Thursday, October 29, 2009


*The Wilmington Journal August 2002.

COPYRIGHT, 2002, Larry Reni Thomas.

During the 1940s and the 1950s, when jazz music was as hot as hip-hop is today, Wilmington, North Carolina, was the place where jazz giants like Cab Calloway, Lionel Hampton, Count Basie, Dizzy Gillespie and Louis Armstrong performed at a local jazz club and ballroom called The Barn. It was located at 1020 South 11th Street, between Meares and Wright Streets, and was owned and operated by the late Mr. and Mrs. Charles Whitted.
The Barn was a place where folks dressed up for a swinging night on the town and where they went to see the big bands that were extremely popular during the World War II years. It was called The Barn because it resembled a tobacco barn and was large enough to hold some 2,000 people.
There was a large dance floor, a big bandstand, bars and several rooms for private parties. It was the place to be on a weekend night in Wilmington if you were young or young-at-heart and if you were a jazz lover.
"Lionel Hampton was a regular," said Mrs. Gerrie Lemon, the Whitted's granddaughter, during a recent interview. "So was the Buddy Johnson Big Band, Louie Jordan and Louie Armstrong. They would play the Barn at least once a year. My grandfather liked the big bands. He liked the 18-piece bands plus a vocalist. He liked to see them all on the stage--and it was big. And we had dressing rooms on either side of it. And beside that it had a pit. You could dance behind there too."
Lemon said that her grandfather added rooms to the structure because during that time blacks couldn't go to the local hotels or motels. Sometimes they stayed at the Whitted's residence. Mrs. Lemon recalled waking up one morning when she was a little girl hearing Billy Eckstine singing to himself in the bathroom while shaving. At the time she didn't think much of it to see all those famous people in her house. But later, when she became an adult she realized how blessed she was to have been in the presence of such well-known musicians.

She also remembered that most of the people in the community looked forward to seeing the bands come to town and she smiled when she talked about the excitement that was in the air once the word got out that a good band was coming to Wilmington.
"My grandfather was a master promoter," she said. "He knew another promoter in Kinston who would have the same bands at his place. They would both book the bands and promote them together. I was so proud of him because he was a pioneer in the field of promoting. He would travel all over the region, from town to town, nailing up posters and handing out leaflets. He was really a good promoter."
Mr. Whitted was also a keen talent scout who knew what bands to bring to the area. He made contact with prominent New York agents, like Joe Glaser, who help supply him with first-class acts like Armstrong and Hampton. He was also blessed to have the Lumina, a large dance hall on Wrightsville Beach in the area. Nearly all of the groups played at the Lumina, an all-white establishment one night and the Barn the next night. The late John Birks "Dizzy" Gillespie, the legendary trumpet player, remembered playing at the Lumina and the Barn during the 1940s and 1950s. He made those observations when he played at Thalian Hall several years ago. He said that they also looked forward to playing the Barn because that was where they had more fun and played a great deal better because they loved to see the people dance.
Jimmy Heath, the great saxophonist who is a former Wilmington resident and a 1943 graduate of Williston High School, recalled playing at the Barn about a year after he graduated from high school.
"I was playing with the Nat Towles big band then," he said, during a recent interview at his Queens, New York residence. "We passed through Wilmington on a tour. The Barn had gotten a name as the place where big bands thrived, where the good times rolled and where the daring dances performed their feats. The place was known for great dancers and that is one of the things that really fires a musician up--good dancers. It was quite a thrill for me because I had gone to high school in Wilmington and knew what the Barn represented. I mean, all the great big bands that were popular at that time played there."
Mr. Heath, a Philadelphia native, left Wilmington for the city of brotherly love shortly after he graduated from Williston. He has performed with Dizzy Gillespie, John Coltrane, Miles Davis, The Heath Brothers and other jazz greats. He has had a long career in jazz performance as well as jazz education and is a retired professor of music at Queens College in New York. Heath recently received an honorary doctorate from the prestigious Julliard School of Music, making him the first and only jazz musician to get that honor. He is scheduled to perform here at a benefit for a research project on The Barn, October 14, 2002, at The Town Hall.
There has never been a complete study or is there any good documentation on the Barn. What this article seeks to do is whet the reader's appetite in order that we can begin to let the world know about the Barn and how much of a social and cultural impact it had on the community. One of the most interesting facts uncovered in this author's research of the Barn and its activities is that white people came to dance at the Barn.
At first the blacks and the whites were separated by what was called "an imaginary line," but once the bands got hot and the music was swinging, the dancers, black and white, forgot all about that foolishness and hit the dance floor together and danced! This had to be one of the earliest examples of integration in Wilmington, North Carolina and is a testament to how positive music is, especially jazz music, which the legendary band leader and composer Duke Ellington called the "great equalizer."

Tuesday, October 21, 2008


Saturday, October 11, 2008

North Carolina Native Jazz Personalities

1. Frankie Alexander--vocalist--b. Shelby, N. C.
2. Alvin Atkinson--drummer--b. Dudley, N. C., 1/20/1972.
3. Stanley Baird--saxophonist--b. Asheville, N. C.
4. Ron Baxter--saxophonist--b. Raleigh, N. C.
5. Clyde Bernhardt--vocalist--b. Gold Hill, N. C., 7/11/1905--d. 5/20/1966.
6. Johnny Best--trumpeter--b. Shelby, N.C., 10/20/1913.
7. Skeeter Best--guitarist--b. Kinston, N.C., 11/20/1914--5/27/1985.
8. Joe Bonner--pianist--b. Rocky Mount, NC, 4/20/1948.
9. Beverly Botsford--percussionist--b. Charlotte, NC
10 Hugh Brodie--saxophonist--b. Henderson, NC--2/7/1933.
11. David "Bubba" Brooks-- saxophonist--b. Fayetteville, N.C., 5/29/1922-
12. Tina Brooks--saxophonist--b. Fayeteville, N.C., 6/7/1932--8/13/1974.
13. John V. Brown--bassist--b. Fayetteville, N.C., 8/14/1970.
14. Ike Carpenter--pianist--b. Durham, NC, b. 3/11/1920--11/17/1998.
15. Ray Codrington--trumpeter--b. Dunn, NC.
16. John Coltrane--saxophonist--b. Hamlet, NC, 9/23/1926--7/17/1967.
17. Chris Columbus--drummer--b. Greenville, NC, 6/17/1902.
18. Albert "Chip" Crawford--pianist--b. Raleigh, NC.
19. Lois Deloatch--vocalist--b. Margarettsville, NC.
20. Lou Donaldson--saxophonist--b. Badin, NC, 11/1/1926.
21. Tal Farlow--guitarist--b. Greensboro, NC, 6/7/1921--7/25/1998.
22. Roberta Flack, vocalist--b. Black Mountain, NC.
23. Linton Garner--pianist--b. Greensboro, NC, 3/25/1915.
24. Kathy Gelb--vocalist--b. Raleigh, NC.
25. Rufus Harley--bagpiper--b. Raleigh, NC, 5/20/1936--2003.
26. Percy Heath--bassist--b. Wilmington, NC, 4/30/1923--2005.
27. Steve Hobbs--vibraphonist/ marimba player--b. Raleigh, NC, 4/7/1956.
28. Laurence Hobgood--pianist--b. Raleigh, NC, 12/23/1923.
29. Ernie Hood--guitarist--b. Charlotte, NC, 6/2/1923.
30. Brian Horton--saxophonist--b. Kinston, NC.
31. Billy Kaye--drummer--b. Wilson, NC, 1932.
32. Matt Kendricks--bassist--b. Greenville, NC, 4/1/1957.
33. Frank Kimbrough--pianist--b. Roxboro, NC, 11/2/1956
34. Aidia Ledbetter--vocalist--b. Durham, NC.
35. Freeman Ledbetter--bassist--b. Dunn, NC.
36. Charles "Chuck" Leonard--drummer--b. Raleigh, NC.
37. Sabby Lewis--pianist--b. Middleburg, NC, 11/1/1914--7/9/1994
38. Wilbur Little--bassist--b. Parmele, NC, 3/5/1928--5/4/1987.
39. John Malachi--pianist--b. Red Springs, NC, 9/16/1919--2/11/1987
40. Andrew McGhee--saxophonist--b. Wilmington, NC.
41. Loonis McGlohon--pianist--b. Ayden, NC, 9/29/1921--1/26/2002.
42. Josie Miles--vocalist--b. Sommerville, NC. 1900?
43. Thelonious Monk--pianist--b. Rocky Mount, NC, 10/10/1917--2/17/1982.
44. Freddie Moore--vocalist--b. Washington, NC, 8/20/1900--11/3/1992.
45. Numa Pee Wee Moore--saxophonist--b. Raleigh, NC, 3/5/1928.
46. Helen Morgan--wife-- Lee Morgan--b. Shallotte, NC--d. 3/1996.
47. Chris Murrell--vocalist--b. Winston-Salem, NC.
48. Alvin Neese--trumpeter--b. Greensboro, NC.
49. Maceo Parker--saxophonist--b. Kinston, NC, 2/14/1943.
50. Larry Price--saxophonist--b. Wilmington, NC.
51. Red Prysock--saxophonist--b. Pomona, NC, 2/25/1925--7/19/1993.
52. Waymon Reed--trumpeter--b. Fayetteville, NC, 1/10/1940--11/25/1983.
53. Max Roach--drummer--b. New Land, NC, 1/10/1924--8/16/2007.
54. Gregory Royal--trombonist--b. Greensboro, NC, 10/10/1961.
55. Malachi Sharpe--vibraphonist--b. Cumberland County, NC.
56. Woody Shaw--trumpeter--b. Laurinburg, NC, 12/24/1944--5/10/1989.
57. Nina Simone--vocalist--b. Tryon, NC, 2/21/1933--4/21/2003.
58. Tab Smith--saxophonist--b. Kinston, NC, 1/11/1909--8/17/1971.
59. Tom Smith--trombonist--b. Greenville, NC, 5/10/1957.
60. Sonny Stokes--trumpeter--b. Greensboro, NC, 11/11/1926.
61. Bob Tapp--guitarist--b. Roxboro, NC.
62. Grady Tate--drummer--b. Durham, NC, 1/14/1932.
63. Billy Taylor--pianist--b. Greenville, NC, 7/24/1921.
64. Thomas Taylor, Jr.--drummer--b. Elizabeth City, NC.
65. Mickey Tucker--pianist--b. Durham, NC, 4/28/1941.
66. Cynthia Tyson--vocalist--b. Wilmington, NC--d. Kenya.
67. Rudy Tyson--pianist--b. Greenville, NC--d. Wilmington, Delaware.
68. Harold Vick--saxophonist--b. Rocky Mount, NC--4/3/1946--11/13/1987.
69. Ira Wiggins--saxophonist--b. Kinston, NC.
70. Eddie Wilcox--pianist--b. Method, NC, 12/27/1907--9/29/1968.
71. Whit Williams--saxophonist--b. Macon, NC.
72. Dennis Wilson--trombonist--b. Greensboro, NC, 7/22/1952.
73. Lena Wilson--vocalist--b. Charlotte, NC. 1898.
74. Bill Wood--bassist--b. Wilkesboro, NC, 11/7/1937
75. Lewis Worrell--bassist--b. Charlotte, NC, 11/7/1934.

Friday, August 01, 2008

Brother Yusuf Salim R.I.P

Baltimore native and Durham, North Carolina resident Brother Yusuf Salim (aka Joseph Blair), a master musician, pianist, composer and arranger, passed away at approximately 6:00 am, at the Veteran Administration Hospital, Durham, North Carolina, after a long battle with cancer. Salim moved to Durham in 1974 and quickly helped to make the Triangle North Carolina area (Raleigh, Durham and Chapel Hill) a thriving, vibrant jazz community. Later, he hosted a WUNC-TV (PBS) thirteen part series called "Yusuf and Friends." He also operated a club called The Salaam Cultural Center, which offered workshops, which helped to train and further the careers of vocalists Eve Cornelious and Nnenna Freelon, two internationally- known jazz musicians. Yusuf received the North Carolina Arts Council Jazz Fellowship in 1999. He has written over 53 compositions. Some of them have been recorded by Gary Bartz, Mongo Santamaria and Cannonball Adderley. His latest album is titled "Yusuf Sings." A memorial service is planned for Sunday, August 3, in Durham, North Carolina.


Yusuf Salim (aka Joseph Blair) (1929-2008) was born and reared in Baltimore, Maryland. He began his musical career at age 14 as a pianist with the Ken Murray Sextet in Baltimore. Yusuf grew up in west Baltimore near the popular Pennsylvania Avenue in a home near the local musician union hall. His mother, "Miss Eleanor" or "Mama Blair" whom he called "Mother Teresa in Technicolor," was a kind, fun-loving, music lover who offered her home, good food and piano to union musicians and well-known traveling musicians, who played in his mother's living room in jam sessions which sometimes would last until dawn. Early on, Yusuf became fascinated by the music and learned his craft from many unsung master musicians.Salim was hired at age 17 as the house pianist with the nearby world-famous Royal Theater, where he stayed for seven years with a band headed by Tracy McClair, who had played with the Bama Collegians and Erskine Hawkins. While he worked at the Royal Theater, he performed with such greats as Sammy Davis, Jr., Moms Mabley and Redd Foxx. Later, in the late 1940s and the early 1950s, he went to New York City with The Bill Swindell Band and played at the Braddock Bar in Harlem. He participated and witnessed many a jam sessions at the world-famous Minton's Playhouse in Harlem and Birdland in Manhattan. He met Charlie Parker, Sonny Stitt and many others who would become jazz giants. He left New York City to tour with The Red Prysock Band for 7 years, where he played at The Apollo Theater, Savoy Ballroom, Chicago's Regal Theater, and recalled hearing about Charlie Parker's death on an intercom at Pennsylvania Train Station in New York on his way back to Baltimore after doing 90 one-nighters in 1955. Salim said he "grew on the road and the road grew on me." After the Prysock stint, he spent time in the U.S. Marine Corps, where he played in the Marine Band. Yusuf also participated in many jazz performances while in the service and made life-long musician friends.After his military service, he moved back to Baltimore and played at the clubs around the city. But jazz had fallen on hard times in Baltimore, so there weren't many places to play. In 1974. Salim moved to Durham, North Carolina. Later, he hosted a WUNC-TV (PBS) thirteen part series called "Yusuf and Friends." He also opened a club called The Salaam Cultural Center, which offered workshops, which helped to train and further the careers of North Carolina vocalists Eve Cornelious and Nnenna Freelon, two internationally-known jazz musicians. Yusuf received the North Carolina Arts Council Jazz Fellowship in 1999. He has written over 53 compositions. Some of them have been recorded by Gary Bartz, Mongo Santamaria and Cannonball Adderley. His latest album is titled: Yusuf Sings

Monday, August 06, 2007


Jazz is a term that was given to American classical music around 1900, by the New Orleans aristocrats who after visiting the whorehouses and hearing the black musicians play the sounds of freedom, sought to deny it its dignity when they realized that they couldn't play it and that their associates could not play it either. It has never belonged to black people nor will it ever. When the aristocrats realized that they could exploit it and make money off of it, the music, which is a reflection of the African-American musical reaction to the modern era, they took it over and have controlled it ever since. The first recorded "j-ass" (short for jack-ass) recording was performed by a group of people who the aristocrats selected. It would have been unthinkable and unprofitable to use black people to record black music.
American classical music has always had trouble with its African-American core because it has always been given a negative meaning. I interviewed Art "Buhania" Blakey several years ago after a concert at Duke University and he was highly ticked off because there were almost no black people in attendance. When I asked him was there a conspiracy to keep the music away from black people, he said, "Hell, no!" Buhania went on to say that black people don't particularly like it and have been told by black preachers not to listen to the music because it was "devil's music."
I have been a jazz radio announcer/writer for three decades and have heard many blacks tell me that they don't like jazz because it moves too fast or slow, there is not enough soulful singing, or that white folks like it. These are all absurd reasons of course, but that's reality. How do we solve it? How do we reverse decades of fear and ignorance? Good questions. Maybe we should ask the aristocrats--the 10 families or .001% of the world who run things. The answer is to keep on doing what we are doing by promoting it, playing it on the radio and by posing such questions and challenging the status quo when they keep trying to make it something that it isn't. It is BLACK MUSIC and it will continue to be for another 100 years. Just like we know that the Old Dixieland Jass Band was some watered down, mediocre music, we will know that most of the music we hear these days that passes itself off as American classical music (jazz) is as fake as a three-dollar bill.

Saturday, July 14, 2007


Listen to WCOM-FM, 103.5 FM, Chapel Hill-Carrboro, North Carolina, for Sunday Night Jazz with Larry Reni Thomas, on July 15, 2007, for the airing of a radio documentary called The Helen Morgan Radio Project. The 27-minute profile and interview concerns Helen Morgan, the North Carolina native who shot the trumpet legend Lee Morgan. The program is on from 9 pm to 12 midnight, on

Friday, June 08, 2007


Excerpt from article:
Lee Morgan, the fiery-hot, extremely talented jazz trumpet player, died much too soon. His skyrocketing career was cut short, at age 33, one cold February night in 1972, at a popular Manhattan, New York club called Slug's when he was shot to death by his 46-year-old common-law wife Helen.

You can access the article here.