Wednesday, May 27, 2009

N.C. Music Hall of Fame to Open Soon

It took nearly 10 years, but the North Carolina Music Hall of Fame found its home at the "home of science."

Located in the old Kannapolis jailhouse, the hall of fame honors musicians, singers, songwriters and producers from the Old North State who have made contributions to American music.

Invited guests to a special reception, hosted by California music mogul Mike Curb, got a sneak peek inside the hardwood-floored showroom Thursday. Exhibits showcased musical artists from all genres with North Carolina roots -- artists like Randy Travis, Andy Griffith, Ben Folds, Thelonius Monk and Earl Scruggs.

And there are some big names enshrined here: Famed fiddler Charlie Daniels, beach music croners Billy Scott and the Chairmen of the Board, big band leader Kay Kiser and opera singer Victoria Livengood.

Even its curator, Eddie Ray is a music pioneer himself.

Ray, 83, from Franklin, N.C., worked his way up through the label system from assistant shipping clerk to becoming the first African-American vice-president of Capitol Records.

"I've always been interested in music history and in honoring the legacy of these artists," Ray said.

In this small-statured, soft-spoken man lives a wealth of music history. Ray has signed and promoted some of the biggest names in music. He brought Pink Floyd from the United Kingdom for Capital Records.

He promoted jazz and R&B piano player and songwriter Fats Domino for Imperial Records. Ray said he would pitch Domino to country music stations, saying "he was the next Louis Armstrong."

"He (Fats Domino) was the first crossover artist before there ever was such a thing," Ray said, with a smile.

Ray, as a music executive, signed Curb when he was 16 years old in the 1960s. Since then, the duo have been working together in the music industry. Curb went on to head MGM Records and then started Curb Records, a major country music label.

Curb's foundation is backing the hall of fame, which has struggled in past years to find a permanent home for its collection.

Doug Croft, an executive with the Thomasville Chamber of Commerce, dreamed up the idea of a music hall of fame back in the 1990s.

He said he began reading a music book published by "Rolling Stone" and recognizing musicians that had North Carolina roots.

"You've heard of all the big ones, like Charlie Daniels," said Croft, "so I made a list of all artists, producers and writers from North Carolina."

At the same time, he saw an ad for the Alabama Music Hall of Fame in a Reader's Digest and he thought North Carolina needed the same thing.

In 1999, the hall of fame organization was formed and the group inducted its first class -- which included The Chairmen of the Board, Loonis McGlohan, and promoter Bill Griffin.

"Bill Griffin was the one that made Greensboro a major between Atlanta and Washington, D.C. for Motown groups at the time," said Bill Kopald, chairman of hall of fame's board of directors.

Kopald is a former local news anchor who lives in Greensboro. He got involved with the music hall of fame in 1999. At that time, the group tried to get a museum opened to show the memorabilia the group had collected.

"Lots of places were interested -- Thomasville, Greensboro, High Point," Kopald said. "But no one stepped forward."

Croft said the group was pretty active in promoting the idea of a physical hall of fame, but, soon, with no takers, the group went on hiatus, he said.

Until about a couple of years ago, when Kopald got a call from Eddie Ray.

"He said, 'We've heard about you and talking about you,'" Kopald said. "He was calling on behalf of Mike Curb."

Being from North Carolina, Ray thought there needed to be a place to honor the artists, promoters and producers from the state that made an impact on music.

Curb and Ray both are interested in music history, and Curb is good friends with Dole Food Company owner David Murdock.

"Mike talked with Mr. Murdock, and we got a 10-year lease for $1 a year," Kopald said.

The Curb Family Foundation backed the hall of fame, putting up the money to renovate the old jail building in Kannapolis -- a process that took the better part of two years.

"When you get people together that share the same passion, the same interests, that's when things get done," Kopald said. "We're in a good location here. This is a part of Kannapolis -- the old mill town rising from the ashes."

Part of the mission of the hall of fame is to honor artists; the other part is education.

Once the museum opens full time, Ray said the plan is to hire interns to help with music research and build a digital archive of songs and interviews with native artists.

"We believe we should preserve these," Ray said. "This is more than just a physical site."

The music hall of fame is expected to open to the public by June 1.

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