African American Music Trails explore eastern N.C.’s musical history

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WILSON, N.C. (WNCT) — The African American Music Trails is an exploration of the long and rich heritage of African American music in eastern North Carolina, with a goal to raise awareness about the music, musicians and places in the East.

The godfather of the trails, historian and musician Bill Myers, knows the area’s history inside and out.

“We’re trying to help people to remember how the music got started,” said Bill Myers. “There’s so much misinformation on where the music has come from and how it has evolved over the years, and we’d like to set the record straight on this.”

Music’s impact in the eastern part of the state is rich. So rich, that music legends like Bill Myers want to share with those that may not know.

“I didn’t have to read this; I lived this, so I have first-hand knowledge,” said Myers. “This is why this trail has become so important to us that we recognize those pioneers.”

While fame may be important for others, it’s the sacrifices Myers and countless other unsung heroes have made to lay down the foundation for the future.

“We don’t want to forget those people that played in the ‘chitlin’ circuit’ and made the 30 cents and had to walk in those kinds of places,” said Myers. “This is for the musicians who didn’t receive the recognition or the fame that these people like Pat Boone and Elvis got.”

Myers began his journey of informing the youth, during his time as a school teacher and principal in Wilson.

“I want people to know the importance of those people that played in those joints before we did, when I couldn’t even go into the hotel,” said Myers.

And even at 85, Myers still hasn’t stopped sticking to his first love.

“Music is my life and I’d be lost without it,” said Myers. “I intend to play music as long as I have some breath, even though now my breath is getting shorter but  as long as I can huff and puff and play that’s what I intend to do.”

Myers isn’t the only one to recognize the influence of the historical trails in the east.

Carroll Dashiell is a music professor at East Carolina University who knows about the impact that history can have on the next generation.

“I think it’s very important because it is our heritage and so often we know more about our European brothers and sisters and their heritage which is part of our heritage but we forget about our roots,” said Dashiell.

Dashiell said music has also been important to him personally.

“My music, meaning the music that I play, has provided me with so many opportunities,” said Dashiell. “I’ve had the chance to travel the world many times to interchange musical ideas with so many professional musicians, celebrities and also my wonderful students too.”

One of those cities that’s reaped the benefits is Kinston, home to the Kinston Music Park, which is dedicated to remembering the legends of yesterday and today.

Sandy Patterson is the executive director of Kinston’s Arts Council.

Patterson said the opportunity to learn about the trailblazers in the East is beneficial for everyone.

“The history was being lost in all of the communities so these interviews were very important,” said Patterson. “We can enjoy the music but we can also enjoy the storyboards which gives us at least an encapsulated history of this really significant history here in Lenoir County.

And even with the park, the influence still weighs heavy for the artist of today including recording artist, Lesette Kornegay.

“If you get a chance to walk through the city, walk through the park, you will see different panels of people that have made a mark in history,” said Kornegay. “Those musicians were either from this city or either from the local nearby areas.”

Those nearby areas include Wilson and Kinston, where both Dashiell and Myers have similar philosophies.

“If we don’t have the earlier than we don’t have today,” said Dashiell.

“If you don’t know where you’ve been, you don’t know where you’re going,” said Myers.

And for the godfather of the trails, that’s all that matters.

“We need to be proud of it,” said Myers. “That’s my story and I’m sticking to it.”

The trails are compiled within eight separate counties through the east including; Edgecombe, Greene, Jones, Lenoir, Nash Pitt, Wayne and Wilson counties.

Each summer, different bands throughout North Carolina fill the Kinston park to bring the sounds from yesterday into the present.

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