Celebrate Black History Month with Iconic Artists from NC

Raleigh, N.C. To celebrate Black History Month, we are sharing videos, podcasts, and narratives commemorating African American artists in North Carolina. These stories were produced for special programs and initiatives of the N.C. Arts Council including Come Hear NC, our 50th -anniversary celebration, the N.C. Heritage Award, and African American Music Trails.
Saturday, Feb. 1
On the 60th anniversary of the Greensboro sit-in, we revisit a performance of the Fresh Cut Orchestra’s restaging of We Insist! Max Roach’s Freedom Now Suite captured last year at Black Mountain College Museum + Arts Center.Born in Pasquotank, N.C., Roach composed We Insist after witnessing the historic Greensboro sit-in. Learn about that story in this thought-provoking essay by Duke University scholar Mark Anthony Neal: Max Roach’s Freedom Now Suite: An Early Soundtrack to Black Lives Matter.
Monday. Feb. 3
Garner, N.C. native Mary D. Williams has spent her career recounting the history of the Civil Rights movement through song. Watch Mary D. Williams sing here.
Tuesday, Feb. 4
Born in 1926 in Western North Carolina, Edward Riley Ray worked his way up from stock-boy at a Milwaukee record distribution warehouse to the executive rooms of America’s biggest record labels. Dive into his story here.
Wednesday, Feb. 5
Last year Vanessa Ferguson, a Greensboro artist who gained national fame as a finalist on NBC's The Voice, performed a tribute to Nina Simone in her childhood home in this exclusive video produced by the N.C. Arts Council for the Come Hear NC campaign.
Thursday, Feb. 6
Viewed more than 66,000 times since last July, The Li­­stening, a documentary by Durham filmmaker Holland Gallagher, tells the story of the first golden age of N.C. hip-hop at the turn of the millennium. The film chronicles the rise of Durham’s hip-hop trio Little Brother, known nationally for putting North Carolina hip-hop on the map­­. Commissioned by the N.C. Arts Council in celebration of the 2019 Year of Music, the film is one of two created for the campaign. Check out the second video in the series, Homecoming, which tells the story of the unexpected reunion of Little Brother in 2018.
Friday, Feb. 7
Soul food, great entertainment, and a sense of freedom defined the African American-owned spaces that formed the backbone of the "Chitlin Circuit." A national network of performance venues and clubs, the Chitlin Circuit provided African American entertainers and audiences a place to perform, eat, and enjoy fellowship during segregation. This video will inspire you to get your groove on at this month’s Chitlin Circuit concert on Feb. 27 in Kinston at Da Loft, sponsored in part by the N.C. Arts Council.
Saturday, Feb. 8
Algia Mae Hinton was a blues musician and dancer from Johnston County, N.C. Raised in a musical family, Algia Mae grew up performing music in her local community at house parties. She was one of several excellent Piedmont blues musicians documented across North Carolina in the 1970s. Join us in remembering Algia Mae on the anniversary of her death here.
Monday, Feb. 9
Sister Lena Mae Perry says music is like medicine. She would know. At 80-years-old, Sister Perry has led the Branchettes, a celebrated gospel group from Johnston County, N.C., for decades. To see her perform is to witness the healing powers of music.
Tuesday, Feb. 11
African American Musicians from N.C. made groundbreaking contributions to the American music genre that has come to be known as jazz. Internationally renowned pianists and composers Thelonious Monk and Billy Taylor were from Rocky Mount and Greenville, respectively. There’s also John Coltrane born in Hamlet and raised in High Point, Nina Simone from Tryon, and Max Roach from Pasquotank County. Explore African American Music History Trivia here.
Wednesday, Feb. 12
MacArthur Genius and Grammy Award-winner Rhiannon Giddens pays tribute to victims of the Wilmington Insurrection of 1898 in this stirring video. The tragic events of that year saw a violent mob seize the city of Wilmington, burn and destroy African American-owned businesses and take an untold number of African American lives. Watch here.
Thursday, Feb. 13
Debra Austin was the first African American woman invited to join the famed New York City Ballet company and the first African American female principal dancer in a major American ballet company. Now a ballet mistress at the Carolina Ballet in Raleigh, Austin, reflected on her experiences as a pioneering ballet dancer in an interview for our 50 for 50 project.  
Friday, Feb. 14
On this day in history, the funkiest saxophonist on the planet Maceo Parker was born in Kinston, N.C. Parker has toured the world with James Brown, Parliament-Funkadelic and Prince, and he received a North Carolina Heritage Award in 2016. Learn about Maceo Parker here.
Monday, Feb. 17
In 2018 the National Trust for Historic Preservation designated Nina Simone’s childhood home in Tryon, N.C. a National Treasure. Best known for her Civil Rights anthems, Simone’s first musical love was Johann Sebastian Bach. Learn about that here
Tuesday, Feb. 18
On the one-year anniversary of the installation of our state’s first African American poet laureate, we pay tribute to Jaki Shelton Green and the contributions she has made by revisiting this interview.
Wednesday, Feb. 19
Who doesn’t want to find out our poet laureate’s favorite songs? Listen to Jaki Shelton Green’s playlist here.
Thursday, Feb. 20
Last fall opera powerhouse Sidney Outlaw, from Brevard, N.C. performed in N.C.’s Executive Mansion as part of our Music in the Mansion series. Watch that here.
Friday, Feb. 21
In this video recorded in 2017, the late Phil Freelon, an architect who is best known for leading the design team of the National Museum of African American History and Culture, and his son Pierce Freelon, Durham-based hip-hop artist and professor, discuss how the arts define their family.
Monday, Feb. 24
American blues and folk musician Elizabeth “Libba” Cotten was born on January 5, 1893, in Carrboro, N.C. Perhaps best known for teaching the world “Freight Train,” Cotten grew up near a railroad track which inspired her to write the song at age 11. Her music was discovered and popularized during the Folk Revival of the early 1960s Learn more here.
Tuesday, Feb. 25
Acclaimed visual artist Beverly McIver received the Rome Prize Fellowship in 2017. The Greensboro native is the Esbenshade Professor of the Practice of Visual Arts at Duke University. She has charted a new course as an African American woman artist, producing art that examines racial, gender and social identity. Here she talks about the value of public support for the arts in North Carolina.
Wednesday, Feb. 26
Robert “Dick” Knight, a 2018 North Carolina Heritage Award recipient, played with music legends like Otis Redding, Gladys Knight, Jackie Wilson, and Rufus Thomas. But his 50-year teaching career had an even bigger impact on him. Listen here.
Thursday, Feb. 27
Raleigh native Charles R. “Chuck” Davis became one of the world’s foremost teachers and choreographers of African dance and founded the African American Dance Ensemble. He passed away in the spring of 2017, but he is still remembered today for his mantra “peace, love, respect for all.” In this podcast, Davis reflects on his time on the N.C. Arts Council Board.  
Friday, Feb. 28
Join N.C. Arts Council Executive Director Wayne Martin as he shares the story and music of the Menhaden Chanteymen. Their work songs grew out of N.C.’s commercial fishing industry. Listen to “Going Back to Weldon," performed by the Menhaden Chanteymen in 1988.
For more information visit www.NCArts.org or www.NCArts.org/music.


About the North Carolina Arts Council
The North Carolina Arts Council builds on our state’s long-standing love of the arts, leading the way to a more vibrant future. The Arts Council is an economic catalyst, fueling a thriving nonprofit creative sector that generates $2.12 billion in annual direct economic activity. The Arts Council also sustains diverse arts expression and traditions while investing in innovative approaches to art-making. The North Carolina Arts Council has proven to be a champion for youth by cultivating tomorrow’s creative citizens through arts education. NCArts.org