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Person playing the drums

Interview by Sandra Davidson | Video by N.C. Department of Natural and Cultural Resources | Editing Support by Scott Stegall

Earlier this summer Wilson, N.C. welcomed home a native son: legendary jazz drummer Billy Kaye. Born Willie King Seaberry in Wilson in 1932, Billy has performed with jazz titans like Billie Holiday, Thelonious Monk, Lou Donaldson, and George Benson. His performance career began in 1950 when he played with Percy Mayfield.  A performer, composer, and educator, Kaye was the featured drummer for jazz workshops at the inaugural Newport Jazz Festival and is currently a music educator in the New York City public school systems through the Jazz Foundation of America’s Jazz in Schools program. Billy learned to play drums during his tenure in the U.S. Air Force, and has traveled the world as a musician. His concert on June 7that the Vollis Simpson Whirligig Park marked the first time he ever played in his hometown. 

Headshot of man in blazer and glasses smiling with theatre rigging in background

Interview by Sandra Davidson | Editing support by Scott Stegall | Archival images courtesy Ira David Wood III

A native North Carolinian, Ira David Wood III was raised rural in Halifax County. Realizing his passion for theater in high school, Wood was invited to join the inaugural class of the North Carolina School of the Arts in 1965. After graduating, Wood deliberately chose to stay in North Carolina to build a career in theater. 

As an arts advocate and founder and Executive Director of Raleigh’s Theatre in the Park, he’s inspired countless North Carolinians, including author David Sedaris and his Golden Globe nominated daughter actress Evan Rachel Wood, to pursue careers in the arts. He’s currently the Director of The Lost Colony, the longest-running outdoor drama in America, and his comedic adaptation of Charles Dicken’s A Christmas Carol – performed annually since 1974 -  is a Raleigh institution. Wood is a recipient of the Order of the Long Leaf Pine, North Carolina’s highest civilian honor.

A woman with blonde hair sitting in a chair

Interview* by Sandra Davidson | Photos Courtesy Cynthia Hill

I first heard of Cynthia Hill in an undergraduate folklore class at UNC-Chapel Hill. One morning my teacher, folklorist and rock-and-roller MC Taylor, screened “Tobacco Money Feeds My Family,” Cynthia’s first feature film, as an example of a folklorist’s approach to documenting something controversial — and cultural — like tobacco. In the film, Cynthia chronicles the lives of tobacco farmers from her hometown while reckoning with the deathly implications of the crop. It was the first time I’d seen a documentary about a North Carolina community like the one I am from, and the first time I’d heard of a woman from our state doing that kind of work. It was life changing, and it greatly influenced my own choice to pursue documentary work. 

It’s been over a decade since Cynthia scrapped together the resources to make that film, and things have changed dramatically for her. She’s produced two feature films: “The Guestworker: Bienvenidos a Carolina del Norte” (2006), a film about Hispanic farmworkers in rural North Carolina, and “Private Violence” (2014), a documentary about women who are survivors of domestic violence which was screened on HBO. She’s won two Emmys and a Peabody Award for her hit television show “A Chef’s Life,” and moved Markay Media, her production company, from her house into an office-space in Durham, where she now employees around 10 people full-time. In our interview, she reflects on her unlikely journey to filmmaking, her dream of making North Carolina a celebrated documentary hub, and how she managed to get unprecedented access to film one of the best NASCAR teams in the country.

Artist looking down, smiling, wearing apron, in art studio

Interview and video by Sandra Davidson | Photos courtesy Thomas Sayre

Thomas Sayre came to North Carolina for college, but he stayed because of our state’s preternatural creative appeal. Part sculptor, part visual artist, part architect, Raleigh’s Thomas Sayre built his career from the ground up. From “Gyre,” the three large rings that adorn the North Carolina Museum of Art’s fantastic art park, to “Shimmer Wall,” a glittering homage to the City of Oaks mounted on the side of the Raleigh Convention Center, Sayre’s large-scale earth-castings and sculptures speckle landscapes across the state and the world. A long-time advocate for public funding for the arts, Sayre’s has served on the North Carolina Arts Council board for well over a decade and is a champion of thoughtful, place-driven public art projects.

Man in all black and hat playing trumpet

Story by Sandra Davidson

Dick Knight says there's something about Kinston.

"It’s hard to leave Kinston. They say if you drink some of the Kinston water you won’t go nowhere," says Knight. "It seems like a quiet town but there’s so much happening. At one time Kinston was like a little New York. Five or six different bands on the weekend [that] you’d go out there to see and play. It was great."

Knight is a professional musician, retired school teacher, and 2018 North Carolina Heritage Award recipient. He's is one of several excellent soul, R&B and funk musicians with deep ties to eastern North Carolina, but his Kinston story is an unlikely one. In this episode of Arts Across NC, we get the scoop on how Kinston led this music-loving Georgia native to James Brown, and a fulfilling career as an arts educator.

The episode features original music from The Monitors and a clip from James Brown's Grits & Soul album.

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