Live: Heritage Awards Celebrate North Carolina Craftsmanship | Music

Live: Heritage Awards Celebrate North Carolina Craftsmanship


  • Photo by Dave Brainard
  • Sheila Kay Adams
North Carolina Heritage Awards
Fletcher Opera Theater, Raleigh
Wednesday, May 25, 2016

On a balmy Wednesday evening, a newly minted high school graduate yelled, “Can we take a picture with the boat?!” to his confused parents.

Indeed, among the capped-and-gowned grads, a fishing boat made for an odd sight in the plaza of the Duke Energy Center for the Performing Arts. But the boat was there for good reason: My Lady Pat, the watercraft in question, was on display for the North Carolina Heritage Awards, a celebration of Tar Heels who have made lasting contributions to the state’s culture.

Early in the evening, Department of Natural and Cultural Resources secretary Susan Kluttz thanked Governor McCrory and the North Carolina legislature for their continued funding. Though the remark seemed sincere, it was difficult to appreciate, as the McCrory administration has all but declared outright contempt for arts and humanities programs while disparaging liberal arts educations.

Anyway, ballad singer Sheila Kay Adams made for a firecracker first recipient, and she dedicated her award to the community of ballad singers who learned from each other and passed down their songs and traditions. In another life, she could have just as easily been a stand-up comedian. Her versions of “Young Emily” and the lively “Fly Around My Pretty Little Miss” were wonderful. Traditional music got another nod as banjo player Marc Pruett, who seemed just short of giddy over the whole affair, accepted his award. Pruett joined his wife, Anita, for a song before calling up his IBMA award-winning ensemble Balsam Range to crank out a few more tunes.
  • Photo by Dave Brainard
  • Maceo Parker

Two sets of craftspeople took the stage next, with wares and stories that could hardly be more different. Houston, Jamie, and James Lewis build wooden fishing boats in their hometown of Harkers Island, near the Outer Banks. They learned their craft from Burgess Lewis, father to Jamie and Houston, and are among the last people in the area to continue building boats by hand and without plans. The men didn’t have much to say, but their gentle “hoi toider” brogue was still obvious.

The Lewis family—North Carolinians since forever—stood in stark contrast to H Ju Nie and H Ngach Rahlan, two Montagnard weavers who settled in Greensboro in the nineties after fleeing persecution in Vietnam. Over the past two decades, resettled Montagnards have built homes in Raleigh, Greensboro, and Charlotte and have become an important part of North Carolina’s story, nurturing flourishing communities that preserve and continue their history in new contexts. The intricately detailed textile work, presented as clothing and as tapestries, was gorgeous.

Kinston’s sax-slinging Maceo Parker, an architect of funk in James Brown’s band and beyond, closed out the program with a medley. During the “Pass the Peas” finale, the whole crowd rose to their feet, and all of the evening’s honorees returned to the stage to dance, clap, and celebrate.

The moment made for a fantastic reminder of the sort of stuff that does make the state great. It’s not the boldness of backwards legislators; it’s the people who work hard at the things that bring color to our world.  

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