Few people understand that Kinston is the birthplace of Funk. Anyone who wanted to hear Funk before 1960 should attend the Maola Ice Cream talent show here in Kinston, according to Sarah Bryan, a folklorist from Myrtle Beach, SC Bryan runs the North Carolina Folklife Institute and edits the “Old-Time Herald.” a magazine on the traditional music of string orchestras.
According to Bryan, Maola sponsored a talent show at the African American State Theater in Kinston. The house band consisted of five local school children who called themselves the Junior Blue Notes. The heart of the group was the Parker Brothers: Melvin on drums, Maceo on saxophone and Kellis on trombone.
“By the time they were in college, the brothers supplemented their family’s income in the dry cleaning business by playing around town, having formed a band and named it after their uncle’s combo, Bobby Butler and the Blue Notes.” Brian wrote.
“Several years later, Melvin and Maceo Parker would tour and record with James Brown’s band. In all, five Kinston men have played with Brown. A young saxophonist named Nathaniel Jones led the way.
Nat Jones was the band’s musical director. He was also responsible for co-creating much of the music that served to bridge Brown’s Famous Flames style with the funk sound that changed music around the world.
In Bryan’s article, she writes:
“In 2007, while I was conducting interviews for the North Carolina Arts Council’s ‘African American Music Trails of Eastern North Carolina’ guide, a jazz singer from Kinston named Wilbert Croom told me about his hometown: ‘We don’t We couldn’t compete with the big cities’ like Raleigh and Durham in athletics, but we could still beat them in baseball and music.
One of the signature elements of the music park is a 12-foot-tall, 23-foot-wide sculpture featuring images of famous jazz, rhythm and blues, soul and gospel musicians from Kinston and surrounding communities.
David Wilson and Brandon Yow’s sculpture titled “Intersections” are glass panels that feature historic photographs, vintage maps and original artwork that all pay homage to Kinston’s African American musical community.
A large ring of benches surrounds the artwork, a perfect place to view the sculpture. Visitors will find quotes from local musicians, as well as lyrics and song titles carved into concrete throughout the park. One of these prints features Croom’s words.
As Bryan observed, Kinston’s influence on the course of modern music history is vastly disproportionate to the size of the city. If you want a fuller understanding of the message, listen to “Message in Music” at Fifth Funk Festival this Saturday.
Mike Parker is a columnist for the Neuse News. You can reach him at [email protected]