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James Brown

May 3, 1933 - December 25, 2006

Godfather of Soul:  I Feel Good!

famous-carolina-faces-james-brownSouth Carolina native James Brown was the high-energy Godfather of Soul who was a master of funk, R&B, disco and rap. Over six decades, he electrified generations with his riveting onstage performances, and holds the record for the most hit singles on the Billboard Hot 100 List (despite never reaching #1 on any of his songs).

Born James Joe Brown Jr. on May 3, 1933, in Barnwell, SC, he was abandoned by his mother at the age of four. He was subsequently raised by an aunt who lived in Augusta Georgia and ran a brothel. As a youngster, he picked cotton, worked odd jobs and shined shoes, and at age 12, began performing for the soldiers at nearby Fort Gordon.

James Brown had problems which included drug issues and a stint in prison in the late 80s; however, throughout his career and beyond, he had the ability to electrify audiences with his theatrical performances, elaborate bands and innovative songs. He was a civil rights activist, philanthropist and consummate performer. Married four times, he was survived by at least four children at the time of his death in 2006.

Brown was named as one of the first inductees into the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame at its inaugural induction dinner in New York in 1986. In 1992, Brown was awarded a Grammy Lifetime Achievement Award at the 34th annual Grammy Awards. He was also honored with a star on the Hollywood Walk of Fame. It is said that Elvis Presley studied tapes of his performances in order to emulate many of his dance moves.

At the end of his talented, turbulent life, he lived in Beech Island, SC.

Chubby Checker

Born October 3, 1941

Let’s Twist Again (Like we did 50 years ago)

famous-carolina-faces-chubby-checkerErnest Evans was born in Gulley Springs, SC, (or Gully Springs) a tiny community near Georgetown, SC. The son of a tobacco farmer, the family moved to the projects of Philadelphia, which is where Ernest spent most of his formative years.

He earned money on the streets by shining shoes, selling ice and other small jobs. The nickname, “Chubby,” came from his hefty build. (Seen him lately? That moniker no longer fits – he looks great.)

He used his natural gift of imitation to impersonate the styles of his heroes – Fats Domino, Jerry Lee Lewis, and Elvis Presley. Later, he began to make records and after a few minor hits, he really broke out and became known as the “King of the Twist.” Of course, the Twist virtually revolutionized dance culture (that’s when we all learned the fun of dancing apart, no touching), and his version of “The Twist” stayed at the top of the charts for 18 weeks.

In 2008, the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame gave Chubby a special award. In 2009, he toured abroad to great success. Today, the only artist to have five albums in the top 12 all at once is still going strong.

Check out his website at to see what he’s up to today.

John Coltrane

September 23, 1926 - July 17, 1967


famous-carolina-faces-john-coltraneBorn in Hamlet, North Carolina, John Coltrane was surrounded by music at an early age. He joined the Navy as a young man and played in the U.S. Navy Band in Hawaii. After his years of service ended, he played his tenor sax with a number of notable musicians, including other Carolinians Dizzy Gillespie and Thelonius Monk. John Coltrane influenced music in many different genres and musicians, most especially in jazz. It began during his lifetime and continued to grow after his death at age 40. He inspired an entire generation of jazz musicians and music lovers.

His evocative music is still enjoyed by many and was used in a number of films, including “Mr. Holland’s Opus,” “Jerry McGuire” and “White Nights.”

He was married to Alice Coltrane and the two had a son. Coltrane's son, Ravi Coltrane, was named after the great Indian sitarist Ravi Shankar, who was greatly admired by Coltrane. He followed in his father's footsteps and is a prominent contemporary saxophonist.

Chris Daughtry

Born December 26, 1979

famous-carolina-faces-chris-daughtryChris Daughtry became famous because he almost won the fifth season of American idol. If the crowd had voted, he surely would have won, and since that fourth place finish when he lost to Taylor Hicks, he’s built a success story that puts him behind only Kelly Clarkson and Carrie Underwood in record sales – and they won their respective seasons.

He was born in Roanoke Rapids NC, and raised in Lasker, a suburb which has fewer than 50 households, according to the most recent census. At age 14, his family moved to Palmyra Virginia. Today, Chris, his wife, Deanna, and children, Hannah, Griffin, Adalynn Rose and Noah James, live in Oak Ridge, North Carolina, near Greensboro. The small community is known for its horse culture, and Daughtry is undoubtedly its most famous resident.

At age 16, he began to take guitar lessons, and sing, and performed with rock bands in the area. In high school, he appeared in two stage productions, The Wiz and Peter Pan.

Some of his most memorable songs include, “Home” which he wrote the day before he left for American Idol auditions, and “It’s not Over” which gained approval from critics as well as the public. The video for “Home” was filmed in Greensboro, while “It’s not Over” was filmed in Queens, NY.

During a recent interview with People, Daughtry shared that the responsibilities of fatherhood have changed him, adding that “Life is about more than just me. I’ve got a great wife, great kids, and a great life.”

May we add to that? He’s got a great voice and tells poignant tales in his well-crafted lyrics and melodies.

Roberta Flack

Born February 10, 1939

The First Time Ever I Saw Your Face 

famous-carolina-faces-Roberta-FlackSoulful singer, songwriter and musician Roberta Flack hails from the mountains of Western NC and the small town of Black Mountain, where she lived as a small child.  Located near to Asheville, today Black Mountain offers gorgeous scenery, outdoor pursuits, eclectic shops and galleries, and even a Center for the Arts. Ms. Flack, a notable educator, would certainly approve of the Center’s many summer camps and programs!

Dizzy Gillespie

October 21, 1917 - January 6, 1993

famous-carolina-faces-dizzy-gillespieDizzy Gillespie made Cheraw reverberate with musical sounds that could only come from genius. But he’s not the only reason this small town rocks!


Eartha Kitt

January 21, 1927 – December 25, 2008

Eartha Kitt’s ties to South Carolina were biological and emotionally significant, but short-lived, relatively speaking.

Born near the tiny town of North, not far from Columbia, her background was shrouded in mystery.  Her mother was 16, half black, half Cherokee.  Her father was unknown, although certainly white.  Some said he was a son of the cotton plantation owner, but that possibility never made it into the official story.

There was much prejudice against mixed-race children in those days, and little Eartha had a rough early childhood. Sent to live with an aunt in Harlem when she was eight, Miss Kitt discovered music and dance and never looked back.  She attended Katherine Dunham School of Dance, and toured with the troupe before the age of 20.

Europe loved the exotic beauty and talent of Miss Kitt, but lots of American celebrities did, too.  Orson Wells called her “the most exciting girl in the world.”  There were rumored dalliances with Nat King Cole, Sammy Davis Junior, among others.  Eventually, she returned to New York and began to be noticed in Greenwich Village, attracting the attention of a Broadway producer who put her in “New Faces of 1952.”  She became a star, receiving Tony nominations for a variety of roles.  She may be best remembered for playing Catwoman in the Batman television series, but that’s only because many people don’t know she is the famous sultry voice behind “Santa Baby” still played on every radio station during the holidays.  One wit said that only Miss Kitt could try to seduce Santa Claus.

Eartha Kitt married Bill McDonald in 1960 and had a daughter.  Several years later, her outspoken remarks during a luncheon given by Lady Bird Johnson drew the wrath of LBJ and again, she escaped to Paris with her child.  The marriage did not survive.  During her last years, she regained fame and adulation in America, continuing to perform and becoming a favorite on talk shows.  Miss Kitt died of colon cancer on December 25, 2008 and is survived by her beloved daughter, Kitt Shapiro, and four grandchildren.   

Visit her website for books, music and memorabilia.

Thelonius Monk

October 10, 1917 - February 17, 1982

Classic Jazz

famous-carolina-faces-Thelonius-MonkListening to some of Thelonius Monk’s standards such as Round About Midnight, or Straight, No Chaser, makes you want to hop on the Silver Meteor and ride the rails to the smoky jazz bars in Manhattan. Chances are you’ve heard his distinctive sound as hard-driving background music on classic jazz radio stations, or in urban clubs.

The man’s Carolina roots are shallow, but we’ll claim him anyway. Born in 1917 in Rocky Mount, North Carolina, in 1922, Thelonius moved with his family to West 63rd Street in Manhattan. He began to play piano at six and was largely self-taught. A high school dropout, he began to find work in jazz clubs in his late teens and developed quite a following during his years as house pianist at Minton’s Playhouse, a Manhattan nightclub.

A contemporary of Dizzy Gillespie (another Carolina musician). Kenny Clarke, Charlie Parker and Miles Davis, Thelonius is considered a founder of bebop, although his style evolved away from that sound, and settled into remarkable improvisations that stunned listeners and all who would try to copy his work.

His later years were haunted by whispers of mental illness, and he largely relied on the support of Baroness  Pannonica "Nica" de Koenigswarter, a member of the  Rothschild family and a patroness of several New York City jazz musicians. He had a number of run-ins with police over illegal drugs and quit performing for years before his death. Thelonius Monk was married and had two children, both living.

The Thelonious Monk Institute of Jazz was established in 1986 by the Monk family and Maria Fisher. It offers public school-based jazz education programs for young people around the globe, helping students develop imaginative thinking, creativity, curiosity, a positive self-image, and a respect for their own and others' cultural heritage. Through its partnership with UNESCO, the Institute also helped to establish April 30 as International Jazz Day.

Monk was inducted into the North Carolina Music Hall of Fame in 2009.

Early recordings of live performances of his most notable work can be enjoyed on YouTube, which also showcases his love of hats and sunglasses.

Drink Small

Born January 28, 1933

Writen by Clair DeLune

famous-carolina-faces-Drink-SmallFrom growing up on a sharecropper’s farm in Bishopville to headlining in October 2015 at the Lisner Auditorium in Washington, D.C., when he will officially be granted the nation’s highest cultural award for a traditional artist – a National Endowment for the Arts Heritage Fellowship for 2015 – Drink Small has very nearly “done it all,” as one of his CDs attests.

Small, whose musical roots led him from singing gospel with the Spiritual Aires at the Apollo Theatre, to his first Blues record, “I Love You, Alberta,” recently being chosen as one of the “top party songs of all time” on an “Animal House” CD, will receive the highest distinction the City of Columbia can bestow. Drink Small Day was held Thursday, July 30, 2015, with the honorable Mayor Benjamin bestowing that tribute at Tapp’s Arts Center on Main Street.

Small says that the choice of Tapp’s is fitting. “Tapp’s Art Center is helping the arts thrive and Drink Small is keeping the Blues alive. I’m happy to sing for all of you; and proud to be with the Mayor, too!”

South Carolina’s most famous living purveyor of roots music is the subject of several books on roots and heritage music and arts. His biography “Drink Small,” is available on History Press; in 2015, Arcadia Press released “South Carolina Blues”; and Muddy Ford Press features him in a chapter of “Limelight II,” hitting bookstores in mid-August.

Drink Small’s official page on Facebook is “Drink Small, the Blues Doctor.”

James Taylor

Born March 12, 1948

In My Mind I’m Goin’ to Carolina

famous-carolina-faces-james-taylorThe lights dimmed and the crowd grew quiet.  And then, the band began to play and James Taylor stepped out on the stage and began to sing.  There was that voice – undiminished by time – taking me back to a Carolina sunshine day and a very young JT singing to a bunch of college girls, who were sitting on a grassy hill behind campus.  Nothing had changed.

Tonight, however, in Columbia, the crowd was quite a bit older, (although a few appreciative youngsters could be spotted here and there) and almost everyone was singing along.  It wasn’t all nostalgia however, and his new album, Before This World offers a new, intimate glimpse into what’s currently happening in the world of Sweet Baby James.  The music is complex, yet oh-so-approachable.  Frankly, it sounds great.

When you have the chance, listen to those new songs.  I loved “Angels of Fenway,” although baseball’s not my game.  But listening to his homage to the Boston Red Sox, coupled with memories of his grandmother (a huge fan), reminded me again that beyond the voice, the singable lyrics, the genial personality, there is a true storyteller.

Singer-Songwriter James Taylor may be living in Massachusetts, but he still has his roots firmly planted in the Carolinas, where he moved at the tender age of three when his father accepted a position at the University of North Carolina School of Medicine. His family made their home in Carrboro, North Carolina, near Chapel Hill, where he learned to play the cello as a child before later switching to the guitar. Today, his memorable “Carolina In My Mind” is an anthem here. “Can’t you see the sunshine?” Why yes, we do.

Randy Travis

Born May 4, 1959

Country Crooner

famous-carolina-faces-randy-travisYears before Nashville, Country Music Star Randy Travis called North Carolina home. He was born there (as Randy Bruce Traywick) in 1959, and his father’s dream was for his second child to become a country music singer. At age 16 he entered a talent show hosted by Country City USA of Charlotte and after winning was invited to become a Club regular. The rest, as they say, is history!