be inducted. I'm sure he'd be very proud of that. He always had a quest for creativity and curiosity and that showed through his work.”

For the Briarhoppers, the oldest continuing bluegrass group in the world, this moment has been a long time coming. The band formed in Charlotte, in 1934, at WBT Radio, as the station’s first house band to play live on the air. In a red carpet interview, band member Tom Warlick acknowledged past members' contributions and said that he felt their spiritual presence in attendance. 

Located in Kannapolis, the North Carolina Music Hall of Fame is a 501(c)3 nonprofit organization. Its mission is to recognize, promote, and commemorate musicians, singers, songwriters, and producers from the state of North Carolina. In December 2020, the museum received a federally-funded NC CARES for Arts grant through the North Carolina Arts Council and the Cabarrus County Arts Council. The grant helped the NCMHOF offset business disruptions and expenses incurred between March 1, 2020, and December 30, 2020, because of the pandemic.

To assure the safety of all patrons, the ceremony's capacity was reduced to approximately 40 percent and followed pandemic protocols outlined by state and local guidelines. Guests were highly encouraged to wear masks indoors and practice social distancing. 

Kyesha Jennings

Kyesha Jennings is the content director for the North Carolina Arts Council where as a part of the marketing and communications team, she curates, produces, and develops content that highlights the diversity and vitality of the arts in our state. An award-winning hip-hop scholar, Kyesha is a fourth-year Ph.D. candidate at the Indiana University of Pennsylvania, where her research primarily focuses on Black women writers, hip-hop feminism, and popular culture. Her writing has been published in both academic and non-academic outlets such as LifeHacker, HotNewHipHop, Vulture, Indy Week, CLTure, and Scalawag Magazine.