By Charlie Griffin
North Carolina is considered by many to be a cradle of gospel music. But the state’s rich music history covers most genres of music. Except for the effects of the Depression and World War II, Charlotte could’ve been the recording capital Nashville is today.
Why a music hub in North Carolina?
Over the 1900s, the state became noted for being steeped in traditional, old-time music. Al Hopkins and the North Carolina Ramblers hit the country scene in the 1920’s. Doc Watson, Earl Scruggs and Del McCoury were rooted in North Carolina Bluegrass. Arthur Smith and his “Guitar Boogie” is perhaps the most iconic singer and musician to come from the old North state.
His “Dueling Banjos” remains the standard in bluegrass music. His Crossroads Quartet laid the ground work for many in the Christian music field.
The Carolina names that are recognized in country music are numerous. Randy Travis, George Shuffler of the Stanley Brothers’ Clinch Mountain Boys, Charlie Daniels, Kellie Pickler, Scotty McCreery, Luke Combs, Chase Rice are among those Carolina natives who made good in country music of yesteryear and today.
Over the years, North Carolina has also been home to many famous Christian singers. In Black gospel music, Shirley Caesar and her husband pastor a church in Raleigh. The Golden Gate Quartet and Heavenly Gospel Singers were successful recording artists from the Carolinas in the ’40s.
North Carolina is also famous for its abundance of quartets and family gospel groups which thrive all throughout the state. Current touring artists include the Inspirations, Kingsmen, Primitive Quartet, Hoppers, Whisnants, Mylon Hayes Family, Dixie Melody Boys call North Carolina home.
Other major artists through the years that were located in North Carolina, include Heaven Bound, Singing Americans, Greenes, Hayes Family, Charles Johnson and the Revivers, Serenaders Quartet, Carolinians, Gethsemane Quartet and Crusaders Quartet. This does not count the hundreds of church, local and regional groups/ quartets or touring soloists who make up the rich musical Carolina music history.
The Carolina music hub was energized by radio and TV stations. Among the noted TV host musical groups, the Harvesters Quartet anchored WBTV (Charlotte), while Arthur Smith and the Crossroads Quartet (aka the Crackerjacks) were nationally syndicated via CBS Syndication. The Royal Quartet were staples on WSOC-TV (Charlotte).
The Pine Ridge Boys got their start when Wally Fowler held an all-night singing looking for a group to become a new quartet. That night Wally Fowler chose the new Oak Ridge Quartet, while Jim Stewart, Charlie Burke, Wayne Shuford, Darius Shuford and Miles Cooper formed the Pine Ridge Boys. The quartet was seen on WSPA-TV in Spartanburg and WJBF TV in Augusta, Georgia, back in their day.
In the early years of Carolina music, singers and musicians traveled a circuit of cities across the southeast. Stops included Atlanta, Georgia; Columbia, Greenville and Spartanburg, South Carolina; Charlotte, Greensboro, Raleigh and Durham, North Carolina; Richmond, Virginia; and many smaller towns in between. They would take up residence in a city for several months until the area had been played out, and then move on.
Charlotte became a key stop on this circuit. Situated at a major crossroads of North Carolina, and being a growing southern city, Charlotte brought a large audience for musicians. Radio boosted this audience. CBS bought the Carolinas first station, boosting to the legal maximum of 50,000 watts. WBT radio could be heard all over the Southeast, making the station a cornerstone of the regional Dixie Network, feeding programs to sister stations throughout the South.
The next big thing in Charlotte was recording. From the early 1920s to the ’40s, most musicians and singers were recorded in road sessions throughout the South. Executives carried portable equipment by car or by train to Southern radio stations. Recording locations were very simple, just hotel walls draped with heavy curtains. A microphone or two were placed center room with a piano off to one side. The equipment was set in an adjoining space.
Ralph Peer with the Victor Talking Machine began recording in the south and Charlotte became his headquarters. The Carter family was discovered in one of the Victor traveling recording tours. These traveling studios would go to a location and record for hours.
In Charlotte, one day’s recording totaled 46 artists. Most recordings were only one or two songs. The more polished artists would record up to four songs.
The Great Depression reduced the recordings for a time. However, with the RCA and Victor merger, Peer visited Charlotte in 1931 for two, six-day recording sessions. One hundred sessions were recorded in this time. Two artists came to the city, Jimmie Davis and the Carter Family. These recordings were part of their rise to stardom. Bill Monroe, Tennessee Ramblers, Don White, Claude Casey, Delmore Brothers, and Uncle Dave Macon, are some of the noted recordings made in the ’30s.
In the forties, things began to slow. Columbia Records set up in Charlotte in ’41 to record the Rangers Quartet. In 1945, RCA made their last traveling recordings, while Capital Records recorded until 1949.
Charlotte continued to decline as a national recording hub because of the economy and shortages in recording materials used in the war effort.
However, one of the major factors of this decline was the growth of the Grand Ole Opry on WSM radio in Nashville, Tennessee. After the war, larger recording companies set up permanent recording studios in Nashville, following the growing influence of the Grand Ole Opry and WSM. The musical tide had changed for good.
The recording legacy still lives on in Charlotte’s new recording studios, record labels, musicians and artists that have the music dream in their heart, soul and mind.
Just think. It could’ve been Charlotte.
By Charlie Griffin
Charlie Griffin is a regular contributor to SGNScoops Magazine. Find out more about Charlie Griffin HERE.
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