One of the first stops along the African-American Heritage Music Trail is Kinston, NC, home to legendary blues and jazz musicians. If the streets and walls of Kinston could talk, music would be their language.
“We have a rich, lengthy history in jazz, blues and gospel,” says Sandy Landis, executive director of Kinston’s Community Council for the Arts.
Founded in 1965, the CCA offers exhibits, classes and a host of other activities that make the arts accessible and enjoyable for people of all ages. In 2007, the organization began researching the community’s musical traditions.
“We launched this as a folklife project to authentically identify and document the musicians who have played an important part in Kinston’s history and in this present day,” Landis says.
With help from a North Carolina Arts Council grant, the CCA hired a North Carolina Folklife Institute folklorist to conduct interviews and document the project, called the African-American Heritage Music Trail.
The CCA soon discovered, however, that the story extended far beyond Kinston’s borders.
“We found that there were other counties in our region that had this traditional music and that there were a significant number of musicians to be identified,” Landis says.
So, the CCA applied for a second grant from the North Carolina Arts Council’s Creative Economies program. The grant has enabled the CCA to expand the trail into seven neighboring counties, going beyond interviews and documentation to developing a full-fledged musical experience.
“This project promotes Kinston-Lenoir County as the regional hub for a significant tourism project for our community as well as the eight-county region,” Landis says.
So far, the project’s most popular feature is its calendar of live performances by the trail’s living artists. Residents and visitors alike have packed the CCA building and other local venues for jazz nights, benefits and other events. Heritage Music Trail features still under development include interactive information kiosks, a guidebook, public art and a comprehensive Web site.
Most importantly, the project is helping to ensure the continuation of Kinston’s rich musical tradition. Through the Traditional Arts Program for Students, the CCA offers weekly mentoring for budding middle and high school jazz musicians.
In Landis’ opinion, it’s a particularly appropriate manifestation of the trail project’s goals – and of Kinston’s character.
“This rich history was handed down generation to generation,” she says. “It was a mentorship-type thing, with band leaders and teachers and people jamming on street corners and porches, passing on their craft. In families and in neighborhoods, it was and still is a very strong part of the community as a whole.”
Learn more about the Kinston community's history and heritage.