On Thursday, October 10, 2019 baritone Sidney Outlaw from Brevard, N.C. and pianist Warren Jones, who was raised in High Point, N.C. closed out the 2019 Music at the Mansion season with a bang. The golden-hued ballroom of the Executive Mansion served as the perfect backdrop for their musical offerings, and Sidney Outlaw’s powerful baritone had no trouble filling the space.
The pair, who met years ago at Music Academy of the West in Santa Barbara, C.A., treated their captive audience to a genre-spanning evening, opening with a particularly grandiose version the instantly recognizable “Largo al factotum” from Rossini’s Barber of Seville opera before addressing the attendees with their intentions for the upcoming performance. Warren Jones announced there would be a change of pace in the form of a song cycle by Harry Burleigh. Burleigh was an African American composer from the early 1900s who was forced to publish his music out of Italy because American publishing houses wouldn’t allow black composers at that time. The song cycle’s lyrics came from turn-of-the-century English poet Laurence Hope, a pseudonym for Adela Florence Nicholson, taken on because she could not get her poems published as a woman. Later in the evening, they presented a series of spirituals - a genre that Harry Burleigh helped introduce to the classical world - drawing a line between highly trained musicians and composers and the field songs sung by African American slaves.
Art and music education was another underlying thread of the evening. Sidney recognized his vocal coach from his time at UNC Greensboro in the crowd, thanking her for introducing him to the world of art songs before treating the crowd to one of her favorites - an aria from Die tote Stadt. In an interview right before the set, when asked “Which North Carolina musician would you like to have a meal with,” Warren Jones answered with a lump in his throat that he would love the chance to talk to his piano teacher from his youth, a soft-spoken but strict woman who instilled the love of music and the importance of hard work in a young Warren that has stuck with him to this day.
Passion. Acceptance. Bravado. Expertise. These are only a few of the words you could use to describe these two artists and their season-closing performance.
As 2019 draws to a close, we are reflecting on some of the biggest moments of Come Hear North Carolina this year. We’ve compiled our favorite moments from every Music at the Mansion, a special concert series celebrating North Carolina’s vibrant and diverse musical traditions hosted by First Lady Kristin Cooper at the N.C. Executive Mansion, below.
The Harris Brothers
Near the end of an expansive inaugural Music at the Mansion performance, Reggie and Ryan Harris chatted with renowned sculptor Thomas Sayre from the stage, remarking on his sculpture in their hometown of Lenoir. Earlier in the set, Sayre called out a request for “Sultans of Swing.” He clearly knew something that most of the crowd didn’t, as the duo abided and broke into a smooth cover of the famous Dire Straits tune. While Mark Knopfler and his band hail from the United Kingdom, the way Reggie Harris translated the guitar parts from a Stratocaster to his Wayne Henderson flat-top acoustic makes you wonder if maybe Knopfler listened to a little Doc Watson in his early years. Find the moment at the 44:35 minute mark.
After apologizing for “looking really tacky” for using the tuner on her phone, Emily Frantz reflected on the pride she and her bandmate Andrew Marlin felt for performing in the Executive Mansion and being members of North Carolina’s music lineage. She then noted that being North Carolinians meant they had some opportunities to write protest songs, and that they were prepared to perform a few in the building that has historically housed decision- makers involved in controversial public policies. Abandoning the instrument that lent to their namesake, Frantz on fiddle and Marlin on guitar performed “Hey Adam,” a song that re-imagines Adam in the Garden of Eden keeping secret that he is a gay man. This song was written in response to 2012’s Amendment 1 that saw the Constitution of North Carolina prohibit the state from recognizing same-sex marriages. The amendment was overruled in federal court after then-Attorney General Roy Cooper refused to defend it. To perform that song in the house he now occupies was intentional, powerful, and indicative of how many North Carolina musicians feel a sense of civic duty to use their art and platforms to raise awareness about social justice issues across the state. Find the moment at the 13 minute mark.
After a standing ovation and calls for one more song, the Charlotte-based group agreed, but with an exception – the crowd had to remain on their feet and dance. This was a simple request, and First Lady Kristin Cooper led the effort, occupying the center aisle and dancing with her guests and friends, new and old. In what might be the most “you had to be there” moment from the year of performances at the Executive Mansion, the video is obscured by the bobbing heads and moving hips of attendees, but the rhythms provided by Chócala are there, and really, that’s all you need. Catch the dancing at the 35:50 mark.
Charly Lowry & Friends
Picking a favorite moment from this Music at the Mansion performance is a near impossible task, but the part that keeps standing out was not the music but the attendees. Charly Lowry invited many of her fellow Lumbee tribespeople, recognizing and bantering with them from the stage. At the end of her stunning performance, Governor Roy Cooper arrived back at his home after a day on the road and took the time to meet, talk with, and take photos with the guests who, as Charly Lowry’s bandmate Alexis Raeana pointed out earlier in the day, were recent descendants of Native Americans who were likely not even allowed to visit the N.C. Executive Mansion in their lifetimes.
The day of Jim Lauderdale’s Music at the Mansion performance, the music world was shaken by the news of the passing of Robert Hunter. Most folks know Robert Hunter as the esteemed lyricist and muse for the Grateful Dead, but Jim Lauderdale knew him as a friend. Choking back tears, he recalled the time they spent together, the hundreds of songs they wrote, and told the audience what a “fierce, gentle, kind, and brilliant” man he was before celebrating his life with one of their many co-written tunes, “Trashcan Tomcat.” Catch the tribute at the 28 minute mark.
Sidney Outlaw ft. Warren Jones
For the final Music at the Mansion of the year, we went back to basics. No amplifiers. No drums. No frills. Only the Executive Mansion’s Steinway grand piano and an end table with a cup of tea filled the performance area before acclaimed baritone Sidney Outlaw and his accompanist Warren Jones took their places. About 30 seconds into their performance, you knew this was all you really needed. Opening the night with a rousing rendition of “Largo al factotum” from Rossini’s opera buffa The Barber of Seville, Sidney Outlaw used every bit of space allowed to him, gliding from stage left to stage right, leaning casually on the open Steinway, and even breaking out the stereotypical “one arm in the air” opera pose during the crescendos of the piece. Most people in the audience probably recognized this piece from their younger years watching Looney Tunes, and his dynamic interpretation of this classic was the perfect way to rope us into what was one of the most jaw-dropping performances of the year.
In an interview prior to his recent Music at the Mansion performance, Grammy Award-winning singer-songwriter Jim Lauderdale spoke about what contributes to North Carolina's special music alchemy. Here's what he had to say:
"When I travel through North Carolina, especially when I drive through Iredell County where I was born and have lived, I turn off the radio and news and I just try to soak in the atmosphere. When they say those phrases like, 'There must be something in the water,' I think that there is something in the different regions of North Carolina that spur creativity and make your imagination go some place." - Jim Lauderdale
Watch his full Music at the Mansion perrformance in the video below!
On September 24, 2019, Jim Lauderdale played a set at the North Carolina Executive Mansion in Raleigh for the Music at the Mansion series, an ongoing program of Come Hear North Carolina hosted by Governor Roy Cooper and First Lady Kristin Cooper. He was accompanied by the Asheville, N.C. based band Fireside Collective and Zebulon Bowles .
Jim Lauderdale is a prolific songwriter and Grammy Award-winning musician whose career spans decades. Born in Troutman, North Carolina, Lauderdale was raised in a musical family. His mother was a chorus and piano teacher and music director at the church where his father preached. Growing up, Lauderdale had a voracious appetite for all types of music – from the sacred to secular, and to date his musical output and collaborations are a testament to an ongoing passion for and comfort in making many kinds of music. He’s collaborated with the likes of Ralph Stanley, Elvis Costello, and Robert Hunter, the late lyricist for the Grateful Dead. It has been said that arrival of the genre dubbed “Americana” marked a music-industry embrace of the type of music Lauderdale’s made throughout his life.
Lauderdale prepared a stripped-down bluegrass set for his Music at the Mansion, which you can enjoy below.
Towards the beginning of Charly Lowry’s Music at the Mansion performance, her band stepped back and Charly took center stage, holding only a hand drum. She took the opportunity to speak about how her identity as a woman intersects with her work as a Native American musician. She spoke about her relationship with fellow Native American singer-songwriter Pura Fé, the significance of the hand drum to her culture, and the UNC-Chapel Hill origins of her anthem for women, “Brown Skin."
“Growing up and seeing my mother sing in the gospel circuit created in me this drive to want to do something. I never forget she [once] took me by a church cemetery and she said, ‘There’s people in here who could sing like Whitney [Houston]…who could sing like [the] amazing artists of the world, but they chose to stay here. She said ‘Take the opportunity and go and do whatever you need to do and go out into the world and share your gift with the world.’ And so I always try to do that in any way, shape or form.”
- Kyng Bea
This week we published a new installment of Music at the Mansion which featuring singer-songwriter Charly Lowry performing with a team of talented North Carolina musicians including pianist and pop artist Kyng Bea (Brandon McClean).
Born and raised in Raeford, North Carolina, Kyng Bea’s first exposure to music came through his mother, a popular gospel singer who taught him the basics of piano. Last year the vocal and musical talents of Kyng Bea and his fellow Music at the Mansion performer Alexis Raeana awarded them a trip to Los Angeles to audition for a spot on American Idol.
First trained as a pianist, in recent years Kyng Bea has focused on highlighting his vocal abilities which are apparent in the latest Music at the Mansion.
Take a listen to Kyng Bea’s solo work below.
Catch Kyng Bea performing live with Charly Lowry this Sunday at the N.C. Museum of History. Details here: https://pinecone.org/events/charly-lowry-friends
Tomorrow Charly Lowry and the same group of musicians from her recent Music at the Mansion concert will perform at the N.C. Museum of History. In the hours before their Music at the Mansion set, we asked them to answer the following question: If you could have dinner with any North Carolina musician - past or present - who would you pick and what would you eat? Here's what they had to say:
“Today we live in a society where it’s legal to be Indian, and as all of us who have American Indian roots and grew up in native homes…to be here in this mansion is quite historic to say the least.”
- Alexis Raeana
Yesterday we published Charly Lowry's Music at the Mansion which features her performing with a team of talented North Carolina musicians including Alexis Raeana Jones. Last year the vocal and musical talents of Alexis and her fellow Music at the Mansion performer Brandon McClean (Kyng Bea) awarded them a trip to Los Angeles to audition for a spot on American Idol.
In 2015 Alexis was crowned Miss Lumbee, an award given during an annual pageant held during Lumbee Homecoming, a summer event featuring a powwow, parade and community events every July. Like Charly, Alexis is known for proudly representing the Lumbee tribe through her musical and professional work.
Last month, a video of Alexis and Charly singing The Star Spangled Banner at UNC-Pembroke's Moonlight Madness went viral. Catch it below!
On Wednesday, August 28, 2019 singer-songwriter Charly Lowry played a set at the North Carolina Executive Mansion in Raleigh for the Music at the Mansion series, an ongoing program of Come Hear North Carolina hosted by Governor Roy Cooper and First Lady Kristin Cooper.
Charly Lowry was born and raised in Robeson County, North Carolina, the geographic and spiritual epicenter of the Lumbee Native American Tribe of which she is a member. She is known for using her music to shine a light on the culture and traditions of the Lumbee people.
"Music I would say is very central in our lives just because there so many talented people that it’s undeniable," said Charly. "I've had a love affair with music and wanting to entertain since I was a toddler. It's always been something that makes me feel alive."
Charly interweaves stories about her musical roots, Robeson County, and historic indigenous musical and cultural pioneers throughout her 60-minute set, which features support by a talented group of musicians from her home community.
Recent American Idol contestants Alexis Raeana Jones and Brandon McClean (Kyng Bea), accompany Charly on vocals and piano respectively; Aaron Locklear joins her on drums, Jonathan Locklear on guitar, Zachary Hargett on bass, and Shawn McNeil on guitar and saxophone.
“It’s a very prestigious honor,” said Charly on the opportunity to perform at Music at the Mansion. “I feel very grateful and blessed to have my career get to this point to where I get to share it with some of my great friends. All I can think about and see in my mind is my late mother’s face and how proud she would be. Because I know she would be here. I just know she would have told the whole community about it, so it’s quite the honor.”
Charly Lowry is getting the band back together on Sunday, November 10 from 3-4 p.m. at the N.C. History Museum in Raleigh. Details here.
Review by North Carolina Arts Council summer intern Scott Stegall
On the evening July 16, Chócala, the Charlotte-based Latin band, performed an hour-long show for Music at the Mansion, a special concert series celebrating North Carolina’s vibrant and diverse musical traditions hosted by First Lady Kristin Cooper. The ballroom of the Executive Mansion, which was designated as the Music Room when the mansion was originally constructed, provided the perfect setting for listeners to enjoy Chócala’s grooves.
Featuring percussionist Davey Blackburn, saxophone player Michael Anderson, bassist Claudio Ortiz, and Claudio’s sister Lisa Ortiz on lead vocals and keys, Chócala blends psychedelia, jazz, and Latin musical traditions creating a compelling sound. Throughout the evening, Chócala’s unique musical aesthetic was front and center as the band offered up covers and originals—many of which wrestle with issues pulled straight from the headlines. Ranging from the subtle and subdued to heartfelt and powerful, Lisa, the band’s principal songwriter, delivered a passionate vocal performance entirely in Spanish. Lisa’s dynamic delivery was mirrored by the other band members. Davey laid down the beat while Claudio picked out riffs up and down the length of the bass neck and contributed occasional vocal harmonies. Michael was the standout star, his unassuming demeanor and gutsy solos melding together for a captivating performance.
Song after song, Chócala’s infectious tunes resonated off the walls of the packed house, prompting audience members to tap their feet and clap their hands. First Lady Kristin Cooper even led an impromptu dance as Chócala jammed. Chócala’s crowd-pleasing concert exemplified North Carolina’s cultural diversity and served to remind listeners that the Executive Mansion is the people’s house—a space where all North Carolinians can make their voices heard and even cut a rug while they’re at it.
Chócala's debut album is coming out this Friday, September 1, and they are performing that evening at the Neighborhood Theatre in Charlotte, N.C. to celebrate the occasion. Tickets and more information can be found at this link.