Sounds of the North Carolina Music Scene

When you think North Carolina, I bet your mind doesn’t immediately go to music, right? Well, if you’re surprised, you are in good company. Mr. Eddie Ray, Director of North Carolina Music Hall of Fame, and inductee, was “amazed to learn there are so many great musical performing artists, in every genre of music, all hailing from North Carolina.”

Yes, many musicians got their start right here in The Old North State. And for the record, while we love our cowboy country songs, we are a lot more than that—think Ben Folds Five, Tori Amos, even James Taylor.

From Hillbillies To Hipsters

Like any great story, music weaves a narrative of its own. To set the scene, we need to go back to the ‘20s, when folk music was on the rise and its main star was Bascom Lamar Lunsford, the “Minstrel of the Appalachians.” Seen performing at square dances and folk festivals all over the country and always appearing in his signature starched white shirt and black bow tie, this Madison County native recorded the well-known songs, “Jesse James” and “I Wish I Was A Mole in the Ground.”

Folk opened the door to Bluegrass, which is just as popular now as it was in the ‘40s when a Earl Scruggs, 21-year-old, banjo-toting boy from North Carolina’s Cleveland County first took the stage. Earl played like no one had ever seen before—this three-finger picking style brought the house down and quickly became known as simply Scruggs style. That claw-hammer picking, which was soon a hallmark of Bluegrass music, continues to pop up in new and unusual places, from Mumford and Sons to Bon Iver. But it was Earl who first captivated the crowds, and he takes his rightful place in the North Carolina Music Hall of Fame alongside Doc Watson, J.D. Mainer, Curly Seckler and Clyde Moody.

And if you’re itching to catch some banjo action from modern Bluegrass stars, there are festivals held all over the country, from Maine and Missouri to California and of course North Carolina. Visit to see when the next concert will be performed near your hometown.

Ready to Rock

And if you know The Triangle section of North Carolina (also known as the college region: Raleigh-Durham-Chapel Hill,) then you know how influential this spot has been for indie rock, metal and punk. But that was only made possible because the stage was being set back in ‘60s when Cat’s Cradle Coffeehouse was alive with local folk musicians. In fact, one of the first local legends to take the mic there was a band known as The Corsayers, featuring Alex Taylor and his younger brother, James. And of course today, the younger James brother is still playing to sold out stadiums all over the world—and we North Carolinians have him to thank for our unofficial state anthem: “Carolina in My Mind.”

It was these universities that quickly became ground zero for the punk and hip-hop movements. Many groups actually met while attending college together, like Lords of the Underground, from Shaw University and Little Brother, from North Carolina Central University. But the Triangle really gained fame with Chapel Hill bands, Squirrel Nut Zippers and the piano trio, Ben Folds Five. Eddie says that many of the North Carolina Music Hall of Fame inductees, like “James Taylor, Oliver, Ben Folds, Roberta Flack and Ben E. King have had great influence and positively impacted the pop genre of music.”

True Chart Toppers

Unlike Tennessee and New York, Eddie believes that North Carolina did not aggressively promote and market its music history and potential music business mostly because the state’s primary interests were in the tobacco and textile industries. “However, today several members of our State Legislature and numerous NC State Agencies have become more active in promoting our rich music history as well as its current music industry in general, “ Eddie says. “I believe that with this renewed interest and the emergence of more active music organizations, North Carolina will become known for its great music history and its emerging new potential Hall of Fame artists.”

And as for Eddie, the man is a star in his own right, “It was a great honor for me to be inducted into my native State’s Music Hall of Fame, after being absent from the State for over sixty years.” But he continues his work to better this industry today, “I also greatly appreciate the opportunity to help develop the NC Music Hall of Fame into one of the more successful State Music Hall of Fames in the Nation.”

The North Carolina Music Hall of Fame

Founded in 1994, it took 15 years and the generosity of Mike Curb, a California music executive, to open the doors of the North Carolina Music Hall of Fame and Museum. Located in the renovated old Kannapolis City Jailhouse, the first Artists Induction Ceremony was held on October 3, 2009, with new musical artists and music industry professionals added annually ever since.

And it wasn’t long before they outgrew that space, in fact they just reopened in December 2014 at 600 Dale Earnhardt Blvd. in Kannapolis City, where visitors can now get a double attraction experience: The North Carolina Music Hall of Fame and Museum PLUS Curb’s Music and Motorsports Museum.

Head over for must-see exhibits displaying memorabilia, like wardrobe pieces, signed albums and awards from world famous inductees, including Randy Travis, Earl Scruggs, Andy Griffith, Fantastia, Ben Folds and so many more amazing artists.

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